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The Overlooked History of Kitchen Cabinetry

Creation Cabinetry has been building and installing cabinets for customers in the Schuylkill County, Berks County, and Bucks County areas for over thirty years. Thirty years is a lot of experience, but how did we get here?

And I’m not talking about as a company – I’m talking about the cabinetry profession in general. What has changed over the years and how has the field become what it is today? We’ll cover all of that in this blog entry.

In today’s world, things like cabinetry and the gadgets associated with them are often overlooked and taken for granted. That being said, this time 100 years ago things were vastly different in the world of cabinetry. In fact, built-in cabinetry wasn’t even introduced until the 1920s, which left homeowners with Hoosier cabinets to store their food, spices and cookware – plates, bowls, and things of that nature were primarily stored in the dining area, something that is largely considered strange today.

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Hoosier cabinets were free standing, meaning they weren’t built-in like the cabinets of today. In addition to that, Hoosier cabinets were extremely limited in terms of the storage that they offered – the units measured six feet tall by four feet wide, and were usually, give or take, 24 inches in depth.

Hoosier cabinets, while wildly popular in the years leading up to the invention of built-in units, offered very little space for food prep, something that changed in a major way with the introduction of built-in cabinetry.

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Lillian Moller Gilbreth working at her design station.

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The studies of Lillian Moller Gilbreth, an industrial psychologist, led the way for the kitchens of the future. She recognized that the layouts and designs of that time period were inefficient and lacking, which helped her shape the types of cabinetry at our disposal in the present day.

With the Industrial Era in full-swing, cabinet production was increased, leading to more and more people installing built-in cabinetry in their homes. The extra space allotted for food preparation and storage drastically changed the idea of what a kitchen could and should be, seemingly creating an entire industry in the process.

People were ditching their outdated Hoosier cabinets left and right in favor of the superior, built-in units that Gilbreth helped popularize. The cabinetry craze quickly swept the nation, and eventually made its way to Europe.

The growing popularity of built-in kitchen cabinets quickly led to designers implementing different materials in their work. Formica was the countertop material of choice in the ‘20s, but it wasn’t long before homeowners desired more. People wanted their countertops to be both durable and visually appealing; two traits that quartz and stone slabs can offer customers.

The drastic changes that took place in the world of cabinetry between the 1910s and 1920s goes to show that, like every other facet of life, the home improvement field is constantly evolving. Think about it, not even 100 years ago people had no idea what built-in cabinetry could offer them; they were content with their Hoosier cabinets, much like many people are comfortable with the cabinetry that currently reside in their homes. With the rapid growth of technology that we are now experiencing, it’s possible that the kitchens of today will look far different than the kitchens people will implement in their homes in, say, 20 years.

You have to understand that what’s great today, may be considered extremely inefficient and lacking in the future. Not because there’s anything particularly wrong with the current state of cabinetry, but because things improve and become more streamlined as time advances and production methods strengthen.

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