Family Treasure

Here is a child's bedframe built by my maternal great-great-grandfather Thomas MacDonald in the late nineteenth century and passed down through the family.



Tom was an Ontario house carpenter who moved his growing family to Montezuma, Iowa for a fresh start in business. He built a wonderfully-tall white clapboarded home there which we visited many times as children (it was then owned by my unmarried great-aunt Jean and her brother Ross MacDonald who shared householding chores together for decades, not uncommon at the time). The house had an attached summer kitchen and storage room filled with odd gardening implements and a fruit cellar lined with jars and a corner piled high with coal; there were two frightfully-steep stairways, a clawfoot tub, enormous bedroom windows with ghostly linen curtains, and a hand pump on the concrete back porch which we never tired of splashing in on warm days.


The bedframe's style is roughly Eastlake ("Cottage Furniture"), a later-1800's reform movement in furniture design- there is also Eastlake architecture- named for English architect and writer Charles Eastlake (1836-1906). While the bedframe's carved details might seem quaint or fussy nowadays, Eastlake design was very much a reductive reaction towards the over-stuffed and over-furnished Victorian interiors popular at the time. Interest in Eastlake furniture comes and goes. It was so widely-copied and manufactured (i.e.: common) that it's inherent interest and value as a modern movement is sometimes forgotten.


I like to imagine Tom building the bed from instructions in one of the popular woodworking  books or magazines of the day, or he may have simply drawn the plan from his own imagination and wealth of knowledge. Many imagine the crafts and DIY revival as having begun in the 60's and 70's; there were many revivals, and our woodworking plan magazines today often pale in comparison to the incredible wealth of information available by mail and on early newstands for the ambitious turn-of-the-century home craftsman.


The bed's material is hickory species, possibly pecan (it's not walnut). Construction is frame and panel, the headboard and footboard panels are chamfered. The side rails feature a fence-like pierced construction that is very appealing to me. All parts are neatly planed and fitted while less visible surfaces reveal the sawmarks and other tool marks of the maker. It features the "modern" cast bedframe connecting hardware of the day


As time allows I'm returning Tom's bedframe to it's former glory. My mother- bless her heart- painted it in white and pink oils for my sister Kim's bedroom back in the late Fifties and I'm removing the steel-hard faded paint with care.

We're grateful to have Tom's handmade example (and inspiration) in the family.