Fine furniture? No. Beautifully proportioned? Not really. Sturdily built with finely executed joinery? Not at all. A Hoosier cabinet is to a Chippendale highboy what a Farmall Cub tractor is to a Bentley. Yet, like a Farmall, they are great examples of utilitarian design; form is secondary to function, but that functionality makes them beautiful.
The Hoosier cabinet was derived from the baker's cabinet of the 1800's, and was eventually built by several manufacturers in the midwest, primarily in Indiana, thus the generic term "Hoosier" cabinet. Hoosier, McDougall, Sellers, and Boone were the biggest producers, with several other smaller companies also in the mix. The usual design is composed of two pieces; a bottom cabinet about two feet deep by forty inches wide and thirty-two inches high and an upper cabinet of the same width, twelve inches deep by three feet tall. The upper cabinet attaches to the bottom with metal brackets separating them by about an inch and a half. A porcelain covered metal work surface mounts on top of the bottom cabinet, and can be slid out on rails to increase the depth of the work surface. The bottom cabinet usually has a large door on the left and three drawers on the right, the bottom one being a large metal bread drawer. The left hand storage area typically has a slide out shelf or rack for trays and pans, and a rack mounted to the inside of the door for lids. Sometimes there is a cutlery drawer above the door, sometimes a pullout cutting board. On the right side of the lower cabinet a bracket can be mounted to hold a meat grinder.
The upper cabinet generally consists of three upper doors and either two lower doors, or a tambour which may slide up, down, or into the sides. On the left side is a large flour bin with a built in sifter. This bin tilts out for filling. On the right is a large glass sugar jar mounted on a swing out bracket. Each door has some sort of rack or hooks for spices, bills, recipes, etc. There are charts and conversion tables, substitution charts, a myriad of information for cooks. There is usually a small rotating rack for spice jars. On some there was even an ironing board that pulled out.
All in all, these babies are a lot of cabinet in a small footprint. There are no frills, no fancy trim or hardware, no decoration, just two boxes stacked up with a piece of steel in between. Yet, they are beautiful in their own utilitarian, unadorned way. Simple practicality can be perfect. There is warmth and homeyness in their unpretentious usefulness. For the same reason that a good barbecue sandwich is just as satisfying as any fine French dish, the simple Hoosier cabinet is, to me, just as beautiful as any Queen Anne chest on frame.