The Hoosier Cabinet at Elm Heights

Our general contractor and Bloomingfoods staff are busy putting the finishing touches on the Elm Heights store in preparation for opening day. One of those finishing touches is a very special piece of furniture built just for us by local artisan Nancy Hiller.

We decided early in the design process for the Elm Heights store that we wanted to incorporate elements from local artisans. A Hoosier Cabinet was an obvious choice. Hoosier cabinets, popular in kitchens before built-in cabinetry became common, were a staple of the early-20th-century home.

Standing about six feet tall, these iconic kitchen pieces included an assortment of storage spaces and accoutrements designed to improve the efficiency of a housewife’s kitchen. Manufacturers marketed the cabinets with the claim that they would eliminate drudgery from the housewife's day, preserving her youthful energy—and thereby, her marriage.

Most Hoosier cabinets were produced right here in Indiana. Companies such as the Hoosier Manufacturing Company, Sellers, Boone, and Coppes Napanee all sold products that were shipped across the country; here in Bloomington, the Showers Brothers Furniture Company produced Hoosier cabinets for sale through the Sears & Roebuck catalog.

At its peak, the largest producer, the Hoosier Manufacturing Company of Newcastle, northeast of Indianapolis, was making more than 600 cabinets a day. The Hoosier cabinet is part of our local history and undoubtedly one of the reasons the word "Hoosier" is so widely associated with our fine state.

We contacted local cabinet maker and author of The Hoosier Cabinet in History, Nancy Hiller, who said she was "delighted to have the opportunity to work on an integral feature of this exciting new store.” She agreed to design and build a cabinet using local materials: elm salvaged from a tree that once grew at the location of the current animal shelter, pre-consumer recycled scrap from her shop, and locally quarried limestone for the counter. The size and features of the cabinet were specifically designed for our grocery setting, and while our Hoosier lacks some of the bells and whistles many historic pieces possess, it's as close as feasible to classic Hoosier cabinet proportions.

Nancy describes it on her blog:

“Because this Hoosier was designed to work as a grocery store endcap, I had to make some modifications to the traditional Hoosier cabinet model. The proportions are taller and skinnier than most originals. The pull-out cutting board in the base is just for show. The section above the counter is open, whereas an original Hoosier would have had doors or a tambour “curtain” to hide the contents. There is also a pair of doors in the base cabinet where an original Hoosier would have had only one wide door, typically with a built-in rack for storing lids of pots and pans; a single door would have protruded too far into the aisle.

Despite these modifications, the cabinet includes many distinctive Hoosier features such as the radiused front legs, wooden wheels, the curved top of the upper section, and the beveled half-overlay doors. The drawers slide on traditional wooden runners, just like those in the original Napanee cabinet from which I adapted this design; the small wire rack on the upper left door came from a vintage Hoosier cabinet; and the hardware on doors and drawers is reproduced from original early-20th-century examples.”

The finished cabinet will be featured as an end cap in our produce department showcasing various seasonal promotions with a focus on fresh, local foods. We look forward to bringing it into the store and getting it ready for opening day.

Watch for more news about the opening of our newest location both here and at the Elm Heights Project blog.

Learn more about Nancy Hiller's work here.

Jennifer Hileman is project manager of the new Elm Heights neighborhood store, located at 614 East Second Street in Bloomington, Indiana.