A new life for granny’s cupboard
“I love older things that people have used and cherished. They have personality, character and soul.” – Anna Hillegass
The journey began early in the 1900s
In 1911 Granny met grandpa at a family funeral in Weesen in Northern Germany. After many informal meetings, he asked her to accompany him back to South Africa, where he had purchased a farm. She was only sixteen at the time, which caused quite a challenge. Her parents wanted her to be at least eighteen when she got married. They reached a compromise, and grandpa’s sister travelled with him to keep the household until granny could join him on his farm.
Grandma was extremely busy over the next couple of months. She had to learn to cook and sew. She handmade her trousseau during this time, and her parents ordered the handcrafted furniture from Hermannsburg, Germany.
A new life in South Africa
At the end of November 1912, she set sail with a group of young missionaries and their wives for Port Natal (Durban). On her journey, she learned Zulu phrases from the missionaries to assist her in living in Kwa-Zulu Natal. She always laughed when she told the story that she was carried ashore by a large bare-chested African man. Grandpa and his sister fetched her from the harbour. She at first stayed with family and friends, getting to know the community.
Early in 1913, her furniture had arrived, and she travelled by train to Scheepersnek in Natal. Grandpa fetched her from the station, and she saw her new home for the first time. Granny was so excited and started to furnish it with all the beautifully crafted furniture. The cupboard and dressing table found a prime spot in the main bedroom and lived there happily for many years. Granny and Grandpa married in 1913 on the family farm Weesen in South Africa in the presence of friends and family.
When the eldest son took over the farm, Granny moved into a large rondavel with her favourite furniture pieces. After Granny’s passing, the beautiful cupboard and dresser ended up in a storeroom on my parent’s in-laws farm.
At that stage, my daughter had graduated and moved out. She needed furniture desperately for her new space. When we visited my brother in law on the farm, he asked if there was anything of the old furniture that we would like; when my daughter saw the old dusty cupboard and dressing table, she immediately fell in love with it.
She initially used it as her cupboard and dressing table in her bedroom but decided to move it into the nursery when expecting her baby. I wasn’t too keen on the dark wood and preferred something lighter, but she was adamant and even had a crib made in dark timber to fit the theme.
Some of the handles got lost over the years, but we were lucky to find some that perfectly matched the original holes and the antique backing. I must admit it looks so warm and tranquil.
The dressing table became a changing table, which was very functional as the drawers lent themselves perfectly for storing nappies. They were a little challenging to pull. Grandma’s old trick of rubbing a dry piece of soap on the surfaces that constitute the runners did the trick; they are now drawing like a dream! My daughter added some dividers to accommodate lotions, leggings, babygro and vests. I taught her the Marie Kondo method so that everything stands neatly in the partitions.
My husband changed the cupboard by adding shelving to the hanging space to accommodate the blankets and clothing. My daughter can re-adjust the shelves to make for larger hanging space in the future.
As our little boy has grown into a toddler, my daughter added clear containers into the bottom drawer of thecupboard to house some of the smaller toys to facilitate easier access.
The 109-year-old furniture is still loved and used. “Oh, what stories it could tell if it could talk!”