From Unboring® to Anachronistic:
An IKEA® Toybox with Medieval-Inspired Decoration

The APA Storage Box, constructed of pine and fiberboard, sells for $9.99 at IKEA®, and is easy to assemble.* While the fiberboard is decidedly unmedieval, it does lend itself to ornamentation; the general shape of the APA Box is similar to six-board chests of the later Middle Ages.

The box was painted before it was assembled. First, the pine was stained an oak hue, and was also treated with polyurethane for greater durability. While wood-stains are period, it would have been more period-appropriate to use oil or varnish instead of polyurethane (see Halstead’s article, “Interior Wood Finishing in Medieval and Renaissance Europe.”).

After the stain and polyurethane dried, I painted the fiberboard with acrylic paints. A more medieval method would have involved the use of gesso (as was used in the Sienese cassone which inspired the ornamentation on the ends of this chest) or a glue (such as the rabbit-skin glue used on a 14th century Flemish chest in Yorkshire which served as the inspiration for the re-created red chest at Barley Hall in York) as a primer, but I did not know what sorts of paints were used in period – and since I was attempting to keep costs low on this project, the use of acrylics seemed like an inexpensive alternative, especially to the gold leaf that probably should have been used for the goldwork along the sides.

The design on the sides is based on the border from the illustration of Burchard von Wengen from the early 14th century Manesse Codex (fol. 300r, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, Universitatsbibliothek Heidelberg). The central motif on each side is a calligraphed initial with further ornamentation based on personal heraldry (a gryphon for Gruffudd, and strawberries for Karen) in a style based loosely on decorative initial caps from medieval manuscripts.

The ends of the chest feature a sort of quatrefoil shape based on heraldic and decorative elements on a painted “cassone,” or chest, made in Siena around 1450 and now at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On one side is the seahorse unicornate populace badge for the Kingdom of Atlantia; on the other is the bull's head populace badge for the Barony of Stierbach.

A chessboard was painted on the inside lid of the chest. There are several examples of chests with decoration on the inside of the lid; in fact, another Italian cassone (V&A 7224-1860) features a chessboard design on the inside lid.

Chess is, of course, a period game; another illustration in the Manesse Codex (that of Markgraf Otto von Brandenburg, fol. 13r) depicts a couple playing chess, and there are examples of highly decorated chessboards in museums, such as the box of games at the Musee National du Moyen Age.

Once the fiberboard and chessboard were painted, they were sealed with a modern varnish that is manufactured especially for acrylic paints. Once that dried, the box was assembled.

While this box is not an authentic re-creation of medieval painted woodwork, or even of medieval furniture construction, it does make for a personalizable and reasonably medieval-looking container for the various accoutrements that a family brings to an SCA event. Our APA Storage Box can hold our eating utensils and feast gear, a small cooler for beverages and assorted foodstuffs, as well as games, a first aid kit, rolls of duct tape, paperwork, or other gear that ought to go to events but is just too unwieldy or modern-looking to be out on its own at an SCA event. (The screws were left exposed so that it could, if necessary, be unscrewed to pack flat.)


Barclay, Peter C. (SCA: Rhys Terafan Greydragon). "Italian Cassone." House Greydragon. 16 Nov. 2003 <>.

“Boîte à jeux.” Musée National du Moyen Âge. 16. Nov. 2003 <>.

“Cod. Pal. germ. 848: Grosse Heidelberger Liederhandschrift (Codex Manesse).” Ruprecht-Karls-Universitat Heidelberg. 9 Nov. 2003 <>.

Halstead, Gary (SCA: Ranulf of Waterford). Medieval and Renaissance Woodworking. 16 Nov. 2003 <>.

Die Miniaturen der Manesseschen Liederhandschrift und andere Bildquellen. 9 Nov. 2003 <>.

The Ricardian Friends of Barley Hall. 21 Nov. 2003 <>.

* The item now sold as an APA box seems to be different than the APA boxes we bought for this project back in 2003. As of this writing (autumn 2010), the photo on the site for the “APA box” still has fiberboard inset panels on the sides and bottom (though they are white, instead of brown), but it appears that the lid, too, has a fiberboard inset panel (instead of being solid wood), and the dimensions are different. The price of the box is now $14.99.

Unboring and IKEA are both registered trademarks of Inter IKEA Systems B.V. My thanks to Dame Alianora Munro for introducing me to the wonderment that is the IKEA APA Box.