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  • Writer's pictureCarole Conn

Antiques for Kitchen Storage

I live in an old house, but I'm an avid cook, so my kitchen is pretty modern - big efficient appliances, limestone counters, and nothing hidden to disguise the fact that this is the 21st century. I admire those who have modern kitchens but have hidden new things so that the kitchen works seamlessly with the rest of their early look. I haven't been able to figure out how to achieve that.

That said, I use antiques in every way I can think of in my kitchen, and I really like the effect.


Apothecary Jars

Hand blown apothecary jars are beautiful empty - bubbles and ripples in the glass, old tin lids with good patina, a raised "broken" pontil. And they are incredibly practical. I use mine every day. They hold cloves, dried herbs, flour, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and just about any dry ingredient you can think of.

There are early apothecary jars in just about every size: this photo shows the range I have:

This is extreme, I'll admit. The very large and very small are incredibly hard to find and can be extremely expensive. I've had these for over 20 years.

A good, early apothecary jar has a smooth rim, a tin lid and a broken pontil.

There were hand blown and originally used in apothecary stores. They date from about 1860-80. Common sizes can be had for just over $100 each.

I love the ones with painted lids. The paint is usually later, but pre-1950. I have a few. They add a bit of color and interest, but are hard to find:

You can also find jars that look the same, but are modern. There are many in the marketplace with tin lids. They aren't hand blown and they have smooth bottoms, but filled, you'd never know. They are quite inexpensive.

I also like the old canning jars from the 1900-1940 era. I especially like ball jars that are pale turquoise in color. They are usually molded, not blown, and have a visible seam down the side. Many also have the maker's name molded into the glass.


These are pretty easy to find and don't cost much. They have glass lids held in place by wire closures.

These are the first storage jars I collected and I used them well for many years.



Stoneware is very dense and impervious to liquid penetration, making it perfect for storage of things like flour, sugar, grains, etc. (I would be very careful to clean the insides thoroughly before adding food.)

I like the way stoneware looks holding wooden spoons:

This is a little canning jar which is perfect for spoons. It was used originally for preserved jams, vegetables, or anything that was canned for the winter. A cloth cover was often tied around the top.

This jar has its original lid. It belonged to my grandfather and was in an old cupboard in his kitchen. I'm not sure what he stored in it, but it is perfect for grains, or even liquids. It doesn't have any maker's mark, just a little indigo design that I guess is a flower.

I love it for its provenance.

Redware is another pottery that works well in the kitchen. If it's glazed it will not absorb liquid, but unglazed redware will. I would not eat from it, but it works well for storage.


Baskets and Bowls

Antique baskets can be very fragile and should be used carefully for kitchen storage. I have had this one for years and have always used it to store crackers and breads.

It's pretty sturdy, so it hasn't broken yet, but a more fragile one would be an issue. Of course, there are lots of new baskets that can be used in the kitchen, but I like the old patina.

This one is the perfect size for holding napkins. It is also sturdy and has stood the test of time.

If you want to use an antique basket, be sure it's in a place where it won't be knocked around and damaged.

There are an infinite number of bowl types that are great in any kitchen. For years I've had a lazy susan that has a spatterware bowl, a Bennington bowl and some redware bowls to hold onions, potatoes, garlic, shallots and other dry or root vegetables.

And there's nothing like a good old wood bowl. This old green one holds apples at the moment. I love it. Early bowls were never painted on the inside - never - so my best caution on using them is that if the apple or potato goes bad it will leave a permanent stain.



In addition to bowls there are many early wood pieces that are useful in a kitchen and also add that old, primitive look.

Wood containers give warmth to the hard surfaces in a kitchen. These two have had all kinds of things in them over the years. One is covered - great for hiding things - and the other never had a cover.

Both have their unfinished, natural surface, which I prefer.

Sometimes I put wood spoons into the one without the lid, and sometimes just things I want to hide.

I've had this little wood handled box for many years and like it because it is the perfect size for cocktail napkins.

Wall boxes are another type that come in handy in a kitchen. You can throw anything into them and then grab what you need. This is one that I found in the Hudson River Valley in its original red paint. Note the decorative curved sides! (Not for sale!)

Pantry boxes were meant for kitchen storage. Often you can find old ones with labels on them indicating what they held. Again, I would clean them thoroughly before food storage. I mainly use them for decoration but they are handy for storage if you have limited space.

Small kitchen utensils - like pie crimpers, mortars and pestles, salts basins, boxes, brushes and cutting boards are useful and decorative in any kitchen.

The point of all this is that early containers and utensils can be useful and sturdy enough to withstand modern kitchen use.

What makes me happy is having all these things around me while I cook in my non-primitive kitchen. And melding the new and the old seems to work!

Happy cooking!



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