The Cross House

Screaming about Kitchens

I would like to vent.

And beg your indulgence.

You see, I want to scream every time I see a fabulous old kitchen torn out. This is usually done for two reasons:

  1. Owner wants a modern kitchen.
  2. Owner wants a period-correct kitchen.

And here is what bugs me: Both are, 99.9% of the time, the same thing.

Most people will read the above and think: Huh?

But I can explain.

Almost nobody actually installs a period-correct kitchen in a, say, house built in 1900. Like nobody.

What 99.9% of people want, and install, is a MODERN kitchen. The only difference is:

OPTION #1: The kitchen will be modernistic in style

OPTION #2: The kitchen will be traditional in style.

No matter the surface style though, both #1 and #2 will be a MODERN kitchen.

 

THIS is what a period-kitchen looks like for a Victorian-era house. And NOBODY is going to duplicate this.

 

Instead, people either go with OPTION #1: A modern kitchen in a modernist style. Or…

 

…OPTION #2: A modern kitchen in a traditional style. And neither of these two options is…

 

…period-correct. Neither option looks or functions anything like a period kitchen.

 

A modern kitchen has built-in cabinets. The more the better. A Victorian-era kitchen had essentially no built-in cabinets.

A modern kitchen has a TON of counter space. A Victorian-era kitchen had little counter space.

A modern kitchen has every possible appliance. A Victorian-era kitchen had few.

A modern kitchen has a ton of lighting. A Victorian-era kitchen was wildly under lighted by today’s standards.

A modern kitchen often has elaborate crown molding. A Victorian-era kitchen did not have crown moulding. Nor wallpaper. Nor a fancy floor.

A modern kitchen has a lot going on, visually. A Victorian-era kitchen is plain.

 

This is a MODERN kitchen. This is NOT a period kitchen. This is a MODERN kitchen done in a TRADITIONAL style.

 

A few years ago the fabulous RetroRenovation did a story which broke my heart.

A breathtaking, mint, 1950s kitchen was ripped out by a new owner.

Why?

Because the new owner wanted a period kitchen to go with her Victorian-era house.

The removal of the 1950s kitchen was a tragedy for two reasons:

  1. The kitchen WAS a period kitchen.
  2. The new kitchen would almost certainly NOT be period-correct. Rather it would be a wholly MODERN kitchen but done in a tradition style. The new kitchen would look NOTHING like a Victorian-era kitchen.

In short, something authentically period was destroyed for something faux period. Something which would look dated in a decade.

All the following images are from RetroRenovation and were taken by Showcase Photographers.

 

The kitchen was installed in 1956. I think it is stunning. It was built at great expense and featured VERY high-quality St. Charles steel cabinets finished in pale gray.

 

The wallpaper and flooring (FABULOUS!) are also original.

 

The kitchen was installed by Mrs. Starling Davis, who occupied the home for fifty years.

 

One day, Mrs. Davis was surprised to find a new side-by-side refrigerator, which had just been introduced, in her kitchen. It was gift from Mr. Davis, who thoughtfully had it custom-painted to match the pale gray cabinets.

 

I am madly in love with everything about this period kitchen. It was built at great expense, and was obviously loved for five decades. It was in MINT condition. It came with a full back story, and the realtor selling the house was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Davis.

Geez. It just don’t get any better.

Yet, this period treasure, and I mean treasure, was torn out and replaced because the new owner wanted a “period” kitchen.

But almost certainly installed no such thing.

 

“The Scream” by Edvard Munch.

 

 

 

46 Responses to Screaming about Kitchens

  1. Love the stove. It’s exactly like the one I grew up with, only ours was white. My mother only replaced it in 2006! (She even moved it to their “new” house in 1976.) I’m curious about the under cabinet “something” next to the fridge in the photos. What is it?

  2. Love YOU, love the Cross House, like the blue stove and the shutters – everything else I’d rip out. I think it looks like a dump. I’d bet none of the cabinets shut easily (I’ve lived with a kitchen like that and it was dreary to work in. It always felt old and dirty no matter how much bleach was used) and I’m sure the drawers didn’t open or close without great effort, often coming out sideways.

    I’m so sorry. I do not see what you see 🙁

    I’d much rather the authentic original 1900’s kitchen with no cabinets to the formica 50’s stuff.

    • I protest!

      Yes, there are crappy 1950s kitchens with cheap old rusted metal cabinets.

      But the 1956 kitchen pictured above is not such a kitchen. It had über-expensive St. Charles cabinets and was lovingly maintained for five decades.

      • If it makes you feel better about me, I don’t care for Options 1 or 2 either. I like real wood with a dark stain. And I hate tile backsplashes. What a waste of a wall.and…. cabinets that don’t go all the way to the ceiling – drives me insane. Either do or don’t – don’t leave a space! ugh! calgon take me away for that. So… you get to rant about the ripping out retro stuff and I get to rant about the poorly designed and poorly functioning “new” stuff?
        I guess viva la difference…?

        I’m holding my breath to see what kitchen the Cross House gets 🙂

    • St. Charles cabinets were de luxe. A door on one got broken in about 73 and they had a metalworker come in and fashion a new one. They were a hideous shade of green.

  3. My ca. 1900 Victorian had almost nothing original left in the kitchen. But- there was evidence of interior shutters removed from the tall windows. The walls and woodwork were never painted. The floor was covered with linoleum(what a surprise!). Apparently the ice box was moved around. There was a closet in the corner. Unfortunately the door was removed and cheap 1/2 height double doors were put into it’s place. Every room of the house was covered with wallpaper, ceilings included, and the kitchen was no exception. The ceiling was beadboard, with a panel moulding around the perimeter. As there was very little to work with, I installed beadboard cabinets and soapstone counters. I don’t think you would approve, I would’ve done something more authentic if I had the money. But I didn’t.

    • I neglected to say that there were almost nothing in the kitchen when I moved in the house, save for a 1964 gas range with an upper oven. It was not working very well, and parts were not available(or so I was told). There was an ultra-cheapie tiny sink cabinet with a single bowl and an 18″ dishwasher. And about 6 layers of flooring. So when I did my work in the room, which was only app. 9’3″x13’2″, I wanted to make it a working kitchen that would have some appeal if the house ever had to be sold.

    • Hi Michael!

      To me, the question is not one of authenticity.

      This post is about, well, the meaning of words. When people state they want a “period-correct” kitchen, this is not what they mean. What they want is a MODERN kitchen. A modern kitchen done in a traditional style. And I am OK with the latter.

      Also, I want to scream when actual period kitchens, like the 1956 pictured above, are replaced with faux period kitchens.

      • The meaning of words has so little meaning to well meaning individuals that don’t know the meaning of the words they are using! Glad you pointed out that most of us really want modern kitchens in a traditional style. I would be happy with that!

      • If I had something to work with that wasn’t falling apart I would’ve kept it. There were no cabinets, no work surfaces in the kitchen. If I had an original Victorian kitchen I would’ve kept it. If I had a earlier kitchen that worked it would’ve been OK. It was a compromise to have a workable kitchen with tall, low windows and I didn’t want to remove them or shorten them. BTW I am amazed at the pictures of the metal cabinets because most of the ones I have seen were lesser quality, flimsy and rusty. Based on my experience, I encourage you to consider soapstone for the counters. I wanted to use a traditional material that would withstand hard use and abuse. Soapstone certainly does, and it is within a handy persons capabilities to install it yourself. I did! I know wooden counters and linoleum counters are also practical and appropriate period materials. But I think soapstone is superior! “Auf glueck!” to your kitchen plans.

  4. I want that kitchen from 1900. Would my husband allow it? Stay tuned to find out.

    And yes I’d keep that 1950s kitchen as long as it was clean and not rotted out.

    Seems like you and I pull our hair out over many of the same things!

  5. Anybody who puts in a period correct kitchen I.e. 1900 or 19th Century is someone who has zero interest in, or love of cooking. Those kitchens were usually for servants. There was no concern as to how the kitchen functioned or how wonderful meals were prepared. It usually meant a cavalcade of poorly paid people producing amazing things for their employer. Or perhaps a wife and mother producing wonderful meals in a miserable workspace.

    I think folks should put in whatever they wish when it is their home. Period correct Victorian or Edwardian kitchens make me physically ill; as they are unpleasant places to try to produce amazing meals. It can be done but it is not fun. Those kitchens are not functional.

    Ross you have an amazing eye and I lament the loss of that beautiful 1950’s kitchen. High quality materials and lovingly maintained. It appeared to be very functional according to th e former owner.

    Your kitchen will be amazing and functional for you and I suspect others who cook in your kitchen. I cannot wait to see what you come up with and know it will be beautiful to look at and functional; practical.

    You have such amazing taste and style. I cannot imagine you choosing an 1894 kitchen for Cross House for 2017. I suspect a period correct kitchen but not that period. 1894 kitchens were dismal places. The rest of the house will be beautiful and I suspect the Cross House kitchen will be stunnng and functional.

    You deserve nothing but kindness and politeness in your blog. It is such a healthy exchange of ideas and so fun to read except for the vitriol. You are fun and expressive and intelligently express your ideas.

    I love your thoughtfully expressed posts. It is so informative, intelligent and so educational. Love the honest emotional outbursts. However, I think it’s out of line to be caustic and critical of you or other folks’ responses. It is neither pleasant nor enjoyable to read. It is the only aspect I don’t enjoy. I usually enjoy comments by readers just not vitriol.

    Continue your amazing work on Cross House in your unique and creative manner. Your work is amazing!!!

    • I love cooking, and I would like something period-correct as possible. You’re right – kitchens didn’t become ergonomic until the 30s, but luckily most houses lack the original kitchen space. So, you do what you can with what you have. In my case, that would involve installing a free-standing sink, stove, etc.

      Sandra Lee, I’m so sorry Victorian kitchens make you “physically ill”. The only caustic vitriol I’ve ever seen on this blog come from you, so I’m not entirely sure what you mean by those comments.

      • Tiffany–Sorry I meant cooking in them would be difficult. Victorian kitchens are a bit bleak by modern standards. But of course we do with what we have and make the best of it. Any unkindness is not good and silence is best rather than to comment about anything I did not like. I was vague and won’t comment any further about what I meant. It must not have bothered anyone else. Sorry to be out of line.

        • Sandra Lee, No no, maybe I misunderstood what you meant about rude comments. I get it now. I see plenty of them on sites where houses are posted for sale. “Ew that carpet!” or whatever. I didn’t think there would be anything like that on Ross’ blog!

          I happen to really like those kitchens. Definitely not designed for comfort, so I get what you mean. There was a couple in Texas who did a really great job of making a period kitchen functional.

          Here.

          I could REALLY go for that.

          • Yeah Tiffaney! Thanks. Sorry the first reply mangled your name with spellcheck. Loved the period but functional kitchen. Are you going to do that in your house? Thanks for sharing that post.

        • Sandra Lee,

          I, too, would be physically unable to withstand a Victorian-era kitchen.

          Lighting levels were WAY low.

          The gas from the lighting would have made me nauseous.

          A coal stove in the summer would have been torture.

          Counters were VERY low and this would have caused spasms in my back. And I am not that tall.

          And no dishwasher? No AC? Oh, the horror!

          • Ha! I’d love the low counter tops. FINALLY something built for little ol’ me. I could do without the gas though. And I know everyone is going to think I’m nuts, but I love washing dishes.

            I fully expect to be put in the nut house for my choice in kitchens. Or at least overruled by my husband.

        • I may do this with my kitchen, if we buy a Victorian. And oh, if my husband will be able to stand it. I’m using these pictures to try to get him on board. He’s an old soul, but hates to be inconvenienced. We’ll see how it goes!

      • Dear Tiffany,

        I am DELIGHTED if someone wishes to install a period-correct kitchen in their home. Or to try and increase the period aspects of their kitchen.

        This however is not what this post is about.

        My concern is when people tear out actual period kitchens and replace them with faux period kitchens.

        My concern is when people state they want to create a period kitchen but then do just the opposite: they create a modern kitchen (but with traditional styling).

        Again, I am fine if somebody wants to create a true period kitchen. Bravo! And I am fine if somebody wants a new kitchen along traditional lines or a new modernist kitchen.

        Regarding your last paragraph, I am baffled. I cannot recall Sandra Lee ever espousing caustic vitriol.

        • I think she and I misunderstood each other Ross!

          I’ve seen so many amazing period details ripped out for the sake of being contemporary, or at least, not “that”. It’s heartbreaking. The faux period stuff makes me laugh. What people think is “Victorian” is sometimes hilarious.

          I really love your kitchen plan for the Cross House – I read through it again since you linked it here. Thank goodness there’s at least one person out there who knows what they’re doing. Maybe you should start training people.

  6. I, too, mourn the loss of that gorgeous and well maintained kitchen. I have a Victorian and the previous owner took out the 1940s style cabinets to put in MDF and beadboard, poorly constructed. It just made me sick.

    • The carriage house to the Cross House had a very nice late 1940s kitchen. Just before I purchased the properties the previous owner replaced it with a new Home Depot kitchen.

      Sigh.

  7. I agree, that 50’s kitchen was absolutely fabulous & it’s a shame that it was ripped out.
    I can’t wait to see what you do with your kitchen!

  8. Yes, technically you are correct. A period correct kitchen and a modern kitchen done in a traditional style are not the same thing. I think it goes without saying that few people would want a period correct kitchen. I would imagine that most folks know in their own minds what they are talking about, even if they don’t express it correctly. If this were the most egregious example of miscommunication in the world, I think we could all consider ourselves very lucky. As far as the 1950’s kitchen, I remember that article from RetroRenovation, and while it did same like a shame to me, it’s hard to make a fair determination without actually seeing the kitchen in person or knowing the motivations of the new owner. I seem to recall that the stove and cabinets were saved and reused, so on the plus side, somewhere an MCM homeowner got a very luck find.

    • I am under the impression that most people who install a “period-correct” kitchen actually think they are doing just that.

      And that is the point of this post.

      Pretty much EVERY new kitchen in an old home is a modern kitchen. The only issue, as mentioned above, is whether the new kitchen will be traditional in style or modernistic.

      I am fine with either choice. I just wish people would stop using the phrase period-correct, when they are NOT doing a period-correct kitchen!

      And I wish people would stop tearing out actual period kitchens, like the 1956 one above, so they can install faux period kitchens!

  9. Well, I said I was going to explicitly not put in a faux period kitchen, but not put in anything jarringly modern or trendy either, and what I’ve got now looks exactly like vintage steel except that it’s all MDF. Whoops!

  10. Amen Ross! It is a question of ???? semantics and being factually correct. You are very knowledgeable & have educated yourself regarding the lingo. It is all a matter of preference which way one chooses to go. I hope you do a traditional kitchen that will be functional. But however you do it, the craftsmanship and aesthetic will be wonderful! You definitely subscribe to ” doing it right.” I love the story about cleaning the basement window in the snow when you bought Cross House. You needed to clean that window despite anything else & your dedication to restoration is refreshing.
    Yay Ross!

    • I knew nothing, zilch, about “period-correct” kitchens three years ago!

      Oh, and here is my plan for the Cross House kitchen.

  11. Thanks for reminding me of the “Cross House kitchen plan” post! ????

    I realize you knew nothing about these things 3 years ago & look how you have updated? “Necessity is the mother of invention.” You needed to figure this all out and then proceeded from there! Awesome and inspiring as usual– all a part of your charm????

  12. Oh and I love love love love the 2016 kitchen plan of restoring the elements of the kitchen to 1894 but installing a modernistic island!! Sheer genius!!!!!! Brilliant! Wonderful idea. It will be lovely. I love the comment that Mr & Mrs Cross would recognize the kitchen–or at least the servants would:-) itnis the best of both worlds! Yay Ross! I had totally forgotten about the 2016 Kitchen Plan!

  13. To each their own, but I honestly think I would be very happy with a kitchen that was period-correct for my 1890s house. My great-grandmother had an 1890s kitchen, it remained that way until she passed in the late 1980s. There was a large cast-iron wall-hung sink with drain boards on each side, and beside it was a HUGE Hoosier cabinet. Across the room was a 1950s white porcelain wood/coal burning stove, which replaced the original black iron stove. In the middle of the room was an enormous farm table, I remember playing underneath with my Hot Wheels cars while overhead, Gma and the aunts prepared the best meals I have ever had. The only “concessions” were a 1950s Hot Point refrigerator, and a white cabinet-style water heater in the corner. All of her canned goods and staples were kept in a shelf-lined pantry. My wife loves her traditional cherry and marble kitchen, so I won’t be ripping it out any time soon; but…if it were up to me…

    • Mike your grandma made it work wonderfully. My grandma had a 1910 house and kitchen and I loved the built-ins, cabinets and pantry. Her stove was originally wood-burning and converted to gas. Best pies in the world cooked in that oven. We all make do with what we have and our families made do with what they had. I think Ross’ plan to keep his Cross House kitchen with the 1894 elements but with a modernist island is fun. Everybody decides what they want for their own restoration. It’s fun to read everybody’s ideas. I always like to hear what you think about things. Ross has his own fresh approach haha.

      • Yes, Ross has been a big influence on me. I usually stay pretty safe, but I am starting to take chances on my own old-house restoration, thinking outside the box, trying colors that I normally would not be brave enough to pick… And I agree 100% on Ross’ kitchen plans, I would not likely have thought of that. Pure inspiration. And BTW, I like your ideas and observations, too! Boy, a warm piece of Grandma’s raspberry pie would hit the spot… 🙂

        • Yummo Mike! My grandma made the most wonderful transparent pies. She had several apple trees in her yard. She tried to teach me how to make her crust using her small fingers to measure the lard and pinches of this and that without using measuring cups or spoons.

          • I know what you mean! One thing you would have never found in Great-Gma Lizzie’s 1890s kitchen was a measuring cup, it was a pinch of this and a dallop of that, and maybe a fistful of something else! My Grandma LaVerne (Lizzie’s oldest daughter)was the same way, but with her help we were able to “translate” the old recipes into actual written word with accurate measurements so that our family is enjoying them now, years after Gma and the aunts are all gone. Ross, sorry we got a little off topic here, but at least we are playing nice together, LOL!! 🙂

  14. I loooove that 1950s kitchen! Of course in a Victorian house I much prefer a period correct (and I mean actually period correct) kitchen, but I could never tear out a gem of a 1950s kitchen like that!

  15. I have to respond to this. 1950s kitchens are gorgeous. For about 5 years I lived in my Uncle Bub’s house whilst he lived in a retirement home. Uncle Bub moved in when he was two and the house was less than 10 years old.He went away to war where he lost his leg and when he came home he lived with his mum. He built the most beautiful kitchen for Granny Spratt in the 50s. It would still there when I lived there in 2010. I loved that kitchen it was solid and pratical and still painted in the original colours which I cleaned. Sadly when Uncle Bub died and we sold the house the kitchen was of course pulled out to put in something more period. My heart broke they threw it away for no good reason.

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