Every Piece of Furniture Has a Story: The Hiraeth in a Dining Set

By Tandy Hennings

In the summer of 2020 my mother passed away of natural causes related to old age (my father had died eight years earlier). As we three adult children faced the imminent sale of our family home of sixty years, we claimed various furnishings for ourselves. Fortunately, there were no disputes as to who would have which pieces. For myself, I wanted the mid-century modern dining set; aged but still elegant. 

Manufactured by Drexel in the late 1950s, it had occupied the dining room of our family home since 1960, our first full year of occupancy. At that time, my mother took the photograph shown below to document our new home’s interior and furnishings, using six-year-old me and my younger brother as showroom props.

two children sitting at a large wooden dining table in 1960

In 2020 I easily could have purchased new furniture, but I was drawn to my parents’ old dining set. Within its wooden structure were sequestered the memories of a bountiful life filled with love.  Furthermore, the large table—dimensions 82 by 40 inches including a center leaf—fit perfectly into the dining area of my and my husband’s home. 

After careful consideration, I decided to send it to Queen Anne Upholstery and Refinishing for a complete overhaul. I aimed to retain the original color of the wood but I wanted the seats reupholstered with fabric to replace the vinyl coverings my parents had installed after many years of wear had damaged the original leather. To assist Queen Anne Upholstery in formulating their bid, I took the photos shown below.

underside of wooden dining table
two vinyl upholstered wooden chairs
2020: Drexel dining table and chairs before restoration

Over the decades, from 1960 until 2020, this dining set witnessed countless family gatherings. When I was a child, it was a place for ordinary evening meals after my father had returned home from a tough day at work, when I often would spill my milk and then cry. We were a family of five, and after we had finished our dinner my hardworking mother would sigh, thinking (I am sure) about her efforts to prepare the food and the dishes that needed to be washed. 

Certain dates always motivated special meals at this table. Thanksgiving and Christmas of course, but also the Fourth of July, Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Easter and innumerable birthdays, including the final birthdays of my father in 2011 (age 98) and my mother in 2019 (age 94). 

1963: Christmas party with friends and family, (now all deceased)
   2008: my father, waiting for his Christmas dinner
2015: my mother’s 90th birthday
2019: Easter brunch
2011: with my father on his last birthday

Now, I have my parents’ dining set back in my home, newly refurbished by the highly skilled artisans of Queen Anne Upholstery and Refinishing. I thank them for their beautiful work.

two chairs newly upholstered side by side
Chairs: partial re-glue
back of newly upholstered seat
Fabric: Bergen, color #619 Carbon, two custom, seat-back slip-covers
polished wooden dining table
February 3, 2021: my newly refinished and reupholstered Drexel dining set.
Wood: match original color; satin sheen finish.

Seeing this dining table with its six chairs, I feel a bittersweet nostalgia that is perhaps best described by the Welsh word, “hiraeth”, (pronounced hee-rah-eeth, preferably with a rolled ‘r’). This word expresses something more profound than mere homesickness or remembrance. Hiraeth speaks to the yearning for a home to which one cannot return, for an era that has slipped irretrievably into the past, or for a cherished place that no longer exists and perhaps also for lost loved ones who were associated with that place in that time: a family, a neighborhood, a community. 

Hiraeth identifies a special kind of grief that never goes away, even as we accept that life pushes us forward. There is no simple translation into English, but it can be interpreted to mean, “a longing to be where your spirit lives.” Because of six decades’ worth of experiences, part of my spirit lives in this dining set. It is a physical remnant of something much greater and largely intangible, something indescribably precious that is now gone forever.  

I am grateful to have this newly refinished and reupholstered dining set in my home now; its presence warms my heart—even though it will always evoke a certain, sweet sadness. 

[Related: Every Piece of Furniture Has a Story: The Life of a Saarinen Womb Chair]

We understand that certain pieces of furniture represent family, tradition, and treasured memories. Queen Anne Upholstery can help you maintain these stories and keep their history alive by restoring and reupholstering antique furniture. Our expert repair, restoration, and refinishing services can breathe new life into family heirlooms.

Contact us today to get started.