The tall bureau fit nicely in the bedroom and immediately found full employment there. There was temporarily no room for the wide bureau, so it went into the living room until we could move some things around in the bedroom. The vanity got sent to our friend Mike's for a few minor repairs.
Right away, I became very fond of the wide bureau (below). Both bureaus have immensely capacious drawers, and lots of them. I have a fetish for candlelight, and that means I tend to collect every size and shape of candle imaginable. Needing easy access on a daily basis, I used one of the drawers in the wide bureau to store them all. Then my collection of tablecloths, runners, placemats, and napkins needed a home, and lo! it found one, and a nice one, in another of the bureau's bottomless drawers.
Thus it began -- the search for the Improbable Cabinet.
I started by looking at furniture that already existed, that was (theoretically) readily available in one form or another.
There were a number of non-negotiable features necessary for my imaginary piece of furniture -- it required at least two drawers, for starters; then it had to have several shelves for books (which meant that the piece would have to be deep enough to hold something larger than a paperback, at least on one side), and a glass front of some sort for showing off the tchotchkes. Then, it needed to match the primary wood tone of the rest of the furniture in the living room, which is essentially dark brown, with undertones of red and a little black. No blonde jokes around here.
The style was also important. While somewhat eclectic, our taste, at least in the living room, hovers somewhere among the Aesthetic Movement, Stickley/Mission, and the faintly exotic -- carving, quarter-sawing, stained glass, thick area rugs, brocades, and portieres. Anything that looked as if it had been made later than about 1915 would stick out like a sore thumb.
Infinitely complicating matters was my budget. Despite our pseudo-Gold Coast style of decor, I spend surprisingly little on interior decorating, instead relying heavily on curbside scavenging, Craigslist's "free" ads, building or reconstructing pieces from salvaged materials, and (gulp) even resorting to Ikea on occasion. Occasionally I have sprung for something I really wanted that I couldn't get any other way, but trust me, those instances were very rare. Most of the time we've just been too broke. No point investing in nice furniture when you can't afford to pay the rent.
So, my fond hope was to find the perfect piece, or at least the materials for it, cheap or for free. Those who have dismissed me as an incurable pessimist -- admit it, you were wrong all along.
First I went to Craigslist, my go-to and fallback for quixotic decorating projects. Over a period of days I haunted the "free" ads both on Long Island and in the general NYC area. As is generally the case when I'm desperately seeking a specific item for free, there wasn't one damn thing worth looking at twice. Nuts.
Moving on to the ads for "antiques" (and I do use the term loosely), I found all sorts of interesting things. Usually they were too expensive, too far away, the wrong color, or all three. But what a great time I had looking!
It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it was certainly the right color and style. Unfortunately, while cheap (under $500), it still wasn't in my price range. Had it been free, and had it not required the payment of several bridge tolls to acquire, I'm sure I'd have grabbed it. As it was, the asking price was too high, and the prospect of borrowing a vehicle to collect it made me all too aware of the fact that it really wasn't large enough to hold books. Fugeddaboudit.
As I continued my perusal of the multitude of case pieces available under the Craigslist "antiques" rubric, I began to realize that the item I sought could be known by many names -- a secretary (which is how the double, glass-doored, shelved New Jersey wonder had been advertised, although it had no desk area to speak of), a bookcase (with or without wooden or glass doors), an armoire, a vitrine...
I was mulling over these semantic and nomenclatural subtleties when this beauty (below) hove into sight.
Eric came running into the living room from outside when he heard me screaming in my seat at the computer. "What's the matter? Are you OK?" he asked worriedly. I was moaning -- in ecstasy, as it turned out, although you really couldn't blame him for thinking I was in the throes of a coronary.
"OGodOGodOGod!" I kept mumbling -- very appropriately, as it turned out: the piece in question had apparently been rescued from the vestibule of a church. However, like many another romantic fantasy, this one simply wasn't meant to be. The asking price was eight hundred smackers, and it was located way out in the wilds of Connecticut. Besides, it was far too light in hue to mingle discreetly with the high-toned pieces in our living room, and in addition, it didn't have a clear glass door for display. On closer inspection, I began to wonder whether it wasn't a cheap pine piece cobbled together from scrap wood and mass-produced stained glass made in a Chinese prison camp -- a sham, a counterfeit, a humbug. When I looked at it with the cool, objective eye of a millionaire who could afford to buy anything she chose, it was actually pretty darn ugly. The sellers were lunatics to think anyone would pay eight hundred bucks for something that was such an obvious piece of junk, and fraudulent to boot.
Not bad looking, even though on closer inspection it wasn't really made of wood (just what, may I ask, is meant by "composite wood and fine veneers"?). Shipped knockdown, it was almost affordable. OK, so it didn't have two drawers, but the other dimensions, and the color, seemed to be sort of in the ballpark.
Then something possessed me to read the buyers' comments about the item. "The assembly locking cams broke everytime my husband tightened them-finally went to hardware store and bought new ones to replace all the ones sent.Assembled,the drawer stuck out 3/4 of an inch.My husband figured the guide holes were wrong and moved the drawer slides back the 3/4 of inch..." Another hapless purchaser complained that even a few lightweight books caused the shelves to buckle and collapse. The back was thin cardboard. The doors didn't line up. And so on.
So now what? Well, my surfing and fantasizing, while time consuming, weren't entirely unprofitable. I picked up a yellow legal pad and turned my subconscious loose, coming up with a facsimile of "The Improbable Cabinet"(above). No matter that it doesn't exist anywhere but in my fevered imagination, and that it never will. I may live in my living room, but it's really only a fantasy in three dimensions, after all. I will persevere, even though I can't draw and my friends all think I'm a lunatic. They laughed at Einstein too, you know.