Text reading, "#RanchStyle Spotlight: The Wardrobe Trunk"

This week we bring to you a new story feature on our Creative Juice Blog: The #RanchStyle Spotlight! We’ll highlight one of the many unique pieces of furniture and décor that go into making our singular, Catalyst Ranch #creativeenvironment and get the inside scoop on its origin and Ranch history as told by some of our equally vibrant humans on the CR team.

Let’s start by showcasing that sturdy, stalwart soldier standing guard over the #PolkaRoom, the Wardrobe Trunk!

A vintage, brown wardrobe trunk, open to show hanging clothes and colorful neckties, and closed drawers.

This wardrobe steamer trunk is a true statement piece that really provides vintage flavor to the Polka Room near our colorful “Harem Room” area. It is made of heavy metal with leather and brass details and a mahogany-painted exterior showing its age with scrapes and scratches.

If Catalyst Ranch was suddenly Beauty and the Beast‘d and all the furnishings came to life, first of all: Can you even imagine? Let’s save that fever dream for another post. Second of all: this wardrobe’s name would probably be Hartmann, since that’s the name plastered on the front.

Turns out, Hartmann is a luggage company founded in 1877 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Bavarian trunkmaker Joseph S. Hartmann. The company exists to this day, and their website’s front page is a delightful history of the company’s journey, complete with Ranch-perfect vintage images.

This Hartmann came to Ranch by way of our Founder, Eva, who saved it from certain doom. In her years of living in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, her alley has been blessed with amazing vintage furniture that had been discarded and left to be carted to the junkyards, and this is one of the pieces Eva got to first.

By a stroke of luck, she spotted this trunk waiting for garbage pickup just a few minutes before a scrap-metal truck came by. Eva says, “I just know that had I gotten to it a few moments later, the scrap guys would have snatched it up and taken it apart for its metal.

“They were actually very kind, and helped me lift the thing into my car. I’d only caught them drive by because this trunk was too heavy for me to lift on my own, and I was waiting for someone to to come by to ask for a hand!”

From there, Eva posted this behemoth artifact where it stands in the Polka Room today, having selected unique articles of clothing to hang on its hangers on display.

Our Empress of Aesthetics Krissy, who manages the specialized upkeep of our infinite inventory of furnishings, was particularly beguiled with Hartmann once she discovered it. It sent her down a rabbit hole investigating how widely used these beautiful but unwieldy containers had been in the days of yore.

“After discovering this beautiful trunk here, I immediately began looking into the history to get some type of idea of the origin. My research lead me into the glorious history of trunks! There are steamer trunks, wardrobe trunks, doll trunks, cabin trunks, hat trunks, wall trunks, dresser trunks, and so on. There was a separate trunk available for literally each and every one of your traveling needs in the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s.

Since traveling has changed quite drastically in the past 100 years, this is definitely a relic of the past. Although we no longer use or need these trunks, I do appreciate being able to work amidst history and incorporate the past into the present!”

As you can see, this comprehensive wardrobe trunk was furnished with plenty of spaces for particular garments. On the right, you have deep, wide drawers for folded clothes.

On the left, you have a tall section outfitted with sturdy wooden hangers for trousers and dresses and, in our case, lederhosen! And that compartment is enclosed by two rods that swing out and are perfect for hanging neckties.

The lucky items displayed inside the wardrobe have a history of intriguing our guests as well, in fact. Our former Executive Admin Bryan was at the Ranch one evening for a networking event for Chicago Admin Professionals, when one attendee spied a necktie that he just had to have.

“This gentleman was among the 50 or 60 attendees in the Polka Room, and like everyone, he was so charmed with every bit of nostalgia in the Ranch. He made his way to the wardrobe trunk, and looking closely, recognized the design one of these ties—it was a rich yellow with a geometrical navy and teal diamond pattern. He turned it over to see the label, and true enough, it was an original Richard Bennett, a historic Chicago menswear designer started in the 1920’s and whose ties he actively collected! He told me, ‘I have so many that my wife is surprised there are any left to be found!’

“He asked if it was for sale, and I had to tell him that none of our furnishings are typically for sale, but I’d ask our owner. The next day, Eva happily informed me that all of the garments she’d carefully picked to display in the trunk were from various thrift stores, and she’d be delighted to help put tie in the hands in which it truly belonged!”

How wonderful that the Happiness triggered by our décor could go one huge step further with this eagle-eyed client AND uncover another connection to Chicago History!

However, what’s really the most remarkable thing about this item is the potential history suggested by a marking on one of its sides. Across the top of the wardrobe, the words, “Charlotte Stevens, Hollywood Calif.” are handpainted in now-faded gold letters.

At first, we thought it was another brand name perhaps for women’s goods, but our preliminary search turns up a few records of a silent film star by the same name in the 1920’s! Charlotte Stevens was apparently–and by virtue of only a couple of resources–a star of at least sixteen films, with titles such as One Law for the Women, Kit Carson Over the Great Divide, and The Merry Cavalier.

The wardrobe was obtained in Chicagoland, and the kicker is that the actress Charlotte Stevens was born in Chicago in 1902, worked in Hollywood films, and passed away in Los Angeles in 1946. If this wardrobe belonged to her, we’re guessing her belongings came back to family members still in Chicago after her passing.

Wow! What a journey…

We’re left imagining all the stops it had on its travels with Charlotte Stevens, and all the other locales it’s seen with owners and collectors before and after Charlotte until finding its current place with us in the largest of our meeting and event rooms, the Polka Rooom.

And what are you imagining now?

Button to email us!Click the button on the right to email us and tell us where you imagine this wardrobe trunk has traveled!

And let us know what other piece of our Catalyst Ranch furnishings you’d like showcased in our future #RanchStyle Spotlight!


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