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.

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. (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.

Tags: | Online Exclusive Clare M. Alexander kitchens OHJ March/April 2009 Old-House Journal

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