Kasten Culture

Hi! I’m Chloe Baker, a history major with a minor in Medieval and Early Modern studies at SUNY New Paltz. I am very excited to be interning at Historic Huguenot Street!

This week’s object is the grote kas, a large storage cupboard with roots in Renaissance Dutch architecture. This item became popular among immigrant inhabitants of Colonial New Netherland and were a staple in Dutch households during the Colonial era. The kasten were meant to be the center of attention in a room, with the largest ones exceeding eighty inches in height. They were typically used for the purposes of storing bed linens and clothing, such as women’s skirts and petticoats. The process of keeping the cloths and linens clean and dust free was a time consuming and lengthy endeavor. Women would often take two sheets of linen and fold them diagonally and horizontally to ensure that the contents inside of the kasten were kept free and in place. If the coloring of the linen was not perfectly white, women would have them bleached.1 Thus it can be inferred that the kasten were important pieces of furniture to Dutch housewives.

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The design of these American kasten typically included a base with a single draw or draws, a shelved central cupboard with paneled doors, and a molded cornice. The kasten contained sharply defined moldings and overhanging cornices, which took time and required the skills of a carpenter. Such a design was an improvement from the original, old-fashioned Renaissance form. The kasten were often rich as they were made from sweet gum wood, mostly found in New Jersey, which contained a smooth grain with a light red-born color. They sometimes contained diamond-shaped or rectangular panels on the stiles and drawer fronts, and was usually applied to a contrasting wood such as walnut.2

Not only did the kasten serve a practical purpose for wives and add a decorative element to households due to their elaborate and detailed carvings, but they also became a source of Dutch pride among Dutch immigrants in America. As America’s colonial era approached, what was once known as New Amsterdam became New York due to wars between the Dutch powers and the English. As more British settlers traveled to the New World, Dutch individuals did in fact stay, however most were hesitant to acculturate into English society. Owning kasten became an expression of Dutch pride, and was very commonly mentioned in wills that included furniture. 3  Unlike colonial Dutch architecture, which possessed a different style depending on the region, kasten usually stayed the same in design for all Dutch households. Only a few variations existed, depending on the region of New York they were made. In this way it can be inferred that the kasten were universally used to preserve the heritage, culture, and even values of the Dutch people, most of whom likely possessed a fair amount of wealth during a time when the population demographics of the New World were shifting.

We have many on the street, notably on display in the Jean Hasbrouck and Abraham Hasbrouck houses. This particular kas is in the Abraham Hasbrouck house and dates to 1750, made at the Beekman-Elting workshop in Kingston. This is a wonderful example of the Dutch furniture, as the original finish remains after over two hundred years of oxidation.

1 Blackburn, Roderic H. and Ruth Piwonka. Remembrance of Patria: Dutch Arts and Culture in Colonial America, 1609-1776. Albany Inst of History & Art: 1988. 260. Print.

2 Volk, Joyce Geary. “The Dutch Kast and the American Kas: A Structural/Historical Analysis.” New World Dutch Studies-Dutch Arts and Culture in Colonial America 1609-1776. 1987. 107. Print.

3 Kenny, Peter M. American Kasten: The Dutch Style Cupboards of New York and New Jersey 1650-1800. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1991. Print,

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One thought on “Kasten Culture

  1. Thank you for presenting this history. I was fortunate (and SO excited) to be present when this Kasten was delivered to the Abraham Hasbrouck House. I love seeing it now with baskets displayed on top, and of course seeing the Elting attribution. There is the possibility that the Beekman and Elting workshops were separate businesses, creating the same type Dutch Kasten, but there has not been conclusive research results to prove that yet.

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