Decorating with an Antique Pie Safe
Pie safes were used extensively in country homes of centuries past. They were a necessary piece of furniture used to store pies, cakes, and other sweets. The pie safe not only kept the sweet desserts safe from flies, mice, and other pests – it kept them away from hungry children.
A pie safe is a nostalgic addition to any country kitchen and makes a useful storage cabinet that will give your home warm country style.
Names for Pie Safes
Pie safes were known by different names in different parts of the country. Common names for pie safes are:
- Pie cabinet
- Pie cupboard
- Kitchen safe
History of the Pie Safe
The pie safe or cabinet is believed to have been introduced to the United States by the Pennsylvania Dutch. These homemade cabinets were used for all sorts of baked goods including breads, cakes, cookies, and tarts.
Because of the lack of refrigeration and airtight storage it was important that foods be kept in a place that was well ventilated and yet protected from mice. The tall pie safes served that purpose well. Situated in the coolest part of the kitchen, the safe held the family’s baked goods.
The doors were ventilated with punched copper of tin and later on, screening. To get the most ventilation the pie cabinets might even be moved to a shaded side porch in the spring and summer.
Materials for Pie Cupboards
Pie cupboards and safes were usually made of local wood. Since they were not meant for the parlor or other public areas they were generally simple, primitive pieces that may or may not have had a quick coat of leftover whitewash or milk paint.
Pine and other soft woods were generally used for the shelves and drawers, if not the whole piece. Sometimes local hardwoods like chestnut, maple, or hickory would be used for the outer surfaces, especially in the more affluent homes.
The Value of Antique Pie Cabinets
The value of a pie safe will vary according to a number of different criteria.
Age is an important consideration – especially as pie safes were used for several centuries and on into the early 1900s. An early pie safe from the 1700s may sell for several thousand dollars or more while a pie cupboard from 1910 will be easy to find for less than five hundred.
Original hardware and paint will generally give the pie safe more value than one that has been refinished or changed in some way – even if those changes were needed repairs. The condition will definitely affect the value.
Unique characteristics are more valuable than a piece that looks like every other one. Stenciling, a special painted motif, something different about the design – all of these will add up to a more valuable piece for your collection.
Demand with always drive price. If you are in Western Pennsylvania and there are thousands of pie safes to be found they will cost considerably less than if you live in Arizona where they are harder to find.
Finally, the provenance of a piece can make it extremely valuable. If it belonged in George Washington’s kitchen and you can prove it your pie safe may be able to finance your retirement.
Decorating with Antique Pie Safes
While the most logical place for the pie safe might be the kitchen there is no reason it can’t be used for towel storage in your bathroom or DVD storage in your den. Since these cabinets were built to be used they are sturdy enough to handle normal use, as long as you keep in mind their age.
The most important thing is to keep the pie safe away from direct sunlight and sudden temperature changes. If the pie safe is too near a heat source, whether it is a register or an oven, the wood will dry out, buckle, crack, splinter, and peel. Applying lemon oil on a regular basis can help protect the wood.
- Keep mixing bowls, baking supplies, and measuring cups in a pie safe.
- Use it to store yarn and other craft supplies.
- Place diapers and baby’s bedding in a pie safe.
- Use a pie safe to hold office supplies.
Once you have it places you can think about what you want to pair with it. A green plant or hand-woven basket on the top looks very rustic in almost any room.
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