Your Guide to Understanding and Filling a Hope Chest
Updated: February 21, 2022
Hope chests were once used for storing marriage necessities and essential home goods for young women. Oftentimes, girls (or their mothers) began to fill their hope chests at a young age with the goal of slowly accumulating a complete and meaningful collection by the time they were ready to get married.
What is a Hope Chest?
The term hope chest symbolizes hope in a marriage. The hope chest itself is an important vessel that a newly married woman could one day hand down to her own daughter. Most traditional hope chests were constructed with cedar, a type of wood that naturally repels insects and fungus. Traditional cedar hope chests were also used to help protect fabrics and to give the items inside a pleasant aroma.
Although they’re not widely used in today’s society, you can still fill a hope chest for a variety of occasions, from weddings to simply fulfilling your desire to hand down sentimental objects to a daughter, or even preparing for a future baby. It’s a tradition that has been around for decades, but you can easily modernize your hope chest by filling it with meaningful modern items such as DVDs or a favorite playlist.
Traditionally, hope chests were used to hold essentials such as heirlooms, sentimental items, blankets and quilts, previous awards and kitchenware. Whether your goal is to fill a hope chest for your daughter or a wedding in the future, knowing more about the hope chest – and how to fill one – is quite useful.
Hope Chest History
Historically, the term hope chest has been used to describe a large box designed for collecting and storing items for younger women to have when they get married later in life. They were most commonly used until the 1950s, but you can certainly still find a hope chest for sale today.
Most images of hope chests depict a glamorous box adorned with fancy detailing and metals, but not all hope chests are this elegant. In fact, the hope chest was once called a “bottom drawer” in the United Kingdom – a term that references an ordinary drawer that was set aside to hold crucial items.
The hope chest is designed to relocate along with its owner, although most chests aren’t easily portable due to their large size and heavy wood construction.
Hope Chests: A Tradition That Spans Centuries
Hope chest history dates back to a period of time when families exchanged property and goods. The exact origins aren’t clear, but it’s believed that the hope chest provided the bride’s dowry items, such as any clothing and personal property, to help her begin her new life. When designed primarily for a future wedding, there was a good chance that a young woman’s hope chest would contain treasured goods such as hand-embroidered linens and delicate pieces of clothing.
Egyptian Hope Chests
While its use has been well documented throughout the 19th century, the hope chest’s origins date back much further. For example, ancient Egyptians were known to rely on these chests to protect their most coveted treasures and to maintain crucial documents. These hope chests were often constructed from a solitary solid block single-piece chest, a design that remained largely unchanged over time.
European Hope Chests
Cedar chests also enjoyed steady popularity in Europe, but the concept really blossomed during the European Renaissance as production techniques became faster and more efficient, making the hope chest a more affordable addition to many households. Wooden hope chests also started to come with drawers, making them increasingly useful for their recipients.
New World Hope Chests
In the New World, the hope chest was typically the one piece of luggage that was used to store all of a family’s belongings as colonists began to cross the ocean. However, many chests belonged exclusively to wealthier families. Most of the U.S. chests were made with cedar, but some were constructed from a different type of wood, such as cherry or mahogany. Regardless of the type of wood used, each chest was typically lined with cedar to keep the interior protected.
The Modern Hope Chest
The hope chest remains an integral part of Amish culture. Amish hope chests are generally given to young women when they leave home. While the chest was once geared toward newly married couples, generally featuring items that the couple could use for their new home, such as crockery, linens and oil lamps, today’s hope chests serve a broader purpose of allowing mothers to hand down valuable and often sentimental items to their daughters, along with essentials for those big first steps into adult life.
The tradition dates back several decades, but the symbolism of the hope chest is timeless. Even if yours is not yet a family heirloom, or it’s filled with just a few meaningful items, the act of giving a close family member a hope chest can be the start of a wonderful tradition for future generations.
The goal is to encourage each generation to add its own items throughout the years, a process that will eventually turn the chest into a coveted family heirloom. Not only does this help to carry on a beautiful tradition, but the act of passing down a hope chest from one generation or family member to the next is also a great way to ensure a lasting emotional bond between yourself, or a family member, and the recipient.
How to Fill a Hope Chest
It takes years to properly prepare a hope chest, as the goal is to fill it with meaningful goods and items over time. As the years go by, having a general idea of what to collect for a hope chest can make the process much easier.
While there are no standards or essentials, many individuals find that blankets, quilts, and kitchen-related items are very well received, whether the chest is for a daughter, baby or future wedding. In addition to the basics, you may choose to personalize the chest with goods that are unique or special to the recipient.
You might not have everything you want for the hope chest in your own home. It can help to spread the word to family members and close friends, who might have something that they want to contribute to the chest. Instead of collecting everything at once, store objects away in a designated place and add to the collection slowly over time. If you’re running out of storage space, consider removing some of the larger items, such as childhood toys or unique presents, and giving them as separate gifts when you hand the recipient her hope chest.
Hope Chest for a Daughter
It’s never too early to begin planning for the future, especially when your daughter is young. She may not appreciate it in her earlier years, but allowing her to pick out her own blanket, china tea set, or another valuable item that you know she’ll need later in life can make for an exciting discovery when she unveils it years later.
It may help to include more unique items from your own collections, such as tea towels or hand towels, especially if it’s not something you use regularly. Even if she decides to replace it later, your daughter will appreciate having these essentials ready as she moves out of the house.
Gift Ideas That Will Fill a Hope Chest With Warmth and Love
Hope chests are quite large, leaving many people wondering just how to adequately fill them. The general idea is to fill a hope chest with warmth and love. Of course, this broad suggestion is wide open to interpretation! Some gift ideas for filling a hope chest include the following:
Blankets, Quilts & Bedding: For some people, filling a hope chest with warmth and love may mean literally starting with objects to keep the recipient warm, such as quilts, blankets and bedding. Lining the bottom of the hope chest with such items also provides a layer of protection for any valuables that might be added along the way.
Kitchenware: Glasses, Dishes & Utensils: It’s helpful to fill your hope chest with practical household items that your daughter (or other family member) will need when she’s living on her own. Aside from blankets and linens, this could include kitchenware such as glasses, dishes and cooking utensils.
Monogrammed & Personalized Items: You can also add monogrammed or personalized pieces as an extra measure. To prevent goods from getting broken or damaged, package them carefully by securing them in bubble wrap or a different type of protective covering, then place them in a sturdy box.
Think Outside The Chest: Packing your daughter’s hope chest with love will surely bring a smile to her face. This can mean anything from a cherished family photo to a book that’s been personally autographed for her. Nothing is off-limits, and if it can fit in the box it’s probably worth packing.
The goal is to help her personalize her new living space while reminding her of home. To prevent the precious goods from shifting or breaking during transportation, make sure that the lid is tightly closed before moving the chest. Place breakable items in such a way that they won’t shift or fall when the chest is moved.
Use the Hope Chest as a Family Heirloom
Some families have had hope chests that have been passed down for decades, but it’s not too late to start your own family hope chest for the future. The contents are bound to change with each generation, making a hope chest an interesting and unique part of any family’s history.
Whether you have a specific recipient in mind, such as a daughter, or you simply enjoy the idea of starting a family heirloom with some of your most beloved possessions, an heirloom hope chest is a great place to begin safely storing prized family possessions and valuables for the future. Whether you’re adding to a family heirloom or starting from scratch, your recipient is bound to cherish these meaningful goods as she gets older.
Types of Hope Chests
Cedar chests have historically been the most popular type of hope chest. There aren’t too many different types of hope chests, and most share the same basic design – a medium to large box occasionally outfitted with one or more drawers for storage.
However, just because there aren’t many varieties of hope chests doesn’t mean that you can’t find very unique wood chests on the market. For example, some chests are made from different types of wood, from cherry wood to solid maple wood and white oak to pine.
Hope Chests, Blanket Chests, Cedar Chests: Oh My!
During your search for a hope chest, you might come across similar products, such as cedar and blanket chests. These chests are often closely related in terms of size, design and construction and can easily be used for the same purpose. After all, the idea of a hope chest is to fill it with hope and love, and you can easily do the same for a similarly sized cedar or blanket chest.
You may also opt to use a separate cedar wood chest to store larger or specific items, such as heirloom quilts, bedding or important keepsakes. Storing larger objects in these separate boxes frees more space for the hope chest.
Traditional hope chests feature a classic and timeless design that holds up decade after decade. The chests were initially placed at the foot of the bed, and were later relied upon as an extra seating surface during the 17th and 18th centuries, when extra seating surfaces – such as chairs – were difficult to come by.
Today, it’s not uncommon for hope chests to be a versatile piece of furniture that not only stores larger items, but that also doubles as a seating surface or a usable storage space. With a mix of details ranging from simple to elegant, not to mention beautiful wood construction, it’s easy to see why hope chests become the topic of conversation in any living space.
Hope Chest Styles and Designs
Most chests are larger to accommodate essential items as they accumulate over the years. However, there are medium-sized chests and even smaller ones as well. Depending on your needs, you may choose a hope chest that sits at the foot of the bed or that is specifically designed to double as an extra seating space. Some chests feature a basic, yet stunning and timeless, style that fits right in with most decor. There are also chests with unique features, such as nostalgic genuine leather handles that replicate an old-world appearance or ones with raised paneling.
The most common type of hope chest has a plain but detailed construction that works well in a variety of settings. However, some hope chests feature a specific design, such as a forest or a moose. You may also come across chests with animal tracks or hand-painted ones featuring ducks or some sort of animal. Popular styles and designs include:
Trunk hope chests resemble storage boxes more than furniture. They are large boxes with a rectangular shape that open from the top. This type of hope chest is usually made of cedarwood and decorated with distressed or carved edges. Even though they usually do not serve as furniture, the trunk hope chest is sturdy enough to sit on, so it can double as a bench if needed. Our Trunk With Rounded Lid hope chest features a cedar bottom and black leather handles.
If you’re searching for hope chest gift ideas, consider ones with a flat top, which allows the recipient to decorate it with candles or other items if he or she desires. You can use table hope chests, such as the Regal Blanket Chest, as tables and storage areas. They shouldn’t be confused with coffee tables, which sometimes have small drawers. A table hope chest will have more of a block shape with a flat top that can serve as a table.
Bench hope chests, also known as storage benches, are perfect if you’re looking for a beautiful piece of furniture with functional storage space. The primary purpose of the bench hope chest’s design is furniture seating. Unlike the trunk hope chest design, the bench hope chest looks like a bench and provides a more comfortable place to rest.
Bench hope chests often have upholstered tops, and, in some designs, backrests. They are often slightly taller than other hope chest designs and include legs for support. We designed our Palisade Blanket Chest With Cedar Bottom to hold an optional seat cushion if comfort is your top priority.
Domed top hope chests have a dome-shaped cover and slightly resemble pirate treasure chests. Since their top is dome-shaped, they cannot serve as a seat or a table, but they are a beautiful option for storing your own personal treasures.
Choosing the Right Hope Chest Size
Hope chest sizes vary, so there is sure to be a hope chest perfect for your home, whether you have a large space or a limited amount of space. A smaller hope chest would be perfect for a small study, a child’s bedroom or a playroom. Larger hope chests are perfect for displaying in your living room or at the foot of a bed. With various sizes to choose from, we can customize a hope chest to fit your ideal space in your home.
Our smaller hope chests, such as the Flat-Top Mini Cedar Chest, are 21″ long, 16″ deep and 17″ high. They are small enough to fit in any room, but they have enough space to hold your most beloved items. Our larger chests, such as the Charleston Blanket Chest, are around 48″ long, 20″ deep and 28″ high. These chests are large enough to serve as benches and hold a large number of items.
Shopping For a Hope Chest
Shopping for the perfect solid wood hope chest to fill with hope and love for a special young lady in your life or yourself? We know it’s not an easy decision, you want something as beautiful as it is sturdy so you know it will last the test of time in both style and function. We have a generous selection of high-quality chests that would make great hope chests, be sure to browse our selection of hand-crafted chests and subscribe to our newsletter for updates and new additions.