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5 House Museum Kitchens to Visit

When you're trying to replicate period details in your kitchen, house museums offer a wealth of sleuthing opportunities.
By Clare Martin

    The kitchen in the Coffin House contains little more than a large cooking fireplace and a built-in cupboard for holding dishes.

    The kitchen in the Coffin House contains little more than a large cooking fireplace and a built-in cupboard for holding dishes.

    The meticulously preserved kitchens of house museums will give you a glimpse into the prevailing design and decoration ideas of the times, providing you with the inspiration you’ll need to translate modern fixtures and reproductions into a timeless feel. But not all house-museum kitchens are created equal: Because the kitchen is the one room in the house that’s most constantly updated, it can be difficult to find ones that have been faithfully restored to the correct period. These five examples offer rare culinary glimpses into a range of eras.  


    Where: Jethro Coffin House, Nantucket, Massachusetts (1678)
    Why: If you’re looking to reproduce an old kitchen, why not look to the Oldest House on Nantucket for inspiration? The 17th-century home’s two basic kitchens have rarely been updated since their creation, and feature cooking hearths and basic built-in cupboards. In 2006, a circa-1700 kitchen garden was re-created behind the house.
    When: The house is open June through mid-October on the first and third Saturdays of the month. Tours are available every hour from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.


    Where: Thomas Massey House, Broomall, Pennsylvania (1696)
    Why: The kitchen of this 17th-century Pennsylvania Quaker house features a massive walk-in fireplace and a beehive oven, both of which were discovered during the restoration of the home and meticulously re-created. Once a month or so, volunteers in period dress prepare and serve a traditional colonial meal.
    When: The house is open for tours on Sunday afternoons from May to October, or by appointment. Check the web site for dinner dates (advance reservations required).


    Where: Riversdale House Museum, Riverdale, Maryland (1807)
    Why: In addition to being an excellent example of a restored plantation-style dependency kitchen (i.e., an outbuilding located near the dining room where slaves cooked meals), the museum also features regular cooking demonstrations by the Riversdale Kitchen Guild, using traditional 19th-century culinary tools.
    When: The museum is open on Friday and Saturday afternoons year-round. Tours run every half-hour from 12:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. Check the web site for dates of kitchen demonstrations.


    Where: Campbell House Museum, St. Louis, Missouri (1851)
    Why: An extensive five-year, $3-million restoration project brought period luster back to the rooms of the Campbell House, including the kitchen, which showcases the latest technology of the day. An innovative pass-through window connects the space to the butler’s pantry, and original details like oak false graining and a copper sink are enhanced by embellishments like period culinary tools and Virginia Campbell’s dishware.
    When: From March through December, the museum is open Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. (Tours in January and February are by appointment only.)

    The kitchen in the Gropius house is a prime example of the Bauhaus founder's forward-thinking approach to design.

    The kitchen in the Gropius house is a prime example of the Bauhaus founder's forward-thinking approach to design. (Photo: Courtesy of Historic New England)

    Mid-Century Modern

    Where: Gropius House, Lincoln, Massachusetts (1938)
    Why: An early proponent of modern architecture and the founder of the German Bauhaus movement, Walter Gropius’ own Massachusetts house is a study in classic mid-century modern design. The galley kitchen showcases features that were cutting-edge at the time, including a garbage disposal and dishwasher. The black, white, and gray palette, subtly accented with red, reflects the signature Bauhaus color scheme.
    When: The house is open Wednesday through Sunday in the summer (June 1-October 15) and on Saturday and Sunday all other times. Tours leave every hour between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

    Published in: Old-House Journal March/April 2009


    Sonya May 20, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    In Maplewood, NJ, there is also the Durand-Hedden House & Garden which , in addition to many meticulously maintained original features, uses the late 18th century kitchen to host periodic cooking demonstrations, too. It is the former family home of the well known engraver and Hudson School painter, Asher B. Durand.

    Sassy Countess May 20, 2014 at 11:02 pm

    I’m so happy to see that you’ve included house museums!

    wanaa May 21, 2014 at 9:23 pm
    Tom Bartolomeo August 25, 2014 at 9:45 pm

    I spent more than 30 years restoring “this old house” c. 1709 which sadly the owner before me was renovating and I had to put windows and door back where they were originally. The early Colonial keeping room in the house not only has a massive fireplace which includes a beehive baking oven but a hefty plank farm table, reflector tin oven, a copper lined sink, wall sconces and a grand Dutch door to complete the picture. A great house for family over the holidays. My circumstances require my selling the house to someone who has an appreciation for tradition and American history. If you would pass it along the website is above.

    Tom Bartolomeo January 21, 2015 at 12:58 pm

    The oldest room in my 300 year old house is its original kitchen, then considered the “keeping room”, which was built in the Early Colonial Period which today serves as a dining room and adjoins a modern kitchen. Altogether both kitchens span 45 feet, an ideal setting for holiday gatherings. One of several notable assets in the house is its old kitchen and large chimney, fireplace and built-in baking oven:

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