RL Sidebar: Build a Hoosier Cabinet

What am I doing talking about a Real Life piece of furniture in a Second Life blog? Well, I’ve never considered restricting myself to just Second Life, as long-time readers know. And I found an article on the history of these things on Facebook today — yes, Facebook actually has useful things! Especially useful because it led me to exercise my secret superpower of research training, and I found another article. More on that in a moment.

This piece of kitchen furniture is what’s called a Hoosier cabinet, after the original maker, Hoosier Manufacturing of New Castle, Indiana. These people set off an industry that lasted for 30 years, in making kitchen cupboard and work centers, essentially movable pantries. Stock units held storage for staples from flour and sugar to glassware, crockery and utensils. As more manufacturers came in, the styles and customization increased in elaborateness.

You’re looking at the predecessor of the modern kitchen here … maybe no electricity or sinks, but still intensely useful. (Indeed, many of its ideas were stolen by people as the demand for upper storage in kitchens took off in the Thirties, Forties and Fifties, putting Hoosier and its competitors out of business.) The woman in the photo above is working dough on a countertop that looks like it pulls out, laying across the main counter and the upper drawers. Other, similar cabinets could have built-in flour sifters — larger sifters were made to drop out of a recess on hinges, and could be refilled from the top — or meat grinders attached to the sides. Large enough lower cabinets would have tip-out drawers for potato bins or other root staples. Side panels could be made out of punched tin for ventilation, allowing you to use shelves as pie safes. The idea was to concentrate everything needed for meal prep in one area, and reduce motions and steps as much as possible. Some even had attached ironing boards!

Do Hoosier cabinets have a place in modern kitchens? Depends on your kitchen and your tastes and needs. Perhaps not in modern kitchens in open-concept houses, such as you see the Scott Brothers constantly building on the Property Brothers shows, other than as decorative furniture. If your kitchen has a smaller footprint, though … such as my kitchen … such a cabinet can become very useful. We have two free-rolling carts in our kitchen, but we leave them in place; both are lowboys, with no upper storage at all. If you have a wall with no existing cabinetry, such as we do, a Hoosier-style cabinet would extend your storage to as far up as you like, plus give you more counter space as well.

“Ah, but how much would one cost?” you ask. Well, if you have one custom-built for you out of mahogany and marble, prepare to disgorge. However, if you or your other half (or someone in the family) have some basic carpentry skills, and you can make a trip to a local home center with pre-built kitchen cabinets, you could create your own for under $1,500, and even under $1,000 if you don’t get over-elaborate on the trim. What you’ll do is attach the pre-built cabinets to a plywood backboard, add feet to the bottom, and other trim. And you can customize it to your heart’s, space’s and budget’s desire. Read this article from The Mother Earth News (and remember to grab the PDF diagram as well), and start thinking about what to do. (The writer of this article built one with three bulk-food dispensers, a spice drawer, hooks for measuring scoops, a pull-out work surface, and a swing-up shelf for a KitchenAid stand mixer! I would guess, that, if someone is really ambitious … and knows how to do it … they could even wire one for electricity. That’s beyond our scope here.)

I know I’m gonna be poundin’ on my husband to make something like this within the year or so ….

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If you’re curious about some more information, here’s a home-produced video on the history of the Hoosier cabinet. It’s a little rough in production quality, but useful for an introduction.

Posted December 26, 2019 by Harper Ganesvoort in Real Life

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