Hoosier kitchen cabinets, also known as baker’s cabinets and kitchen queens, were freestanding cupboards containing a food preparation area, generally a porcelain countertop, a built-in flour sifter and sugar container, utensil drawers, a bread box, spice rack and cupboards for food storage. This innovative all-in-one kitchen cupboard was a must-have for housewives in the early twentieth century hoping to save a few steps. The cupboards were mainly manufactured in Indiana. The Hoosier Company was the most well-known manufacturer and its name is now synonymous for all cupboards of this type.
Inspect the cupboard. Look for rusted or missing hardware, peeling paint, veneer that has come unglued and scratches. Check for a moldy smell or other unpleasant odor. If the piece appears to be in good shape, it may just need a good cleaning.
Use a soft cloth and a solution of one-part water to one-part household bleach to wipe down the inside of the cupboard. Place a dryer sheet in the cupboards and drawers to neutralize any residual odors. Wipe the outside of the Hoosier with a vegetable-oil-based cleaner like Murphy’s Oil Soap and water. Clean the porcelain countertop with a mild detergent and water.
If the veneer has come unglued and is lifted off the cupboard in spots, try gluing it down with carpenter’s glue and putting something heavy on top or taping it down with masking tape to smooth it out. If a piece of the original hardware is missing, replace it with a reproduction piece. There are various online sources that specialize in reproduction hardware for Hoosier cabinets. Remove white stains and rings caused by storage in a damp environment by wiping them with a clean cloth dampened with denatured alcohol.
If the cupboard’s finish is damaged beyond cleaning and touching up, you will have to remove it. If the Hoosier is covered with peeling paint, you can scrape off the paint using a single-edged razor blade in a retractable holder. Another option is stripping the piece with a stripping agent that can be purchased in any hardware store. You will be working with a chemical, so be sure to take precautions and follow the instructions on the label to the letter.
Once you have removed the old finish, wipe the piece down to be sure all traces of the stripping compound are gone. Before applying the new finish, let the piece dry thoroughly. You may want to take a look at a reference book like “Hoosier Cabinets” by Phillip Kennedy to see how your cupboard originally may have been finished. If the cupboard was painted, you can repaint it. If it is oak and was finished with a clear varnish, you may want to keep that natural look by applying a good paste wax.
Be sure to strip furniture in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside.