8 Ways to Design a Kitchen for an Early House

These examples show it’s possible to combine old and new to create a traditional yet comfortable kitchen.
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Despite remodelings and our expectation of modern function, the old-house kitchen is a favorite space, often exuding atmosphere. It’s possible to combine old and new—adding a fireplace or unfitted (mismatched) cabinets along with historical colors and vintage serving ware. My own favorite maker of period-inspired kitchens is David T. Smith of Ohio. You’ll see several of his kitchens here.

Well thought-out and homey, this one is in a reproduction house built decades ago by David T. Smith and his wife, Lora—who is a masterful designer of early interiors. The arrangement is conventional, designed for function, yet the room reads as historic: Soapstone, wood, and specialty finishes add considerable character.

Well thought-out and homey, this one is in a reproduction house built decades ago by David T. Smith and his wife, Lora—who is a masterful designer of early interiors. The arrangement is conventional, designed for function, yet the room reads as historic: Soapstone, wood, and specialty finishes add considerable character.

Redware displayed on colonial-inspired open shelves adds color and style to the kitchen in a reproduction house near Cincinnati. Cabinets by David T. Smith wear different finishes.

Redware displayed on colonial-inspired open shelves adds color and style to the kitchen in a reproduction house near Cincinnati. Cabinets by David T. Smith wear different finishes. 

This kitchen is in the home of Roger and Sylvia Libbey, in York County, Maine. The house was built ca. 1770 and has been in Roger’s family since 1849. An antique New England table and chairs make it an “eat in” kitchen. A cooktop hides under the breadboard on the countertop; the oven is behind cupboard doors. The refrigerator is behind the tall mustard-colored cupboard.

This kitchen is in the home of Roger and Sylvia Libbey, in York County, Maine. The house was built ca. 1770 and has been in Roger’s family since 1849. An antique New England table and chairs make it an “eat in” kitchen. A cooktop hides under the breadboard on the countertop; the oven is behind cupboard doors. The refrigerator is behind the tall mustard-colored cupboard.

A “collected kitchen” of antique pieces and things made of reclaimed wood, this one is in a replica home in Lancaster, Ohio. Owner Ginny Curry is a master of primitive decorating. She and her husband, Bill, build shelves and cabinets themselves. The room is filled with the owners’ collections of wooden bowls, firkins, buckets, baskets, etc. Appliances hide unobtrusively, making it a modern kitchen in everyday use.

A “collected kitchen” of antique pieces and things made of reclaimed wood, this one is in a replica home in Lancaster, Ohio. Owner Ginny Curry is a master of primitive decorating. She and her husband, Bill, build shelves and cabinets themselves. The room is filled with the owners’ collections of wooden bowls, firkins, buckets, baskets, etc. Appliances hide unobtrusively, making it a modern kitchen in everyday use. 

Many colonial taverns had cage bars (which could be locked to protect the liquor). It’s an intriguing design device for hiding the work area or a pantry. This one is in the ca. 1800 Connecticut Cape that belongs to Larry and Sandy Neary. The cage is a reproduction based on a historic one in a Massachusetts tavern. Note the hand-planing marks and the distressed finish, which so perfectly mimic the original.

Many colonial taverns had cage bars (which could be locked to protect the liquor). It’s an intriguing design device for hiding the work area or a pantry. This one is in the ca. 1800 Connecticut Cape that belongs to Larry and Sandy Neary. The cage is a reproduction based on a historic one in a Massachusetts tavern. Note the hand-planing marks and the distressed finish, which so perfectly mimic the original. 

Owners Steve and Devona Porter have meticulously restored the ca. 1840 Tucker House in Louisville, Kentucky, which they run as a bed-and-breakfast inn. Stone sinks are a beautiful complement to early American homes; this one has a faucet reminiscent of a pump. Cabinets have been faux grained with paint, a common decorating practice in the early 19th century. This kitchen, too, is by David T. Smith.

Owners Steve and Devona Porter have meticulously restored the ca. 1840 Tucker House in Louisville, Kentucky, which they run as a bed-and-breakfast inn. Stone sinks are a beautiful complement to early American homes; this one has a faucet reminiscent of a pump. Cabinets have been faux grained with paint, a common decorating practice in the early 19th century. This kitchen, too, is by David T. Smith. 

Living in Stark County, Ohio, Howard and Marsha Miller decided to construct a New England-style replica house that’s a mix of old and new. Their solution in the kitchen is a galley of matched cabinets (albeit with traditional styling) along one wall, balanced by hewn beams, wide-board paneling, and antique flooring. Furniture is antique, and colors are of the period. The effect is seamless.

Living in Stark County, Ohio, Howard and Marsha Miller decided to construct a New England-style replica house that’s a mix of old and new. Their solution in the kitchen is a galley of matched cabinets (albeit with traditional styling) along one wall, balanced by hewn beams, wide-board paneling, and antique flooring. Furniture is antique, and colors are of the period. The effect is seamless. 

Believe it or not, this is a new vacation home in Kentucky. Construction was with modern materials to meet all codes, but reclaimed materials are used to convey history.

Believe it or not, this is a new vacation home in Kentucky. Construction was with modern materials to meet all codes, but reclaimed materials are used to convey history. 

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