Local History: Who Invented Closets? How Designed Storage Spaces Became a Feature of American House Architecture

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Presentation, History

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Program Description


If you were planning a house in 1700, you would not consider building clothes closets or kitchen cabinets, yet it’s nearly impossible to find a mid-20th century house without these features. Join us as architectural historian Elizabeth Cromley explores the fascinating transformation of American house architecture, focusing on the rise of designed storage solutions between the 18th and 20th centuries.

This presentation will delve into the changing needs of homeowners, examining what needed to be stored, by whom, in what era, and with what urgency. Did storage requirements differ based on social class or even the number of clothes one owned? We'll explore how the evolution of manufactured clothing, dining etiquette, food preservation, and social ambition played a role in shaping the need for dedicated storage spaces. Through historical images and quotes, we'll journey through time, comparing storage solutions in 18th-century New England homes with illustrations from guides aimed at American builders and homebuyers. This presentation unveils the fascinating story of how designed storage spaces became an essential feature, fundamentally changing the way American homes function.

Registration is not required. Just drop by the Levenson Community Room!

About the Presenter
Elizabeth Cromley, an Emeritus Professor at Northeastern University's School of Architecture, taught architectural history for 40 years at schools including SUNY Buffalo and UC Berkeley until her retirement in 2012. She holds a Ph.D. from City University of New York Graduate School and has written extensively on vernacular architecture. Her book The Food Axis—Cooking, Eating, and the Architecture of American Houses (2010) explores the influence of food on American homes from the 1700s to today.