A delivery arrived yesterday from our friend Kim, who lives just outside our nation’s capital. As a source of cultural information relevant to my research, Kim is my version of Chris’s Saucy Indexer (though Saucy’s finds, encompassing everything from erotic Roman cow costumes to the hurricane-shaped vise nuts on Saint Joseph’s workbench as portrayed in Peruvian art, are arguably a few notches up the cultural scale from our quotidian pursuits). A few weeks earlier she’d sent a snapshot of a Hoosier-type cabinet she recently acquired and asked whether I’d like to have it. Of course! I wrote back. I will gladly reimburse you for the cost of shipping. The cabinet is shown above.
At this point you may be wondering why Lost Art Press would ever have invited me to write a book about kitchens. This cabinet is a monstrosity: a plywood base without so much as a counter overhang, its floor-scraping doors hung on surface-mounted butt hinges and adorned with giant cherry decals…topped by an upper section that not only doesn’t match (to put it mildly), but offers a textbook example of the need to gauge shelf thickness according to depth, load, and span.
So let me assure you that I do not consider this cabinet an exemplar of the kitchen furnisher’s art. The key to its value (at least, to me) is its size: It’s only 18″ high — a toy, apparently made by someone of modest means for the delight of someone he or she loved. It is a perfect illustration of the kitchen’s magnetic appeal.
This is not the first toy kitchen cabinet I’ve been fortunate to have been given by Kim. The first was the colorful “Just Kidz” playset from 11 years ago; Kim made sure that I was the winner of this particular prize in a Thanksgiving parlor game played at a condo on the Delaware beach during a Nor’easter. I was charmed by the tiny plastic version of the kitchen-in-one promoted by the Hoosier Manufacturing Company in the 1930s that incorporated storage, cooking, prep space, and a sink.
You can dismiss these toys as gender-role enforcers along the lines of the Suzy Homemaker appliances my childhood friend Faye got on birthdays and holidays (kudos to my parents for agreeing to my requests for such gender-bending gems as Tonka Toys and a Thingmaker), but I’ve found that boys who visit my shop are just as intrigued as girls by the “housekeeping playhouse.” Such is the draw of the kitchen.
As for Kim, my friend in a high place, she’s also the one who hooked me up with a treasure trove of information about post-war construction, remodeling, and design published by the United States Gypsum Company (who knew?) that I’ve mined for info to use in articles and books.
Here’s a recipe I made last weekend in my own kitchen: my favorite pound cake, made in this case with dried Montmorency cherries that Mark brought back from a recent trip to northern Michigan. The recipe is adapted from one for pound cake in New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant. Those hippies knew their dairy products.–Nancy R. Hiller, author of Making Things Work
11 thoughts on “Friends in high places”
Caption on first image–classic.
Simply borrowed from/paying homage to the post hotlinked in “intertextuality.”
That cabinet is not dissimilar from the ones in our house when we bought it. I keep pictures of them to show people when they come to our house for the first time. To pretty them up, the previous owner put baby blue contact paper on the doors and framed it with scalloped trim molding. (The baby blue matched the carpet in the living room.)
I love that our parents used to let us play with Thingmakers. I could be mistaken, but I remember those things getting hot enough to give you a serious burn.
New Recipies from Moosewood Restaurant (I call it “Son of Moosewood”) has been a favorite of mine for 30 years. My copy has battle scars from the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. I lived in a flat in San Francisco at the time. That book lived on a bookshelf in the kitchen along with a magnum of red wine and a big glass canister of flour. The bookshelf fell over and they all wound up in a slurry on the floor.
Laughing out loud at the slurry paragraph. I think I still have scars from Thingmaker burns. More horrifying is the thought that we actually ate the “things” we “made,” which were advertised as edible. I half wonder whether someday I will cough up a tiny living monster like the one that came out of Will’s mouth in the last episode of the first season of Stranger Things. (I cannot bring myself to watch a second season, though I loved the children’s characters.)
I love the caption. Sounds like you went to the Fancy Lassie Academy.
From the plywood atelier?
My wife and I were bemoaning the tiny kitchens our grandmothers (our grandfathers weren’t allowed in until they’d been scrubbed and changed) conjured magic in. We couldn’t work out how they had enough counter space until we both remembered that they did a lot of chopping sitting at the kitchen table chatting with the family. Then you can get away with a six foot setup.
We have to have our own worktops or meal preparation gets sharp elbowed.
So funny! Yes, from the plywood atelier. Avec sharp elbows.
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Dear Ms. Hiller:
Thanks so much for this entry! Toy Kitchens not only draw children; they can indelibly affect adults. The first woodworking project of any real complexity that I attempted was a child-sized Hoosier-style kitchen that my wife designed. A friend and I built two, one for each of our daughters, in his dedicated wood shop, wherein the scales fell from my eyes and I saw the possibilities of using hand and power tools to make meaningful pieces. We finished them at 11:45 pm on Christmas Eve. Our daughters were delighted and all our kids used them recklessly and with abandon. The kitchen remains a treasured, scarred family relic and the experience a turning point. I haven’t stopped putting steel to wood since.
Thank you for the flood of memories amidst a busy workday!
p.s. Making Things Work is a fantastic read-I had to consciously pace myself when I read it.
Ed, thank you for writing. What a lovely note! The Hoosier-style kitchens (plural) that you and your friend built sound intriguing. I’d love to see photos if you have any handy.
If you haven’t seen it before you might enjoy Tiny Kitchen.
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