I've been intrigued by antique Hoosier cabinets ever since my cousin first mentioned them to me nearly two decades ago. These all-in-one cupboards stored pantry staples and cookware, and served as the work surface for the food prep that kept a household humming in the early 1900s. And while they're all but obsolete now~~replaced by jacked-up built-in cabinetry and vast countertop islands~~nothing in a modern kitchen can beat their old-timey charm. We haven't had room for a Hoosier in our kitchen until recently, but we didn't have the budget for a fully restored model ... or the time to redo one ourselves. So I was over the moon when I spotted a forlorn old hutch at the Brimfield antique market last year. It was badly in need of a cleaning and paint job, but the starburst textured glass panels and intact buttercup-yellow flour sifter tugged at my heart. I sweet talked the dealer down under $100 and she was ours.
After agreeing that we would fix up and clean the cabinet~~and not necessarily restore it to its original glory~~my husband and I plunked it in the barn for storage. As our kitchen renovations neared completion and outside temperatures started to rise, our our interest in the piece returned. I wanted to find out everything I could about our Hoosier, so I started by studying its top, latches, and storage areas. I scoured old advertisements and books, trying to determine its manufacturer and birth year. A label beneath the original slide-out work surface referencing an aluminum top~~along with the design of the cabinet doors and drawers~~led me to believe we had a genuine Hoosier cupboard, born between 1908~1910. Cool!
We rolled up our sleeves and donned face masks to begin the dirty work in earnest last week. Hours alone with country music on the radio gave me plenty of time to ponder the history of the piece. It's made of oak that's been covered by grey, then yellow, then white paint, scuffed and chipped in frequently used areas. Where has this cabinet been, and who used it? What type of people were they? We discovered a shipping label that~~shockingly!~~revealed the cabinet was sent from the Hooiser factory in Indiana to my hometown, Wallingford, Connecticut. What on Earth are the chances this piece would come to me someday?!
Once my husband disassembled the cabinet, we discovered other things as well. The hinges were most likely not the ones put on when it was manufactured at the factory~~they were most likely added during a repair at some point. Hoosiers were the workhorses of the kitchens of yesteryear~~keeping them usable was non-negotiable, so I accepted that fix, still hoping the rest of the piece was original. But my heart sank when I noticed that the brackets joining the shelves on top to the wheeled work surface on the bottom were simple metal strips. I could see now that the top and bottom were different widths, which meant we had a married piece ... they were not original partners.
There's an intimacy that develops when you work on a piece of history, and as my 50th birthday approaches, I'm starting to notice just how similar this cupboard and I are. We have scars, replacements and missing parts. There are stories in our surfaces, in our layers of paint and facial lines. And while our charming little Hoosier is old enough to be considered antique, I am not. For now I'm thrilled to be able to embody Polly Bland's definition of true vintage, and to enjoy the greater~than~the~sum~of~its~parts beauty of my own marriage. Just like my sweet Hoosier and me, my husband and I also have a wonderful synchronicity ... we share the same birthday. Whether in relationships or antique furniture, I think the union things with storied pasts can take two pretty great things and made them even better together.