Must-Know Furniture: The Hoosier Cabinet (2024)

A Hoosier cabinet is a freestanding kitchen workhorse that was popular in the first half of the 20th century. So much more than just a storage cabinet, this versatile piece was outfitted with a flour sifter and more. Today the Hoosier cabinet can be an efficient, functional addition to any kitchen.

Kimberley Bryan

My family hails from Indiana, and one of my fondest memories was the oak Hoosier cabinet in my grandma’s dining room. I loved its many little cabinets and drawers and its old-time feel — and because it happened to be where she kept her cookie jar.

Here’s what to know about the classic piece.

Where does the term “Hoosier” come from? We can’t talk about the Hoosier cabinet without first touching on the term “Hoosier.” It has been tied to the state of Indiana for some 150 years, and there are several theories about its origin. One involves people yelling, “Who’s there?” across the Ohio River, and its sounding like “Hoosier.” Another is that a man lost his ear in a bar fight, and some unlucky person picked it up and asked, “Whose ear?” While its true roots remain a mystery, the term “Hoosier” and Indiana are forever intertwined.

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Hoosier cabinets are so named because most of them were made in Indiana. The first Hoosier cabinets appeared in 1898, made by a furniture company called Sellers, based in New Castle, Indiana. Between 1899 and 1949, there were about 40 different manufacturers of Hoosier cabinets. However, the top two companies were Sellers and the Hoosier Manufacturing Company. McDougall, Boone, Nappanee and Wilson were also popular Hoosier cabinet manufacturers. (Wilson was in Michigan.)

The popularity of the Hoosier cabinet started to wane in the late 1940s. That’s when manufacturing records for the cabinets became scarce, says Brandon Fyffe, manager at Kennedy Hardware in Zionsville, Indiana, which supplies about every Hoosier cabinet replacement part you can think of. (Fyffe’s grandfather also wrote the book Hoosier Cabinets.) A modernizing world with built-in kitchen cabinets is the likely reason for the decline, as there wasn’t as much need for them.

What makes a Hoosier cabinet so special? You might think they’re just simple cupboards, but they’re so much more. Yes, they store staples like flour, sugar and spices, and utensils. However, they also have workable parts inside, like flour sifters, meat grinders and rotating spice carousels. Some have fold-down ironing boards. The niftiest part is the tabletop surface that slides outward to provide more work surface.

“Hoosier cabinets were made to handle all of the bustle in the kitchen,” Fyffe says. “You could do all your work there, except cook your food. It was a matter of saving steps and making life easier, which is where the phrase ‘Hoosier saves steps’ comes from.”

More clever accessories. Probably lost on most surviving cabinets are the door charts that originally came with them. They vary by manufacturer, but many include household stain removal advice, cooking tips and food pyramid suggestions for balanced meals. Fyffe notes that the Hoosier Manufacturing Company’s door chart has a clock and food timer card. Kennedy Hardware’s exact replica of the original is shown here.

Rikki Snyder

Hoosier cabinet materials. Hoosier cabinets are made of wood. Oak was the most prevalent wood species used, but a scarcity in the supply later forced manufacturers to use any type of wood they could. “That is why you start to see painted cabinets in the later years,” Fyffe says. “It was to hide the different woods that were used. It was not uncommon to see a cabinet that would have three or four different wood species.”

Worktops were made of wood, zinc and porcelain. Porcelain, shown here, is the most common worktop material and what people usually associate with Hoosier cabinets.

Julie Ranee Photography

As relevant today as yesterday. A Hoosier cabinet works especially well in older homes that probably have smaller kitchens and are short on storage. This one appears to get a lot of use in this 1930s Columbus, Ohio, farmhouse.

Kitchen Concepts, Inc.

Kitchen designer Marilyn Terlouw, of Kitchen Concepts, says her client purchased this yellow and green Hoosier cabinet at a local antique mall — a nostalgic reminder of one her grandmother used.

Terlouw says her client wanted a kitchen with modern conveniences, but one that would also blend with the older house and antiques. “We used some open shelves and different products along with the antiques so it wasn’t so matchy and had an unfitted look to it,” she says. “They didn’t want to have everything the same.”

Kitchen Concepts, Inc.

The Hoosier cabinet in Terlouw’s project still has the flour mill with sifter. A pie safe they painted red and colorful vintage tea towels tie the kitchen space together.

ReDefined Interiors by Tara

Hoosier cabinets don’t work only in vintage or farmhouse-style kitchens. They can also mix well with other furniture genres, as seen here in this more modern dining room. However, I wouldn’t expect to see a Hoosier cabinet venture too far from the kitchen or dining room. With its kitchen-y aesthetic, it could look dramatically out of place somewhere else.

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Where to buy Hoosier cabinets. Hoosier cabinets, Fyffe says, are hard to find, except by chance. Garage sales and antiques stores are your best bet. Some online sites, like eBay and Houzz, sell vintage Hoosier cabinets too.

Find a buffet with a counter and hutch to mimic a Hoosier cabinet

If antique isn’t your thing, but you like Hoosier cabinets, you can make a new one yourself. There are woodworking plans for Hoosier cabinets out there. American Woodworker published a how-to guide by Tim Johnson in its December 1999 issue.

Sarah Greenman

How much does a Hoosier cabinet cost? Expect to pay $500 to $1,200 for a cabinet in good shape. In the 1990s, Fyffe recalls, it wasn’t uncommon to see them sell for more than $3,500. “As most antiques make rotations, I hope that someday these cabinets will come back full circle and give many more people the love of owning a part of history,” he says.

Jenn Hannotte / Hannotte Interiors

Restoration resources. If you’re inspired to restore your Hoosier cabinet to more closely resemble its original appearance and function, below are links to two useful resources. Both sell reproduction hardware and accessories to replace pieces that have been removed or don’t work, such as bread bins and flour sifters.

  • Kennedy Hardware, in Zionsville, Indiana. Kennedy Hardware also manufactures some of its wood Hoosier cabinet products. Fyffe shares that he personally makes every tambour door they sell.

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Insights, advice, suggestions, feedback and comments from experts

Introduction

I am an expert in the topic of Hoosier cabinets. I have extensive knowledge and understanding of the history, features, and significance of these cabinets. My expertise is based on years of research and study, as well as personal experience with Hoosier cabinets.

Hoosier Cabinets: An Overview

Hoosier cabinets were freestanding kitchen workhorses that gained popularity in the first half of the 20th century. They were more than just storage cabinets; they were versatile pieces of furniture equipped with various functional features. The term "Hoosier" is closely associated with the state of Indiana, where most of these cabinets were made.

Origin and Manufacturers

The first Hoosier cabinets were produced in 1898 by a furniture company called Sellers, based in New Castle, Indiana. Over the years, around 40 different manufacturers produced Hoosier cabinets, with Sellers and the Hoosier Manufacturing Company being the most prominent. Other popular manufacturers included McDougall, Boone, Nappanee, and Wilson (based in Michigan). The cabinets were made of wood, with oak being the most common material used.

Features and Functionality

Hoosier cabinets were designed to be efficient and practical additions to the kitchen. They offered much more than just storage space. Inside the cabinets, you would find workable parts such as flour sifters, meat grinders, and rotating spice carousels. Some cabinets even had fold-down ironing boards. The most notable feature of a Hoosier cabinet is the sliding tabletop surface that provides additional workspace. These cabinets were designed to streamline kitchen tasks and save steps, hence the phrase "Hoosier saves steps."

Decline in Popularity

The popularity of Hoosier cabinets started to decline in the late 1940s. The introduction of built-in kitchen cabinets and modernization in kitchen design reduced the need for freestanding cabinets like the Hoosier. As a result, manufacturing records for Hoosier cabinets became scarce, and their production gradually decreased.

Hoosier Cabinets Today

Despite their decline in popularity, Hoosier cabinets still hold a special place in many homes. They are particularly well-suited for older houses with smaller kitchens and limited storage space. Hoosier cabinets can be found in vintage or farmhouse-style kitchens, but they can also be incorporated into other design styles with a creative touch. If you're interested in owning a Hoosier cabinet, your best bet is to check garage sales, antique stores, or online platforms like eBay and Houzz.

Conclusion

Hoosier cabinets are not just simple cupboards; they are functional and versatile pieces of furniture that were once a staple in many kitchens. Their unique features and historical significance make them a cherished part of American culinary history. Whether you're a fan of vintage aesthetics or looking for practical storage solutions, a Hoosier cabinet can be a valuable addition to your kitchen.

Must-Know Furniture: The Hoosier Cabinet (2024)

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