Friday, January 30, 2009

Historic Kitchen Design

People come to me all the time and say ' I want a Victorian Kitchen". My inevitable response is "No you don't"! After much discussion I will say "OK, the wood stove goes over there, the Well Pump goes over here the ice box goes on the back porch and the farm table goes in the middle"

Or if its a Victorian era town house my reply is "Where are the basement stairs because that's where the kitchen was". The fact is that most people have no clue what a Victorian kitchen was like. What most people "view" as Victorian actually dates to the 1900-1930's. True Victorian kitchens belong only in a museum house!
What we typically see in most Victorian houses these days is an extreme. Either the house will have a 1930 Chambers stove, Big white cast iron farm sink and a 50's fridge OR an HGTV/ Extreme Home Makeover, modern kitchen that bears no resemblance to the house its in. People seldom ever think about resale when they redo a kitchen, in both examples listed above you automatically eliminate 50 percent of your potential buyers, BECAUSE they are too specific!
I personally believe in compromise. As someone who loves to cook and entertain I am not dealing with a 80 year old stove, small fridge and no dishwasher. However I Don't want my kitchen to look like something out of "The Jetsons".
Our house built in 1871 originally had a 'summer kitchen' that was several feet from the house in a separate structure. Sometime 15-20 years later an addition was built on the back of the house and the new kitchen was built there. The original front 2 rooms are 18x18 each. The front room was the formal parlor where one entertained guests, the other room (now the middle room) was the Family living parlor and likely doubled as the dining room. Food was brought through a side door from the summer kitchen.

Design Issues: The original kitchen was built over unheated crawl space and there is no "formal entry in this house. You have to walk through one room to get the other. My solution. Keep the original front door and new porch but relocate the formal entrance to the side, off the new double gallery porch, which Will have two salvaged Victorian double doors . Create a new entrance hall that connects to the parlor and new formal dining which will be located at the back of the house. By adding a entry hall wall we now have a generous room behind it for the new kitchen. The kitchen is now over the heated basement part of the house and above it on the second floor will be two bathrooms. This way we have our plumbing and heating 'core' in the center of the house. Drawbacks? No windows because we have a house next door on the west side.

Design solution. We will have two doors to the kitchen, one on each end. Instead of solid doors we will use doors with glass ( etched/frosted) and transoms above which will let in light, they will be pivot doors and may be left open in a locked position, if desired. Now to create the "grand entry hall" we will place a cast iron fireplace on the center of the hall side in front of the new entry doors. Above it, we will use a salvaged stained glass window. This will let light in from the entry hall, yet visually separate it from the kitchen. On the kitchen side this will give you a "window" to the outside that will let in light from the entry hall.
Design Style: We will create a kitchen based on a "historic butlers pantry" look.The new cabinets are "Cognac" color. Darker than oak but not as dark as a cherry. We will use 42 inch upper cabinets with glass doors and above that 16 inch cabinets with solid doors. Topping this off will be a period crown molding so the back cabinetry will go all the way to the ceiling like a butler pantry. A big mistake people make in Victorian homes is having too low a cabinet ( 30") or if they use just 42''s they still have a huge space above and they build an unsightly bulkhead. By using the 16's over the 42's we get extra storage for those things you only use once a year which is great for a smaller kitchen.

Since we have a master suite bath and a full bath above this room we want access for any future repairs or issues. We will use a "drop in" copper colored "Tin Ceiling" actually composite but undetectable from the real thing. (Note Tin ceilings were normally found only in Commercial buildings but have been widely "adopted" fo Victorian style kitchens).

For counter tops we want something durable so we will use a Dark Granite for the back counter area. For the island, we will locate a new soapstone "farm sink" and we will use copper for the counter top. This will echo the ceiling detail. Note: Whenver possible avoid placing your sink on an outside wall. Copper counters are easy to make and in an future blog I will cover this. The refrigerator and dishwasher will have cabinet fronts to match the cabinets and we will use a matching bead board as a wainscot around the room. Cabinet pulls will be copper. We will use the original floors which will be striped sanded and refinished. The concern is that all this cabinetry and ceiling might result in a dark kitchen. To counter that we will back light the glass doored cabinets , install 3 drop pendant Victorian "gasolier style" lights over the island, use hidden halogen under cabinet lighting and use small Copper trimmed halogen ceiling spots in the ceiling on a dimmer.

So the plan is a "new ' kitchen that looks like an old kitchen and has that historic butlers pantry look. It "only" took 3 months to reach the above plan. In furure blogs we will coner the destruction and reconstruction of this part of the project.


tailor made kitchens said...

what an interesting site with some amazing design features that would be incredible in a modern house but i think you'd need a old styled house too. modern designer should definitely try an incorporate some of these into the cold and sterile contemporary kitchens.

Joseph said...

Fascinating post. I have wrestled with my own home remodeling plans for years, so I'm always looking online for ideas and concepts. I'm a cabinetmaker, so I do have a leg up on most, but maybe not, because it encourages me to do all the work myself, including the designs! In any case, you have given me much to think about, and I thank you.

Andrea said...

So interesting! How long have you been in your house? We just bought our 1889 Colonial Revival a few months ago. I guess everyone has to find that level of "authenticity" that they are comfortable with. We are going with walnut cabs, large work-table island,no wall cabinets, but one built-in made to look like a china cabinet. Got a black Aga stove and Shaw's English farmhouse sink. A copper counter sounds amazing, easy to fabricate? Wow. Can you post details on the lights you are using, I'm having a hard time finding ones I like. THANKS!
Andrea (