I suppose, when you speak of panels, you mean from the perspective of
the exterior, not the interior, as Larry has noted.
After doing some searching for Jacob Bloom cedar chests, I see many
exterior wood applications are either mahogany or walnut and some with
raised appliques and/or inlay. I can't imagine why anyone would want
to have painted mahogany or walnut, if your chest is similar. I am
wondering if you are describing mahogany or walnut as the "bland
wood", compared to the cedar wood. To your untrained(?) eye, you may
be mistaking a high quality wood as bland. That "bland wood" may have
originally been used as a contrasting wood and not have been painted.
Painting wood furniture, even nice mahogany or walnut, may not have
been so "evil", back in the day. Long ago, many folks wanted to
brighten their homes, with a little color, by painting some furniture
pieces, no matter what type of wood it was..... But that black paint
doesn't quite jive with this practice or logic.
Can you provide a link, with a few pics, of your cedar chest, for us
to possibly identify the "bland wood"? I doubt you will ever get it
to look like the cedar.