Living with Antiques

Picture an early 20th-century woman methodically rolling out a perfect piecrust on the worktop of her Hoosier cabinet. The ingredients are all within arm’s reach. Recipes are displayed for reading ease. Everything is neat and well organized. No woman of that era could have asked for a more efficient workspace.

Today Hoosier cabinets are prized among some antique collectors. But what possible use could there be for these cabinets other than a conversation piece in your home?

Now picture two toddlers rolling out their playdough before cutting out their favorite shapes. Or one slopping finger paint half on the paper and half on the table while the other reaches for paper and markers.

Hoosier cabinets make great children’s art centers right in the kitchen or family room. The upper cabinets feature shelving that is perfect for small supplies like paints, markers and glue. The bottom doors open to metal racks that hold paper, plastic bins and books. Drawers already are divided to hold pencils, rulers and scissors. Magnets can even stick to metal- or porcelain-covered worktops.

If you’re lucky enough to have the glass spice jars, salt dish, or tea and coffee jars, they are great for holding beads, buttons and other notions. Right now, mine are on “display” on the top of the cabinet until my kids are old enough to stop spilling their milk.

The organizing racks and holders make the cabinet entirely adaptable. For example, I ended up removing the flour sifter to make more room for books and paper — plus, the metal racks are adjustable or removable, too.
The pullout kneading boards come in handy when sharing takes its toll and a little separation is in order. Kids like to draw and use them for playdough, too. The bread or cake box can hold smocks, old aprons and rags.

Oh, by the way, it looks great, too — once the paint is wiped off and all the supplies are neatly tucked away. Or, in my case, when the doorbell rings and everything is hastily shoved in and the doors closed.

Our family’s Coppes Nappanee Dutch Kitchenette, circa 1925, came from my mother’s former neighbor. Mom meticulously refinished it revealing solid oak and oak veneer underneath several coats of enamel paint. It was used in her basement for storing papers.

I asked her about it when I saw a Hoosier cabinet fit into a modern kitchen in Jack and Mitzi Mason’s home in Mt. Horeb, Wis. I thought it would be a great idea to bring the cabinet out of the basement and back into a kitchen.
The Masons removed a built-in desk to perfectly fit their authentic Hoosier cabinet into their kitchen. The couple’s cabinet belonged to Jack’s grandmother, Mary Mason.

Mitzi refinished the piece, which was painted. A few of the doors were too deteriorated to save, so she left the painted interior shelving open.
Sitting in their kitchen, you cannot help but admire not only the Hoosier cabinet, but the way they use it to display some of their favorite collectibles. It serves as a lesson in how to convert something that may not be complete into something useful — while carrying on a family antique.

Adapting a Hoosier cabinet to fit into modern life is simple. Most are about 4 feet wide and 6 feet tall. The worktop slides in to about 30 inches deep. What’s easy about a Hoosier cabinet is that just about anything can be stored in it.

Maybe you could use it as a computer desk and phone center? Wiring easily slides between the porcelain top and upper cabinet. A flat computer screen or laptop is best for the cabinet’s size.

Or what about a file cabinet and bookshelf? Wine connoisseurs might find that a rack perfectly fits within the bottom doors, while glasses conveniently fit above. Extra kitchen items like china, flatware, linens or serving dishes could be stored as well.

Everyone has too many kitchen gadgets that are only dragged out for the holidays, why not store them in a Hoosier cabinet instead of taking up valuable cupboard space?

It’s not always about having an antique just to admire its beauty; it’s also about adapting it to fit your home’s needs while fitting it into your decor.

Alicia Casey is freelance writer, collector and mother from Mount Horeb, Wis.