1902 Victorian

Bringing our old house out of the disco era and back into the Victorian.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

A Kitchen for Today

If I had done a little more research before I flung myself headfirst into the bottomless well of kitchen renovation, I might've noticed that my attempts at old-looking aimed short of the mark. Now whenever I see photos of and info on properly authentic old house kitchens, I feel a wave of guilt - or maybe it is more like regret.

I didn't know about wall-mounted faucets, nickel fixtures, flush-mounted cabinet doors, no toe kick, cabinet latches, or ball-tip mortise hinges.

OK, but if I did know about them, what could I have done, short of rip out our cabinets and start over from scratch? That's right, nothin'. Maybe one day we will be able to afford a custom kitchen, but maybe we won't.

The winter/spring issue of Style 1900 magazine contains an excerpt from Jane Powell's book, Bungalow Kitchens.

The much-beloved Ms. Powell says that updating your kitchen to keep up with current trends is foolish because trends come and go; an old-house kitchen will always feel classic and right in your house. I agree with that.

But she also provides a list of options she says you must choose from to make an appropriate old-house kitchen. For microwaves, the only option she found worthy is putting it away in a cabinet. For refrigerators, the only approved possibilities are buying a vintage fridge or hiding it with cabinetry panels. For dishwashers, cabinetry panels and dish drawers are acceptable.

I disagree with that. It's true that microwaves, refrigerators, and dishwashers are not the most beautiful items on the planet. But I don't consider them "trendy." They are necessary appliances in my kitchen, and I don't think there's a thing wrong with having them right out in the open.

My goal has always been to have my kitchen look like it fits in my house. But that doesn't necessarily mean I have to hide away my modern ammenities and pretend they don't exist.

My house was built at the turn of the century, but it has also lived through 10 decades since then. Though I am always questing to purge the '70s out, I'll play devil's advocate for a moment and ask who made the rule that 1900 is acceptable but 1970 isn't? In 100 years, will our descendants be cursing us for ripping out peach-colored '60s tile or painting over my avacado-colored oven door?

Feel free to disagree (or *gasp* agree) with me. I'd enjoy a rousing discussion.

The issue of authenticity seems to be a major hot button with old house owners. Some treat the house as if it were built in 2005 and decorate/remodel it as they would a modern house. Some embrace a mix of old and new, concerned more with the big picture - the overall "mood" or "tone" of the house. Some are scornful of products that didn't exist when the house was built and want to do everything as accurately as possible down to the smallest material.

My problem - one that is keeping me floating in the air about some kitchen decisions (*cough cough* floor *cough cough* countertops) - is that I am stuck between the "embracing the mix" mindset and the "absolutely faithful" mindset.

Perhaps my mother did her work too well, and I can't make a single decision in life without agonizing guilt.

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Anonymous said...

The kitchen is about usability first, and in the present we all have microwaves and use them often. You shouldn't have to open a door to get to it. How annoying!

Kitchen snobs will tell you what you "need" to have, but unless they're going to help fork over the majority of the $75,000-$100,000 expense, they don't have a restored heart pine floor to stand on! :-)

You're doing well to set the clock back a little from the disco era to Victorian. Don't fret if you like your kitchen, no matter what types of fixtures or cabinet hinges you have.

– Texas T-bone

11:55 AM  
Jordana said...

I'm somewhere in the middle as you are. I think people who strive for complete historical accuracy have really neat houses, but not generally ones I would want. I don't live in the same ways as the people who built my house 85 years ago did. My house has been changed in many ways since that time and I wouldn't want to change everything back, even if I could. I like the idea of a house that suits the way I live and hearkens back to the old without being stuck in its original era without consideration for its current life.

That's not to say that I won't or don't consider what would have been right for the house when making my own decorating and renovating decisions. But I don't intend to be entirely bound by what would have been here in 1920.

2:09 PM  
Ana said...

I also agree with you. A house is to be lived in. I agree with being as historically true as possible, but I still have to live in 2005. I do not agree with hiding appliances. We have them and we use them.

By the same token I do not like to see furniture painted in the old style and "distressed" to look old. If I were living in 1900 I am sure I would find it stressing to have my furniture "distressed". I prefer my furniture to look as new as it would have been in 1900.

As for old 1900 appliances recondicioned to work today I simply cannot afford it.

5:36 PM  
sarcastic journalist said...

I say you do the kitchen how you want. I love a nice timeless elegance, but at the same time it isn't very affordable!

I'm jealous of you getting to renovate, however. You're living my dream.

Regarding the 70s...what were they thinking?

1:59 PM  
Lenise said...

Wish I could oblige you by playing devil's advocate, but when we get a little money to enhance the atmosphere of our 1920 house, I go for historical ambience rather than strict authenticity. It goes a lot farther that way, and we have a loooong ways yet to go!

3:44 PM  
Gary said...

Ah but remember, most of the "authenticity only" people don't actually do the renovating themselves. No, They pay someone oodles of moola to do it for them. Therefore, they have no clue about what it takes to do the job. These are the same people that run the local Historical Society and live in their tax abated, restored with government money, historic district homes or their Victorianised 1980's condo.
Do it your way, then you know it's right. Besides, do these purists have outhouses? How about one of those gasoline stoves? Ummmm....

Now, repeat after me... "Phuck 'em all!"

8:00 AM  
Emily said...

Do you ever read other people's blog sites or look at their posts on the American Bungalow forum and feel like you live in very different worlds? I can't even get my mind around these kitchen remodels that cost $25, $60, or $100K.

Doing a completely period remodel is not an option for me. It costs more money than I will probably ever have to spend on my house or that in good conscience I could spend. $60K on custom cabinetry from Crown Point is beyond wrong on so many levels..and yet I do understand how, when you see those beautiful pictures on-line and in the magazines, what should be just plain revolting starts sounding almost reasonable.

Anyhow, this is my meandering way of saying, "Stop comparing your kitchen (and self) to others." You are doing a very good job of creating a lovely space for you and your husband. The fact that you aren't mortgaging yourself into bankruptcy or spending money that could feed widows and orphans on undercounter refrigerator drawers is a good thing, not a problem.

Your house, charming though it may be, is not Monticello. It is a home where families have lived and loved deeply, and it is meant to be the space where your own family is born. There is nothing wrong and everything right with making design decisions that reflect that.

In my own home, when it's been possible, I've done my best to keep the basic design elements looking as they were always intended to look (i.e. molding, flooring, windows, etc.). When it's not possible, I look for some other way to create a lovely space that flows with the house, even if it's not 100 percent authentic. If you took a walk through my place, you would say, "Here is a person who has respected the integrity of this house and loves beautiful old things." You would also say, "I know this is 2005, not 1915." I'm happy with that.

12:59 PM  
MandaLiet said...

My 1930 kitchen was mostly in tact (though pretty abused) when I moved in. The orriginal fridge was still in the basement, this monster of a gas fridge that smelled really bad. And the gas hook up for it is still in the basement too. So now I'm like "where the hell do I put the fridge?", as there is no real designated space for it in the kitchen. So the new fridge is kind of just sitting in the corner covering one of my cute pocket doors (waah!) I'm hoping a solution will dawn on me at some point, but I'm definately not putting it in the basement, even if that's the intended spot for it. And by the by, your kitchen looks really cute, you've done a great job.

1:16 PM  
Kristin said...

In spite of my call for anyone to disagree with me, I'm so glad there are people who do agree with me! It makes me feel much better. I really do like how my kitchen is coming together, and I refuse to beat myself up about un-authenticity any more! Having the Hoosier cabinet now will make me feel a little more authentic, too. At least one thing in the kitchen will be old. :)

9:44 AM  

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