Modernizing the Vintage Kitchen (article)

mama goose_gw zn6OHNovember 12, 2013

Even though my kitchen has been finished for a couple of years (except the floor, lol--standing joke in my family), I can't stop searching for info on vintage kitchens. Can't. Stop. Residual effects from the TKO syndrome, I suppose.

I found this article interesting, although I don't agree with every point made by the author--I don't expect most GW'ers to agree, either. The 'T' word is used at the end of the text, and that concept has been the subject of whole (entertaining) threads before.

FWIW, I lust after the kitchen in pic #3. :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Modernizing the Vintage Kitchen

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I have read this author's (Svendsen) work before and I agree with a lot of what she says. But, some of these concepts are just not practical today.

I am in the middle of a kitchen redo in my 1908 home. I have mixed the original cabinets with stainless steel appliances much to my chagrin. I would have preferred white appliances, but I also wanted upgraded, good quality appliances, and I just couldn't find them in white. Of course now these same appliance manufacturers are working on upscaled white options and I am sure that all my picks will soon be available in white. I HATE the stainless (what a joke) steel.

I agree with the author that it is tough to make modern work with vintage and I love kitchen #3 too, but most historic homes are already a mix of eras. Not everything can stand still. So I am trying to keep the original parts of my house where I can and to keep the overall feel homey and comfortable. I so don't want a Trendy kitchen.

Thanks for the link; it is fun to see some very pretty vintage kitchens!

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 12:27PM
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Absolutely on #3. As a practical matter, I wouldn't be willing to pitch a dishwasher to get the look.
I'm surprised that metal didn't make the countertop list, unless I skimmed too quickly to notice. Maybe because doing that would conflict with the don'ts at the end (stainless, copper hoods, deco tiles).

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 12:53PM
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I kept stainless appliances too, because we already owned them and weren't willing to toss working appliances. So no concealed dishwasher. The stainless stove, however, is probably about 15 years old -- on its way to vintage?

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 12:58PM
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Well, some of that timeline is specific to urban areas.

For instance my house was first minimally electrified in 1939 and only had its first indoor running water in 1959.

Cooking was still being done on a wood range when we bought this farm in the late 1980s.

And the wood icebox had been retained until @ 1970, using ice cut from a specially-designed ice ponds and stored in sawdust in the icehouse throughout the year. The enormous-fanged ice saws are still out in the barn.

I can still keep milk cold in cans hung into the constantly-running channel of spring water that flows through a trough in my basement.

And of course, I have a root cellar down there will keep potatoes and carrots fresh from harvest in the fall until new ones are available in the garden in late July.

In the pantry there is a huge slate cool shelf along an external wall for keeping butter and cheese and eggs cool.

But my kitchen has not one lick of built-in cabinetry. I have a pantry off the historic kitchen room that did have some cupboards hung on the wall, but nothing built in under them. Tables and barrels would have occupied the space under the wall shelves and cupboads. There were likely case pieces (free standing furntiture) used to store crockery and cooking utensils.

When running water was laid on in 1959 it was supplied to one of those freestanding metal sink cabs, which was there when we bought the place. It's very ratty looking by today having been a very cheap version of the genre and now chipped..

There are no counters, only tables Having a kitchen with only worktables, not counters, makes me sigh when I read here of people wanting a work table in their kitchen because they imagine using it for food prep. Unless you're in a wheel chair, I think you'll find counters at standing height are much more comfortable convenient.

My floors are wood, but at one point in the late 19th c, they had linoleum in some parts.

My house was bult before the Civil War and was never updated (obviously!), except for having a ceiling light added and the running water and drain.

I disagree with the conclusion in the article that there would be cognitive dissonance if I installed a modern-looking kitchen in my old, intact, house. (The rest of it is still in the same relative state of un-remodeledness, some rooms still have no electricity, for instance.) There are many modern styles I wouldn't choose (think something sleek, shiny and European-looking) because they don't appeal to me. But I have seen kitchens done in those styles in manors and castles in Europe that were built not 160 + years ago like mine was but 260, or even 360 years ago or more. And they generate no "cognitive dissonance" because there was no attempt to convince anyone that a modern kitchen existed when these buildings were built.

Any cognitive dissonance in old houses with up to date kitchens results from the dishonesty of trying to pretend that historic kitchen use patterns were the same as today.

These days the homeowners are the primary kitchen workers in all but the most wealthy households. After the settlement period in the US, all but the lowest-income households had kitchen workers of some kind through out most of the 19th c, and into the early 20th.. And kitchens were largely decorated with that essential fact in mind: they were work places for domestic workers and as such, aside from convenience, function and a modicum of effort to not be so discouraging that workers were unrpoductive, or the workers departed for more cheerful circs., kitchen decor wasn't high on anyone's list of must-haves.

Nowadays homeowners entertain their friends in their kitchens, something that certainly wouldn't have been happening in the 19th c. Kitchens have morphed into reception rooms, in fact, if kitchens shown here on GW are national trends, kitchens are in the process of consuming or superceding traditional reception room functions as internal walls keep being torn down and more people opt for a luxurious version of a peasant-style hovel with all household functions combined into one room, something that hasn't been trendy since the Middle Ages, except in the most impoverished households.

It seems to me that many people who are waxing nostalgic about old-style kitchens are confabulating the kitchen-use patterns of the post WW II era (1950s-1980s) with the kitchen appointments of the post Revolutionary, Civil War or Spanish-American era. Even after WW I kitchen workers were still very common in middle class houses.

I do agree that sparkly crystal chandeliers in kitchens are a bizarre (and historically inappropriate) affectation of current style. But they make sense when you think of the kitchen as the functional equivalent of a living room, a room normally decorated to impress visitors.


    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 1:30PM
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MamaGoose- What's the T word...timeless? :)

I love that 4th picture...that marble topped island is so perfect for baking...and no stools! I have just about decided to not have an island, but now I'm thinking a small work island might be just right. From Lavender Lass farmhouse pictures

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 1:42PM
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Thanks for the link. The author would not be happy with all my stainless or my hood/range... but she did make me regret not getting exposed hinges on my cabinets. And, I want to shuffle over to Berkeley and check out those fridges at the Magazine. And a Hoosier cabinet seems fascinating too me, but perhaps a little too old for my era (1930s kitchen)

Her descriptions, btw, veer very close to the OTK. I find it odd that she railed on about granite but was accommodating of quartz and recycled paper composites.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 2:56PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

Linda Svendsen is the talented photographer who took the photos. The author was Jane Powell--I assume the same Jane Powell who wrote books about Bungalow restoration. Sadly, she passed away about a year ago. I should have included that info, and also should have stated that the article was published in 2005.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 3:03PM
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Oh, gee, I didn't even notice the date. So much holds true about what she wrote in 2005.

Powell would be sad to see all the vintage homes in the City now being stripped of their kitchens in lieu of industrial, spare and modern styles. Most of the renos and flips I see now completely break from any reference to the past.

This post was edited by gooster on Tue, Nov 12, 13 at 21:39

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 3:08PM
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Liriodendron, I thoroughly enjoyed your thought provoking post! "luxurious version of a peasant-style hovel" LOL. Thanks for the vivid imagery!

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 3:50PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

powermuffin, you're welcome. I'll look forward to your kitchen reveal. I kept some of the cabinets from my old kitchen, and included some salvaged vintage finds. It was mostly due to budget, but I wanted the kitchen to look as if it had evolved through the decades.

chestershouse, I've never had stainless, except for my hulking sink, but stainless is so popular, I really can't imagine it being on its way out. I think I could love a killer stainless range--Garland--with multiple ovens, griddles, and a big stainless hood to match. I was surprised to read the copper hood/deco tile line--I'd think that those were used often in bungalows.

liriodendron, I always enjoy your informative posts. My grandparents didn't have electric until the 1950s, and 'running' water until after that--the pumps for drilled wells are electric (for anyone who doesn't know). Yes, the old-fashioned kitchens are romantic, and when we're waxing nostalgic, we don't consider what it was like to wake up to ice frozen on the water bucket, and a stove that had gone cold during the night. Kitchens were utilitarian work rooms, because it took a lot of work to prepare meals from scratch, especially when you had to preserve the food you raised. With the current, relative ease of obtaining and preparing raw ingredients, and convenience foods, and with the advent of central heat and air conditioning, the kitchen is more user/loiterer friendly.

lavender, yes, you guessed it! When I think of your kitchen, a baking table definitely comes to mind. I think you need a marble topped island/table.

gooster, use a Hoosier cabinet if you love them! (See above post about kitchens evolving.) Who's to say that your 1930's kitchen didn't once house grandma's still useful Hoosier, or pie safe?

Speaking of modern, it always cracks me up when someone posts that Shaker-style cabinets are too modern. :]

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 4:06PM
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Nice article, a little too limiting in the opinions, but the pictures make up for it. :) Thanks, Mama Goose. Your kitchen is still more inspiring than any.

#3 could be a good start for me, though. I'm my own housekeeper, and I'd walk without notice if I saddled myself permanently with it as is. But I do have an old Wedgewood I'm willing to sacrifice for, an old possombelly baking table, and a desire to downsize to a little old house someday (preferably initially lost somewhere in a long overgrown garden), and likely my fondness of old kitchens will combine with an unwillingness to throw handsful of dollars at a just-too-new one, so...well, the possibilities are really something to look forward to.

I'm originally from Southern California, and #1's definitely my favorite of these, though, in its mix of style and good function. Of course, it's actually a very expensive ringer she tossed in to glam up the layout.

BTW, what's this nonsense about art tile not belonging in a kitchen?? Ms. Powell must have been having a cranky moment. I'd hang a chandelier over my baking table if I felt like it too, and I just might. Both hopelessly behind the times and way too far ahead of the next time around is pretty much my style. :)

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 4:16PM
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I live in a Victorian-era house. The prior owners were hardcore Victorian restorationists and did their best to bring the house back to what it was when it was built in the 1880s (restored woodwork, William Morris-style wallpaper, layers of lace and velvet curtains, flicker bulbs in the light fixtures). They conceded the need for a more modern kitchen if 'modern' means 1930s, so we are the proud owners of a kitchen with many elements of the kitchens in the photo gallery: no counterspace except for the kitchen table, unfitted sink, freestanding double-oven Magic Chef range, no dishwasher. We have no built-in cabinetry at all - none - so everything from canned food to everyday dishes to pots and napkins is inside the one pantry that is part of the original kitchen footprint.

Having cooked for six years now in this authentic vintage kitchen, I'm pretty sick of beautiful form over practical function.

I take to heart the author's idea that you don't slam a sports-car-sleek Poggenpohl kitchen in the middle of your Victorian gem. But I strongly disagree with her that some of the elements in the photos she uses to illustrate her article are desirable from a function standpoint.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 5:06PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

Thank you, rosie! To repay you for the compliment, I've found you the perfect chandy for your baking table :)

Here is a link that might be useful: Do you have room for the matching chair? Teehee

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 5:15PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

zeebee, I agree about the modern conveniences. I enjoy the ease of using the DW, but I will make concessions--I use vintage silver plated flatware, which I am happy to wash by hand.

Also gave up having drawers or roll-outs on one side of the kitchen, in order to use the vintage cabinets; they're mostly shallower than modern cabinets, so while a little less cave-like, I still have to bend way down to access items in them.

Um, what are your bathrooms like? ;)

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 5:42PM
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:) Scary when we bought - as I posted on a thread at the Home Decorating forum, the prior owner told us that the first violation of the spirit of our old house was the installation of indoor plumbing. !!!!!

The top-floor bathroom, which serviced four bedrooms, was 5x5 when we bought. The door swung inward, just clearing the toilet, and you had to close the door to maneuver at all in the bathroom. The lip of the pedestal sink hung over the toilet on one side and the bathtub on the other. The tub was a clawfoot 5-footer and the wood wainscoting in the bathroom was carved thin at one end so the tub would fit. We reconfigured closets and did away with a narrow passageway so we could greatly expand that bathroom.

The other full bathroom in the house is the one currently off the kitchen. It's long and thin, about 10x5, with everything lined up along the long wall: clawfoot tub, pedestal sink, toilet. There's a window along the opposite wall that faces into the kitchen; fortunately it's up high enough that no one can see in. We're moving and re-sizing this bathroom so it's off a hall leading into the kitchen instead of right off the kitchen.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 6:12PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

I remember your post. I'd take your old bathroom with a clawfoot tub, although even I have to admit that the bathroom window/kitchen combination is strange. :[

My father built the house in which I was raised (split-level, early 70's), with two 5x7 full baths, one of which was the master bath. His justification was that one spends very little time in the bathroom, compared to time spent in other areas of the house, so the space should be relative. Toilet opposite the sink--you could 'sit down' and brush your teeth at the same time. Your 5x5 BR sounds even more efficient. ;)

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 6:34PM
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Elraes Miller

My most endearing memories of childhood were living in a log house built before the Civil War in OH. We had electricity, but no running water. The house was built for living without any special qualities as seen in the article photos. Dad pumped water from outside the barn, I bathed in the tin kitchen sink on top of a handmade cupboard (he took showers in the summer rain) and the ole' honey pot was at the bottom of the stairs at night. We had a huge cast iron stove right in the middle of the kitchen which was half the size of the total house. I can't remember much more about the kitchen other than the large table. Still have bunches of photos saved of different people gathered around at different celebrations. Am sure my mother loathed her time there as she worked full time as a nurse. Both her and dad had to work hard to live the life in an old log house. She never understood my love for "old/original" and it wasn't until being older that I realized why.

Sadly when I went back to visit for the last time, the house had been turned entirely around. Nothing was saved of the original except the second floor. The old store room a bath, the kitchen a LV, old stone wrapped porch a kitchen. All done without much thought to the historic nature. As much work as was needed without water and only an outhouse, I loved the years there. It was sad that no one knew where anything original to the house had gone....the stove, pump, barrels used for cider and sarkraut. Or the old model T and milk cans. The home was passed down through the generations.

Would love to have your kitchen MG. It is so comfortable and well thought out. I wish the PO of my home had left the kitchen alone to restore rather than adjust to. Keep trying to give it some personality rather than upgraded standards of today. Although I too will keep my DW and new fridge. I don't know why white appliances didn't occur to me, which is what belongs in mine. The kitchens shown would work quite well within and are perfectly organized for working. Love the old two colored tile. Guess I still like old and mom would call me stingy for not appreciating what I do have.

To know there are those who have maintained their history while allowing modern conveniences is a comfort too. Enjoying the posts.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 8:56PM
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technicolor: your mom was a remarkable woman, to put up with the lack of "modern" conveniences like a toilet and to be working full time as a nurse. But as children, we hold dear memories that put a gauzy haze over our experiences. I remember my grandmother's old wood stove, in her 1913 farmhouse, right next to the newer 1950s electric model. Toasting items on that stove always seemed to taste better (and that exposed stove pipe next to a narrow aisle was a burn hazard to the highest degree! How many times was I yelled at for getting too close)

I think we can all take comfort in the fact that people of that era were quick to adopt new appliances when they appeared. There is a broad spectrum from faithfully living in a museum piece (don't forget the butter churn) and putting in a Poggenpohl kitchen. Now I may lean a bit more to the "new' end of that spectrum many of you, but I do appreciate retaining the integrity of a house. (In fact, I wish I could reno some of the baths in my home right now, back more to a vintage era).

MamaGoose: maybe a Hoosier cabinet for the next kitchen update... we amped up the Art Deco influences this time around.

    Bookmark   November 12, 2013 at 9:55PM
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Mama Goose,

Thanks for posting. I am a total sucker for vintage kitchens. I put one in my primary house, and I am just now redoing our new vacation home. I did think the article was a little opinionated. For devotees of vintage, it seemed like there was nothing new here; then I realized it was a 2005 article. Ahead of its time for then , probably.

I did get one good tip --- i am going to go with a metal sink in my butler's pantry based on what she said. So thanks for that idea!

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 9:34AM
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I'll have to go check the metal sink I missed that.

Speaking of metal, I actually love the IDEA of that "chandelier," Mama Goose, although seeing what kind of light patterns made their way out would be interesting. :)

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 1:37PM
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I'll have to go check the metal sink I missed that.

Speaking of metal, I actually love the IDEA of that "chandelier," Mama Goose, although seeing what kind of light patterns made their way out would be interesting. :)

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 1:38PM
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I thought the soft metal sink in the butler's pantry was an excellent idea, with the cast iron in the kitchen. So much easier on the china! :)

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 2:03PM
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No doubt this has been posted before, but this article emphasizes a central worktable (Lavender already knows this!) and freestanding pieces for pre-1930s-ish kitchens.

There's a link from there to an Old House Online article on a Victorian reno that went full-out authentic: exposed wire channels on the ceiling and bare bulbs.

No thanks!

Here is a link that might be useful: Victorian kitchen

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 2:19PM
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Rosie, I always forget that with chandeliers!

Chester, oooh wonderful link! And as I was reading I could go "check, check, check"!

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 2:25PM
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Rosie, I always forget that with chandeliers!

Chester, oooh wonderful link! And as I was reading I could go "check, check, check"! It was also intersting to read about the inward vs outward focussed kitchen.

I am looking forward to an inward focussed kitchen, with a a convivial table in the middle.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 2:35PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

technicolor, thank you! I live in So.Ohio--my uncle's property still has the log kitchen (now an outbuilding), where my grandparents set up housekeeping as newlyweds. It was in that kitchen that they would awaken to a layer of ice in the water bucket, and snow on the bed covers, where the chinking had gaps. Hearing your description makes me happy to live with all the modern conveniences, and to use the vintage items by choice.

In my 20s I fell in love with the primitive style--stone crockery, dough bowls, pie safes. My grandmother gave me a well-used crock, and when I asked if she would miss it, she said, "Oh, honey, we used those heavy things when we had to. Give me Tupperware any day!"

mntrd, rosie, lavender, do you remember the German silver sinks that have been posted? Circuspeanut, and more recently, palimpsest, have posted pics:

GW thread--monel sink
GW thread--a rare sink

Gorgeous! More in line with my budget-->I've always wanted to convert an old zinc laundry tub to a scullery sink. (If I had a scullery, lol.)

chesters_house, thank you for the link. I'm looking forward to exploring the inward/outward concept. If anyone has a link to a favorite vintage kitchen remodel, restoration site, etc., please feel free to add it as a resource for GW newbies.

Anyone new, who hasn't seen my budget, DIY kitchen remuddle, can click on my username for links.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 3:08PM
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I kept reading that article thinking that the author missed the whole idea that there are many features in new kitchens that make cooking easier. I looked at those example pictures and thought they looked quaint and nice to look at, but imagine actually cooking in there! The lack of counter space, the clutter of vintage doo-dads, the lack of a landing space by most of the stoves, the lack of ventilation, and so on all left me feeling like cooking in them would be a slog. In terms of functionality, for me the best of the bunch was #7 by far, though I don't think I'd really want to live with a pink kitchen, even though I can aesthetically appreciate that one! If I had to actually cook in the others, I think I'd be desperate to remodel to something more cook-friendly.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 3:35PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

I suspect there is more counter space than we see in those very pretty pictures. Except for pics 2 & 3, which appear to be of the same kitchen, and pic 7, we see only one wall, or at best, one corner of each of the kitchens featured. The remaining walls might not be so vintagely photogenic. ;)

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 4:15PM
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Lindy has a point about too much clutter...and lack of space. But, I sometimes wonder if we all have far too much clutter...we just hide it behind cabinets and in pantries?

I've been trying to think about what I REALLY need, to cook and bake. We don't do much pre-packaged foods (trying to do less all the time) and I'm finding that I don't use a lot of the things that are in my cabinets. I would like to do what the articles suggests...take everything out and see what I really need, but then I'd have a huge mess in another room! LOL

Personally, I would LOVE to have the organization and flour storage of a Hoosier cabinet and a big work table for baking. Islands can fill a very similar role, but with the seating, they become less efficient without the access from all sides of the kitchen.

Maybe a small marble work table/island and a big wooden table (by the window) for everything else? If I had enough counter space by the appliances to do 'location' prep, that just might work :)

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 4:38PM
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Ardenwood Farm (#3 and I think #2) is a house museum.

Those photos are from her book Bungalow Kitchens.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 4:46PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

I found a few more pics of Patterson House at Ardenwood Farms, including this one of the pantry:

The info I found has the original part of the house dated to 1857. Looking at the pictures, I supposed the kitchen was 'modernized' after the turn of the century? ;)

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 5:50PM
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Museum? Well, that's believable. As I said, just some nice old elements would work for me. Like a skirted undercounter, but on modern mounting hardware so it pulled open, closed and tossed in the laundry easily.

I'd do almost anything to fit in one of those wonderful old sinks Mama Goose linked, though. Dangerous slope here. Old freestanding, hard-to-keep-clean stove, freestanding baking table, and now a sink that probably guarantees another couple open seams. I'd do it, though.

Lavender, an old Hoosier would be nice where you can do it. My possumbelly has to be tool and towel storage. Here in humid buggy Georgia everything organic must go in the tightest-sealing plastic containers I can buy.

Simplifying even further what's in and on my kitchen counters and drawers appeals strongly to me too. Not austere and basic, though. That's for a far more efficient personality. :) Things only occasionally used, though, can be stored out of the main area to keep that functioning optimally and pleasantly.

As for amount of cabinetry A typical 3' wide closet space could hold what would take ten feet of counter to cover. Not that I'm that averse to dusting unneeded counter now and then, it's just that I'd always have much better things to do with that square footage.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 7:23PM
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The article was addressed to people in the cities and older suburbs of the Bay Area, where the shape and layout of houses and apartments often makes it hard to do an open-plan kitchen without substantial reconstruction. I can only imagine what the dot-com bubble wealth did to the kitchens in my old SF neighborhood...

I'm back in the old house where I grew up, whose kitchen violates all the article's precepts. The house was built in 1816, so the period-appropriate kitchen would be an outbuilding -- as it in fact was, up until about 1900. Indoor plumbing came in around the same time as electricity, in the late 1930s.

My parents and I arrived in the early 1950s, and I remember the kitchen as having some "period charm" (the period being 1920s-30s), not a lot of workspace except the kitchen table, and not much storage, either. Then my mother got her dream kitchen reno in 1963, and the ship of period appropriateness sailed forever: red Formica counters with metal edging, vinyl tile flooring, acres of pine veneer slab overlay cabinets, a wall oven, cooktop with vent hood, and (gasp) dishwasher... Her friends didn't say "What a jarring transition" but "Oooooh! Storage! Counters! DISHWASHER!!"

And that kitchen did and does WORK, with modern conveniences *and* enough room to have companions (at the table, where we eat most meals).

My s.o. and I have continued the modernizing bit by bit with function rather than decor in mind. When we moved in 20 years ago, our first big change was to increase the natural light and connection to the outdoors by taking down one set of wall cabinets and expanding the little squinchy window over the sink into a big one that extends over the sink and counter. We put in a glass door as the outside door on the adjacent mudroom/laundry room, and opened and expanded the doorway between it and the kitchen. We laid a wood table-top over the counter at that end of the kitchen, considerably diminishing the impact of the Formica. We replaced another set of wall cabinets with a niche for the TV, and built bookshelves along the lower part of the wall for cookbooks and nature-garden ID books.

Those changes alone greatly eased the transition from the adjacent very formal 19th century dining room to the kitchen, by focusing the attention of guests coming or looking through on the garden and fields outside -- instead of on the working part of the kitchen.

Three years ago we replaced the 1963 enamel double sink that had gotten worn and chipped with a Silgranit big single sink and a faucet with pull-down sprayer, effectively doubling the workspace on that side of the room and making sink work a pleasure.

Last year, when it finally sank in that we're not going to replace the cabinets soon, I comforted myself by upgrading the hardware with smooth, easy-to-clean brushed metal knobs, and a few bar pulls wide enough to hang dish towels. What a relief to be rid of those crappy little sharp-edged fake-wrought-iron handles! Yet the brushed stainless hardware, so pleasing and functional, is no more in tune with the house than what it replaced -- it just adds a 21st-century layer to the mid-20th one beneath. Don't care; my spirits lift every time I open a door or drawer.

When/If we can afford it, we'll make the final big functional advances to accommodate our aging bodies, which will mean replacing the whole counter and cabinet run on the stove-sink wall:

- smooth-gliding drawers for the heavy cookware that's stored in the lower cabinets instead of fixed shelves behind doors,
- moving the dishes now in an upper cabinet to similar drawers between the sink and dishwasher,
- taking down that upper dish cabinet and using some of the space for a quieter and more powerful vent hood/fan,
- moving the cooktop over a bit to create a heatproof landing area on its left side, and
- replacing the 1980s "hurricane in a box" dishwasher with one that's quieter and more energy efficient, and disguised with a cabinet panel (because it's visible from the dining room).

If that happens, the countertop will also change to something more unobtrusive, smoother, and a bit less period-defined than steel-edged Formica. The sink will be reinstalled as an undermount, making it less prominent. The cabinets and drawers likewise will be something that harmonizes a bit more with the built-in, painted cabinetry in the adjoining sitting room and dining room. But we won't be trying to pretend that the cabinets have been there all along.

And that reno may not ever happen. The changes would make it near-perfect, but as it stands the kitchen is a very satisfying workplace. It has an efficient layout, adequate storage, functional work surfaces and appliances, with plenty of natural light, that feels spacious yet homey. I love to cook in it, spend time in it, and have friends join me there. There's not a lot more you can ask of a kitchen. [Though I'm grateful to this forum for helping me realize what else is possible...]

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 3:03PM
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What a nice post, Ellabee. It does sound like a great kitchen. I know your first, limited but profound remodeling would have been exactly where my money would have gone too.

This next stage you're enjoying musing over sounds like it might really come about since you could find you really needed to give up deep knee bends. How nice that you might instead prefer to spend the money touring another part of the globe, though. Or something.

If you don't do it then, though, the cabinets might well last until people finally start admiring them (sincerely) for their age, and then on to the next period when your eyes start going and you guys wonder why on earth people keep thinking you should remodel a perfectly nice kitchen. :)

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 6:29PM
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Mama Goose- That's a beautiful photo...but I would like it even more, if there was about 5" more space between the countertop and upper, glass cabinets. It just looks so cramped! Otherwise, I'd put that in my kitchen in a minute...if I had the room :)

I've been playing around with different kitchen ideas (again) and I don't know if I really want a baking island. They look so pretty, but I have found I love to bake! So, I don't mind facing the wall, when I'm working because I am having so much fun with the process. Cooking, on the other hand....

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 9:14PM
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I'm feeling pretty good right now as we are just finishing up the minor upgrades of a kitchen we did 20 years ago. Our house is an urban, 1916, primarily prairie style in an upscale neighborhood. My goal all along has been "timeless", and I think I have achieved it.

Twenty years ago we put an addition off the back of our then-small kitchen, and we added a first floor powder room. Despite the fact that we (now) have a lovely vintage home, when we moved in our kitchen had dropped acoustic ceiling with brown grids, one major appliance in each of the "Current" colors--bronze, avocado and gold, cabinets that were so cheap the shelves sagged when used, one cabinet that wasn't even attached to the wall, and cheap vinyl flooring.

When we put the addition on 20 years ago, we could afford the work to have the addition added, but we couldn't afford to have a contractor do the inside. So, we hired floorers to install thin board maple floors (as are found in many houses in our area), a plumber to do some of the major work, and a cabinet maker to make some replica cabinets for us and to hang the cabinetry.

Everything else we did ourselves. We started out doing all of the demo before the addition was put on. The kitchen was sooooo awful that I really enjoyed using that sledge hammer. The change in layout also entailed moving the stairs to the basement, so to cook we spent three months literally swinging down between the rafters to access the fridge and old stove that we'd moved to the basement to be used as a kitchen along with the laundry tub.

Because of layout and lot constraints, we ended up with a long and narrow--10' by 30'--kitchen with an eating area at the end furthest from the dining room. I found a kitchen full of 1920s cabinets with the inset drawers and original glass knobs and exterior ball top hinges that were being ripped out from a very large old home whose kitchen was being modernized. $500 for the entire kitchen full of birch cabinets, and there were a lot of cabinets. I designed the kitchen around the various pieces of cabinetry and hired a cabinetmaker to make some additional pieces. I stripped all of the original cabinets of their light gold glaze painted finish and stained both them and the new matching ones a honey color meant to mimic the color those old varnished cabinets so often take on.

I also found vintage lights to hang over my sink and down the middle of the room. As a concession to need, we installed a lighted ceiling fan over the kitchen table. Counters were do-it-yourself tiled. 4" squares with contrasting full bullnose edging. Backsplash was white subway which, believe it or not, was not easy to find 20 years ago.

I think we got it right because, several years after the kitchen was completed, an out-of-town guest who owned a similar vintage house came in and told me she so regretted doing her kitchen in the all white look that shouted 1980s, whereas mine just felt as though ti belonged.

Now fast forward 20 years. Some things about the kitchen are looking a bit tired and need a refresh, but the basics are still very good. I wanted new counters because they'd chipped in places. The old Jenn-air downdraft (top of the line and the latest thing when we did the kitchen) was old and tired.

We just finished our minor upgrades (other than still waiting to get the floors refinished), and in my eye the kitchen still fits in perfectly with our old house. We have no island and never did. The workhorse counters are unoiled, matte, charcoal soapstone. The opposite wall, which is more a buffet-type serving or pastry area, is Carrera counters. I found a replacement for the white, cast iron drop in sink with a drainboard that we'd originally installed and had cabinetry built for. So, we put that in despite the fact that everyone uses undermount sinks today.

We replaced the old Jenn-air downdraft with a classic open burner SS Wolf we found on closeout as a new model was coming in. It has a 10" riser on the back which tends to mimic those old ranges with high backs. We did need to install a hood for ventilation (and modern codes) and went with a very flattened chimney style Zephyr so as to minimize the visual effect. Even though we hadn't planned to, we needed to replace all of our backsplash. For this I put in a creamy, crazed subway tile with grout that matches.

Now our only thought is what to do with some of the appliances that we will slowly replace. When we did the addition remodel we'd gone with white because that color was appropriate to the era of our kitchen, and stainless wasn't yet a thing. As appliances needed replacing, we stuck with white because I hate (or thought I did) stainless. But, something funny has happened now that we have the new stainless range and the new countertops. Our old white appliances now visually seem to be out of place. Perhaps it is because we no longer have the tile countertops edged in white. Despite the fact that I thought I really didn't like stainless, I am now considering putting in stainless as we need to replace other appliances. Or, perhaps keeping a white fridge, getting a dishwasher whose front I could panel and putting in a replacement wall oven/ micro combo in stainless.

After having been though this, and having lived with my kitchen for 20 years, my advice to owners of older houses is to shy away from the latest trendy kitchen. Instead install something that is not a true period replica but something that includes modern features and is period appropriate to the era of your house. You'll be able to happily live with it for as long as you live in the house (we've been here 30 years and have no current intentions of moving) and to just do some minor upgrades as necessary without having to face the expense and mess of a major remodel every time the trends change.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 10:58AM
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Elraes Miller

MG...she was right about the heavy crockery. My last memory walk of the farm and areas where my family lived in OH, included the Hall China factory. My father mined the area that was used to make the pottery. Aunt and Uncle worked at the factory and hand painted the dishware. They still (as you probably know) are producing pottery and have a small store to buy items. I was entranced and had to buy a bunch. My mother's friend said the same thing to me. Those darn bowls are going to be heavy to use...she was so right. Most of the pottery when I was there was sold to the restaurant industry....made in the USA.

Gads, I just did a search and there is a China museum now in East Liverpool. There must have been "gold" in those hills for dozens of pottery/china companies located there. This is the city where most of my relatives were born and raised. My mother knew there was little hope of a full life and education staying. She would only go back to visit. I have to admit that EL is a struggling sad town. Much of the history and decent living was lost to the OH river flood.

We eventually moved to CA when I was around 8. They were also able to buy a home and have good jobs. And she was able to graduate from college at the age of 55 doing what she loved.

Our home was an original Craftsman. Unique in the fact that we had a duplex in front and lived in an apartment above the two car, odd, carriage garage. I can see the Craftsman built-ins and original kitchens/baths in these as if it was yesterday. Thanks to Google Maps, I sometimes take journeys to once lived in homes. Would love a peek inside, they look the same from the outside, as does the neighborhood of wonderful small CA spanish designs.

Am still intrigued with family history and was contacted by two people who have done entire info back to sailing from England. My great grandfather's trunk sits in one of my rooms.

Well, you got me going....

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 12:50PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

bungalow_house, I forgot to thank you for the info on Ardenwood Farms. I wouldn't have found the pic of the pantry without your post.

lavender, I think the saving grace of those 'low down' cabinets is the fact that they are in the pantry. In the kitchen proper, they would definitely be an inconvenience.

Well, I am enjoying the descriptions of everyone's vintage kitchens--it's very interesting to read about the different degrees of updating and the thought processes that drove those updates. Please add pictures!

Those of you who started with some (or all) original elements have my envy. I can just imagine the first housewife who decided to update the original kitchen in my house--she, or another owner, pulled out everything. The owners before us might have been the culprits; they opened a wall and added a snack bar into the LR, across from the front entry. The front door still opens into the LR, but we covered the snack bar opening, and now the old school cabinets cover that wall. And, BTW, I'm gonna keep pretending that those cabinets have always been there. ;)

technicolor, I remember my grandfather's stories of the '37 floods. My old porcelain stove (1932) has dirt packed in the lower rolled lip--I suspect that it was deposited there during the floods. I live downriver from EL, but I think almost all of the Ohio river towns (possible exception of cincy) share the same fate--loss of industry and jobs, and now the problems of depressed areas, drugs, crime. Heartbreaking.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 1:10PM
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@rosie: It's "or something" ; definitely won't be a luxury like travel.

The things that could cause us to bite the bullet are the death of the current dishwasher, and/or the deep knee bends becoming really and truly difficult instead of just a p.i.t.a. I had a back injury recently that reminded me how important it might be to design for a less mobile future...

That first bit of remodeling, where we opened up the non-cooking end of the kitchen, was entirely the vision of my s.o. He has a much better spatial sense than I do, and also didn't suffer from "it's always been this way" syndrome. An old friend of the family who came to dinner was deeply impressed, saying it was the first time in his life he'd known a cook to give up storage space. (My mother did have a lot of equipment I knew I wouldn't use, and found good homes for.)

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 2:24PM
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Aside from a ramp to get in and out, Ellabee, I can't think offhand of anything more useful than replacing under-cabinet shelves with drawers. Maybe plan to do your bathroom too, and perhaps install drawers in the bottom of certain closets? :)

This latest rash of tornadoes made me wonder yet again how more frequent and extreme weather events will affect the inland states. Will industry build in areas with quarter-mile-wide tornadoes? Maybe the challenge will be met, and yes, but... Some high-dollar coastal areas will build elaborate protections with federal taxpayer money, but everywhere more and more of our national wealth will have to go into protecting and rebuilding. There are plusses to be found there. After all, much that we've built was designed to just grow older and then be torn down. Maybe our descendents will shake their heads at that. And new engineering methods and materials are true marvels.

In any case, I'd love to see your kitchen, Needinfo, as you continue. Workhorse soapstone seems a real natural for a kitchen that is meant to age well. What a nice thought. So much better than the more common, born-to-fail longing for something that always looks new.

Frankly, what I've craved through most of this thread is a spring running through my basement. I've always wanted a spring anyway, but what incredible function! Such convenience for a once very inconvenient era--the one stretching back from quite recently to...well, the beginning of time. I wouldn't have to use it for much of anything. It'd be enough to know it'd always be ready if needed.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 5:08PM
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Rosie, I know just what you mean about having a spring in the basement. Until a few years after the s.o. and I moved here, the house's water was pumped from a spring that feeds a creek running through the west field.

After the pump failed (over one Thanksgiving, naturally), the pump guy mentioned that he'd tried repeatedly to convince my parents to put in a well. His case was that the place couldn't be sold without one, an argument didn't work any better on me than it had on my parents. But then he found the one that did: "You could have a spigot right in that big flower garden." Within weeks, we had a well (and a spigot in the garden).

Ever since, I've had a fantasy of building a new springhouse down by the creek that would let us keep supplies cool in a prolonged power outage like last year's derecho. Our neighbors across the road used to have one; when I was little, I loved to go in there to fetch ingredients for Mrs. Plogger. As you say, it's only going to make more sense in the future. Cookware drawers first, though!

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 5:22PM
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I love Jane Powell's books - both her humor and her knowledge are inspiring. I was saddened by her death.

I have one of those modern kitchens she disliked - maple Shaker cabinets (might pass) granite counter (she would hate) and stainless steel appliances (big no-no). I'm not so crazy about the stainless steel myself, but my husband loves it, and he does half the cooking so his vote definitely counts. We put in a very nice stove, so I'm afraid the stainless steel is a long term commitment. We did remove all the recessed can lights. I'm completely with her on that one. The contractor thought I was crazy. One of the workmen took all the discarded can lights home and installed them in his house. I guess I'm glad they were not wasted.

On the other hand, our house was built in 1940, not 1920, so I do not feel a compulsion to have an authentic Craftsman era kitchen, much as I might admire one. In a future house, I would have soapstone counter and sink, porcelain finish stove, and who knows, maybe tuck the fridge in a large walk-in pantry that looks like the one in The Hobbit, along with a chest style deep freeze. I want that pantry so much I dream about it at night!


    Bookmark   February 11, 2014 at 5:56PM
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mama goose_gw zn6OH

rosefolly, I think you just described Jane Powell's own kitchen. :)

I found her house on 'Old House Dreams', one of my favorite websites. It's been a while since I posted a link, so I'll post the page with her 1905 Arts&Crafts house, and anyone who loves old houses can scroll backward/forward, or customize searches. If you scroll down to the comments section, there is another link, which has more info on the house, and on Jane Powell's life and legacy.


Here is a link that might be useful: Jane Powell's house

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 12:29AM
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Thanks so much for the pointer, mama_goose. I knew of Powell's books, but not her own story and that of the house.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2014 at 2:45PM
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