DEBUNKING THE TRUNK: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LANE CEDAR CHESTS
Chests, with their ability to stow treasures and lock up heirlooms, have always held a certain mystique. While any chest can conjure up the privateer in us, Lane chests, with their solid cedar plank work and bevy of styles, hold special allure. Produced from 1912 until 2001 by the Lane Furniture company in Altavista, Virginia, Lane chests always loomed large in the zeitgeist. Be it their indelible construction or the nostalgia evoked by their past as Hope chests, Lane chests have long been America's ultimate cache keepers.
Those looking to debunk the mysteries of these revered trunks should first know that Lane was originally tagged the Standard Red Cedar Chest Company. While even the most ardent of collectors are unlikely to find any chests bearing the original monniker, the name nonetheless underscores the company’s early aesthetic ambitions: rudimentary chests made of hardy slabs of red cedar.
During the first six years of operating, the Standard Red Cedar Chest Company's profits were thin and the company subsisted off apprenticing craftsmen—hence, the rudimentary chests. However, the company received a break in the wake of WWI’s onset. The U.S. government, needing wartime supplies, drafted the company—by then re-named Lane Furniture in honor of its founder Edward Hudson Lane—to craft pine ammunition boxes. The Lane factory was located at a junction of the Virginian and Southern railways, meaning it had reliable access to the transport needed to ferry supplies in and out. An obvious asset in uncertain times, Lane received a new lease on life.
The ammunition box production oiled Lane’s operational procedures, making a post-war segway into commercial furniture a natural progression. Between the end of WWI and the beginning of WWII, Lane cemented its status as a household name as the premier maker of Hope chests. Deemed “The gift that starts the home," or “The gift that starts the love nest,” Lane Hope chests were designed as a hideaway for young women to stockpile home goods for marriage, including family heirlooms, textiles, china, and more.
Lane bolstered their sales efforts with magazine marketing that touted Lane chests as an elevated promise ring. When WWII broke out, Lane chests became a standard deployment gift, as departing soldiers purchased them for the girlfriends they were leaving behind. Lane advertisements, some featuring a teenage Shirley Temple, touted the idea of a Lane chest as the ultimate “symbol of love.”
Lane cranked out chests to suit every style, ranging from rustic pine boxes to polished Art Deco trunks to elaborate Chippendale chests. Some came outfitted with multiple drawers and cushioned tops to allow them to function as a bench. As the 20th century progressed, the Lane chest evolved, taking on streamlined, Danish Modern-inspired stylings. A 1959 ad showcases a couple sipping coffee inside a Mid-Century Modern Lane chest, surrounded by all of the chest’s collected homewares, as well as a sprite gray poodle wearing an engagement announcement.
In the 1950s, Lane expanded their catalog beyond chests. They added side tables, coffee tables, beds, bureaus, and more. Like Lane chests, Lane furniture collections were inspired by popular trends of the day, with designs ranging from Atomic to Brutalist. Lane also stayed true to their reputation as America’s sweetheart, and produced a line of heart-shaped end tables.
With the rise of the counterculture in the 1960s and 70s, the concept of the Lane cedar Hope chest fell out of favor. While Lane pedaled their chests well into the 1980s, their advertising efforts became more focused on the chest’s nostalgia. In 2001, almost a decade after Lane had been bought out by a larger brand, Lane Furniture officially shuttered.
Today, Lane chests are being reimagined as charming playroom additions. Reenergized with paint, Lane Hope chests are also a crafty way to optimize underutilized nooks like bay windows or recessed hallways. Mid-Century chests outfitted with feet, especially, tend to be just the right height to function as an entryway bench.
Given that the majority of original Lane chests featured detailed inlays, many are prime candidates for two-tone paint rehabs. Whether you opt to keep some portions of the wood raw, and complement with just one color, or you employ two entirely new colors, a new color combo can enliven even the most time-worn of designs.
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