World's Largest Chest of Drawers.
Rising over adjacent buildings, the World's Largest Chest of Drawers stops traffic in High Point.

World's Largest Chest of Drawers

Field review by the editors.

High Point, North Carolina

For its first 70 years, the World's Largest Chest of Drawers was the World's Largest Bureau -- an obscure distinction to those unfamiliar with furniture nomenclature. It looked very different back then; a giant version of a waist-high set of drawers, painted white with floral accents, and an attached vertical mirror that nearly doubled its height to 32 feet.

Postcard: early incarnation as the Bureau of Information.
Postcard: early incarnation as the Bureau of Information.

The "Big Bureau" -- it's still called that in High Point -- was built in 1926 as a civic counterpunch to neighboring Thomasville's Giant Chair. It was not a real piece of furniture (the drawers have never been functional) but was a building, an eye-grabbing welcome center for High Point's furniture industry. Its interior showroom was, and still is, paneled with luxury wood veneers, and the outside was a replica of the type of mass market furniture manufactured in High Point at the time. The "mirror" was a metal screen hung with letters spelling out whatever label High Point wanted to promote: "Bureau of Information" in its early years, "World's Largest Bureau" later.

The city loved it. The Bureau's image was slapped onto souvenir banks, buttons, at least one liquor decanter, and multiple postcards. Every group with a reunion, convention, or graduation in High Point would pose for a photograph in front of the World's Largest Bureau.

But 70 years is a long time for a piece of furniture, especially one exposed to outdoor heat and moisture. By the 1990s, the Bureau was no longer a focus of community pride. Its wooden handles were falling off, its mirror was rusty, and its style was so dated that some people didn't even recognize it as a piece of furniture, never mind the World's Largest Bureau.

The YWCA Girl Reserves pose at the giant bureau in the 1920s.
The YWCA Girl Reserves pose at the giant bureau in the 1920s.

The embarrassing gray and neon years.
The brief gray and neon years.

Sid Lenger, a High Point designer and craftsman, was embarrassed. In 1996 he oversaw a complete makeover of the building, transforming it from a mere bureau into a proper giant chest of drawers, 38 feet high. With steel framing and synthetic stucco, he built a stately 18th century Goddard-Townsend block-and-shell chest, with hefty brass handles. As a tribute to High Point's hosiery industry, two pairs of giant socks (with restrained patterns) were draped from a partly open drawer.

Even though Sid's creation was modeled on a piece of furniture that had never been made in High Point, he knew that everyone who saw it would recognize it as a chest of drawers -- and as a worthy landmark. "Fifty years from now we won't feel the need to redo the face again," Sid told the Greensboro News and Record, "because it's a classic. It will stand the test of time."

Sid Lenger died in 2003, and his prediction of timelessness flopped. A real estate developer bought the Chest of Drawers, had the socks repainted neon green and orange, and obliterated the Chest's elegant cherry wood finish with a coat of battleship gray paint. "Gray is very in right now," his wife explained to a local TV news crew.

Dovetail joints at the ends of the open drawer.
Dovetail joints at the ends of the open drawer.

The gray paint and garish socks raised serious splinters in High Point. "Oh my God, the hue and cry from this city," said Marian Inabinett, curator of the High Point Museum. "No one liked that gray."

"It was so wrong," said Brian Davis, an artist and designer who had worked with Sid Lenger. The gray chest, he noted, was bad enough, but the socks were particularly disrespectful of Sid's vision. "It's like they were trying to slap somebody in the face. It seemed like a snub."

After two long, gray years, the Chest of Drawers was sold to High Point University, which wanted it as an office for the city's new Children's Museum. That was in 2018. The University quickly reached out to Brian, who jumped at the chance to restore some dignity to the Chest of Drawers.

Brian Davis works on repainting the socks.
Brian Davis works on repainting the socks.

Brian tracked down Sid Lenger's original paint formula through the High Point company that had supplied it, and was able to recreate the chest's cherry wood finish. The slap-in-the-face neon socks were repainted with hometown colors and patterns used by the University and the city's minor league baseball team. Brian gave one pair pink heels and blue toes to celebrate childhood in girls and boys, then painted dovetail joints onto the ends of the open sock drawer as a gesture of respect for Sid's classic-inspired furniture design. "To have that job was an honor," Brian said.

Unknown to most, the current Chest of Drawers is built on top of and around the old Bureau, swallowing it like a tree that's eaten a bicycle or an unfortunate human being. If future furniture archeologists ever bore a hole into the World's Largest Chest of Drawers, they'll find the World's Largest Bureau cocooned within it.

Also see: World's Largest Highboy

World's Largest Chest of Drawers

Address:
508 North Hamilton St., High Point, NC
Directions:
I-85 exit 111. North on Main St./US 311 for five miles. Cross the railroad tracks, then in five blocks turn right onto Westwood Ave. The Chest is two blocks straight ahead, at the intersection of Westwood and Hamilton St.
Hours:
Lit at night. Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Natuzzi Ship BuildingNatuzzi Ship Building, High Point, NC - < 1 mi.
Metal Atlas Holds Giant GlobeMetal Atlas Holds Giant Globe, High Point, NC - 1 mi.
World's Largest HighboyWorld's Largest Highboy, Jamestown, NC - 5 mi.
In the region:
Shake Hands with George Washington, Salisbury, NC - 33 mi.

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