Shopping for data center furniture last weekend led me to wonder about the history of cabinet making in the United States.
Long before anyone could drive to the big box store and pick up a cabinet, the design and construction rested on specialty craftsmen. The smaller pool of artists helped cabinet makers like Thomas Chippendale and Thomas Sheraton stand out. Their work was popularized with the inclusion in the publication of books full of furniture designs published by the likes of George Hepplewhite.
Steam power would change things, pushing the tools past former limitations. Through mass production, the techniques used to create furniture would often be simplified to produce more of a product more quickly. The bigger scale sometimes was enough to force smaller, more traditional cabinet makers out of the business by cornering the domestic and international markets. This transition was accelerated by the growing demand of a new, expanding middle class for all types of furniture. Prior to this time furniture was somewhat of a luxury, something typically only owned by the more affluent. As the new working class had more money to spend, they purchased more furniture for their homes and more stuff to fill them.
The arts and craft movement of the 19th century, however, expressed a yearning to return to traditional craftsmanship. The arts and craft movement soon spread from the United Kingdom to the United States and other former or current British colonies. Those in the movement tended to feel that solid, quality furniture could not be produced with the same character and artistry when done by a machine.
Similarly, woodworking became a popular hobby among Americans following World War II, favoring a do-it-yourself approach to the furniture in their homes. The result was often stunning furniture near or better than that had been mass produced by professionals. The amateur movement produced a great number of quality items and in output alone is said to have exceeded the number of furniture produced prior to the 18th century.
Of course, companies selling mass-produced furniture remained successful and the arrival of the Information Age brought a new market in the form of computer furniture. By the 1980s personal computer users found the need for something that could organize and complement their computer and all of its devices.
Corporations and other groups would expand this need in the form of data center furniture or operations center furniture.
Cabinet makers found that a hutch style cabinet worked best to suit the many needs of a computer. The hutch generally features a top unit that has shelving or cabinets and a lower unit which features drawers or cabinets and a counter top to set things on. The design is well suited for use with computers as it allows accommodation for all that goes along with owning a computer. In place of an office, Americans used hutches for handling paperwork, correspondence and other clerical duties. A variation on the theme was also present in the early 19th century, the hutch table, which would pivot the upper half to form a larger tabletop when not in use. This multiple-use format was often desired considering living space and space for furniture was limited.
The cabinet has adapted to the times again and again and this is likely to continue even in the face of our technology and our media taking up less space all the time.