It’s one of my clearest sense memories from childhood: I’m standing in my grandparents’ kitchen, surrounded by the smooth, white (probably Formica) countertops, and pull out a seemingly unremarkable drawer to reveal an unusual interior sliding cover. Peeling back the plastic sheath reveals a hidden trove of breads, bagels, and assorted crusty treats, which blast the room like a scent cannon. The smell of bread still brings me back to that moment (I’ll spare you the Proust reference). But the real power of the memory isn’t the food; it’s the design of the bread drawer.
Like a bread box, a bread drawer helps maintain a dark, dry environment for preserving baked goods. But unlike a bread box, which can add a dash of aesthetic pop to a counter, the design benefits of a bread drawer are more practical and subtle. The counter is freed up (a big bonus for anyone working with limited counter space), crumbs are contained, and there’s room for snacks and packaged goods alongside your loaves. But what really pushes the bread drawer above all other drawers is its sliding cover, which provides shelter against rodents and other pests that may access the space from the back. Many versions also feature small ventilation holes in the cover to release moisture, keeping mold out along with critters.
Where built-in bookshelves declare a bibliophile’s wealth of knowledge, and stacks of records give away any melomaniac, a dedicated bread drawer is a more subtle flex. Having one shows true dedication to the floury arts, but from the outside, that drawer could hold silverware or it could hold cupcakes. It’s a shibboleth for a lover of baked goods.
The design has proven to have staying power, too. My grandparents’ plastic drawer fit in well with both their original midcentury International Style home and sleek ’80s kitchen revamp. In the ’40s, Ohio’s Republic Steel Corporation turned out insertable steel drawers, while Terence Conran featured a version emerging from a wooden cabinet in his famed 1974 guide The House Book. To anyone unfamiliar, the drawer’s design gives off an indisputable vintage vibe, but the idea has remained flexible through the ages.
There’s no reason to relegate it to a relic now. In fact, the bread drawer is perfectly tuned to the current pandemic moment. It’s a smart storage solution for anyone interested in remodeling to optimize their domestic space. It can also fit a fat sourdough boule that would overwhelm a slim countertop bread box, and it can properly maintain any specialty loaves you might pick up to support a local bakery. My grandparents had the drawer installed during a kitchen remodel, but you can buy a simple sliding cover to transform any existing drawer or dig up a vintage model that inserts within the drawer for even greater coverage.
Homeowners who prefer flashy upgrades will spend their stimulus checks on an air fryer or Our Place pans, but the bread drawer offers a quieter boost for a certain type of kitchen inhabitant. It can improve life in a small utilitarian way, while promising the charm of discovery. It’s a hidden treasure worth digging for.