Kitchens in Britain and Europe, 1500-1950

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course

Description of Activity

The ‘commodious’ kitchen cabinet: Efficiency, the housewife and modernity

By the mid-1920s most furniture retailers in Britain sold at least one style of kitchen cabinet or ‘commodious cupboard’. Made of wood or metal, kitchen cabinets took the form of a single free-standing cupboard with multiple doors and drawers. They were organised into compartments to allow for the storage of food and equipment associated with food preparation and sometimes cleaning equipment. The British kitchen cabinet had its origins in the American Hoosier cabinet, which was first manufactured in Indiana from the late 1890 until the 1930s, with production peaking in the 1920s when more than one in ten American households owned a Hoosier brand cabinet. In Britain, kitchen cabinets were produced in a range of sizes, prices and specifications. Some retailers even supplied them fully stocked with food and speculative builders frequently installed them in compact kitchenettes as part of the purchase price of new suburban houses.

Marketed by companies such as Easiwork as efficient and space saving, the kitchen cabinet was promoted as a rational and hygienic solution to food preparation and storage needs in the ‘servantless’ house. This paper discusses the response to the kitchen cabinet by the British domestic advice writer, lecturer and broadcaster Nancie Clifton Reynolds who devoted several pages of her 1929 Easier Housework to a detailed discussion of its pros and cons for the housewife. This paper argues that the kitchen cabinet is best understood through a dynamic network of actors in the interwar suburban house, including the cabinet itself, the compact space of the kitchen and the housewife. It may speak the discourse of labour-saving and easier housework but only if certain sets of efficient actions are performed. Nevertheless, it could also signify the professionalization of the housewife and her modernity and serve as partial recognition of her labour.
Period18 Jan 2017
Event typeConference
LocationLondon, United KingdomShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • kitchen
  • domestic design
  • design history
  • history of design