Designing an Old House Kitchen

How do you design an appropriate old house kitchen? One that will still look good and function well in twenty years?

(1) Rely on timeless materials such as wood and stone. Downplay contemporary materials by keeping the kitchen design simple or incorporating period conventions – trimming out laminate counters in wood, for example, or using honed rather than polished granite.

(2) Take kitchen design cues from your dining room, or from an old pantry in the house or the neighborhood, in designing your cabinets and millwork.

(3) Try to use only those traditional kitchen details and materials which are related to the date and style of the house.

By looking to your old house for design cues and not falling under the spell of what’s in this year’s kitchen showrooms (no matter how gorgeous) you will design a kitchen that goes with the house now and tomorrow.

The colonial kitchen is of course a 20th-century convention. Most owners of early houses restore the original kitchen, with its huge fireplace, as a keeping room/parlor, then incorporate a plain, functional kitchen perhaps one with colonial-era cabinetwork into a wing or ell. The same kind of approach applies to those who own an early-19th-century house, whether Greek Revival, Carpenter Gothic, or Italianate. But it’s possible to be closer to authentic if your house dates to the Late Victorian era (1885-1900), the Arts and Crafts era (1900-1920), or the early-20th-century years of the “sanitary” kitchen (1915-1940). These latter kitchens are identical in Bungalows, Foursquares, and the Romantic Revival houses such as Dutch Colonials and Tudors. Some forward-thinking folks are restoring or painstakingly re-creating kitchens of the 1950s and 1960s . . . .

However simple or elaborate, a period-inspired kitchen is a good choice because it avoids the “time-warp” sensation of walking from a restored parlor or dining room into an open-plan room full of laminates and stainless. Ironically, a period-inspired kitchen is timeless and thus less likely to look dated in the future.

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