The Cross House

Wanna Meet My Kitchen?

Like most every room in the Cross House, the kitchen looks like a bomb has gone off in it. The entire ceiling is missing. The walls are missing large areas of plaster. Flooring is missing. Trim and wainscoting are missing.

But what remains is…good. The original yellow pine flooring is under later linoleum. Much of the wood wainscoting remains, as does almost all the trim. The original colors/finishes are hidden under many later layers of paint.

My plan is to restore the room to its 1894 appearance:

  • Unearth the pine floor and refinish.
  • All the wainscoting and trim are heavily over-painted. The original colors/finishes will be scientifically determined. The wood will be stripped bare and repainted in the original colors or finishes.
  • As will the plaster walls, which will be repaired.
  • The lost dumbwaiter and laundry chute (extant only on the second floor) will be recreated.
  • The lost speaking tube (extent in the rest of the house) will be recreated.
  • Period-correct gas/electric lighting will be installed. VERY simple fixtures.
  • The red brick chimney breast will be stripped of paint.
  • The missing cabinets in the main pantry will be recreated.

Once the room itself is restored, then what?

This be a question I often ponder.

While the kitchen is a good size there is almost no room for base cabinets. There are an incredible six doors in the room; one double window, and one single. There is no wall for an upper cabinet. I know, amazing.

The saving grace of the kitchen are the two adjacent pantries. A butler’s pantry, and main pantry. There is also a servant’s hall, which will be the breakfast room. These additional rooms offer enough extra counters and shelving for the kitchen to function well.

Of great interest is that the kitchen may not have had any built-in cabinets in 1894. The sink would have been up on legs. And tables may have sufficed for counters. Indeed, there is no evidence that there were any built-in cabinets in the kitchen.

It is possible though that a long sink cabinet could be installed under the south-facing double window, and a small cabinet under the single window. That is it. But what should these cabinets look like?

Options:

  1. The original cabinets, if any, would have almost certainly matched the very plain cabinets in the main pantry. Do I recreate this look?
  2. Or do I go for a 1920s style kitchen? This way I could have a useable gas range, and a refrigerator. One of those cool monitor-topped ones. If I went this route I would do 1920s lighting.
  3. Do I go for a 1950s kitchen? This way I could have an even better gas range, and even better refrigerator. If I went this route I would do 1950s lighting.
  4. Do I go modern and install very simple but obviously 2016 style cabinets, and modern appliances? If so, I would, perversely, do 1894 gas/electric lighting.

By choosing Option #1 or #2 or #3, I will — EEK!  — be confusing the historical narrative. I AM LOATHE TO DO THIS.

If I recreate the 1894 main pantry cabinets for the kitchen people will walk in and say: “Oh! You have the original cabinets!”

If I do a 1920s style kitchen most people will react the same: “Oh! Your kitchen is so original!”

If I do a 1950s style kitchen most people will say: “Ugh! When are you going to redo the kitchen?”

The house is remarkably intact, and I have a strong disinclination to confuse what is original with what is not. Thus, my instinct is to go with Option #4: Very simple base cabinets (again, there can only be two cabinets), modern in design, and with white Carrara marble tops. Modern appliances. Period-correct gas/electric lighting.

This way, the room itself will radiate 1894, but the cabinets/appliances will be obviously contemporary. And the historical narrative will not be fucked with.

Well, these are my thoughts for today. They may be different tomorrow.

Now, wanna meet the kitchen?

 

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PLAN. Top is north.

 

  1. Kitchen.
  2. Butler’s pantry. Its north wall (separating the pantry from the dining room) is not shown.
  3. Main pantry.
  4. Servant’s hall.
  5. This was originally a closet (left) and laundry chute and dumbwaiter (right). I have already recreated the closet, and will be recreating the lost dumbwaiter and laundry chute.
  6. Back covered porch.
  7. Servant’s stair.

NOTE: The full bath shown will be returned to its original half-bath configuration.

 

l
The yellow pine floor will be unearthed and refinished. The floor is missing in the servant’s hall and will need to be replaced.

 

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The walls have wood wainscoting. The missing sections of wainscoting will be recreated. I have long wondered: was the wood varnished or painted originally????????

 

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Today I was moving stuff around and was gobsmacked to find these boards! Gobsmacked! They were, I assume, behind a radiator. Well, I now know the wainscoting was not painted originally.

 

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But what finish IS this? It does not quite look like varnish. is it an oil-rubbed finish?

 

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Is this the original wall color? It a kinda putty with a green hue.

 

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The color is more obvious here.

 

SOUTH.
SOUTH. A huge double window goes above the sink. The arch opening to the servant’s hall is left. Back door far left.

 

WEST.
WEST. The radiator was under the window, where it made sense but precluded a cabinet. I had the radiator moved. Above it to the left will be the laundry chute door. Where all the yellow wires are will be the dumbwaiter. The speaking tube mouthpiece goes about where the blue paint roller is hanging. The door leads to the butler’s pantry.

 

NORTH. Shelves were installed into the range recess. These will be removed. The open door leads to the basement. The adjacent door goes upstairs. The new stove will go into the range recess.
NORTH. The brick niche was for the range. The open door leads to the basement. The adjacent door goes upstairs. The new stove will go into the niche.

 

EAST.
EAST. The door to the left goes to the main pantry. The radiator is just sitting there; it will go into the servant’s hall. The wall behind it will be the location of the refrigerator. Under the window will be a cabinet. The door goes to the back porch.

 

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EAST main pantry. Tragically, the pantry was wholly intact until a decade or so ago. Sigh. Luckily, I have the original drawings, and ghost outlines on the walls, so all can be, and will be, recreated. The window sash is being restored.

 

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The pantry cabinet. It is very plain. The hardware has a Bower-Barff finish (black). The kitchen cabinets, if any existed in 1894, would have almost certainly looked like this.

 

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NORTH main pantry. There are two diamond-paned sashes. They lift UP. Again, I will recreate the missing cabinets.

 

k46
SOUTH main pantry. The door to the built-in ice chest. Pretty cool.

 

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The pantry shelves are all adjustable. Or were. They are overpainted in place now. The piece of wood under the shelf, with the rounded ends, comes out and you can position it anywhere.

 

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This is more obvious in the never painted butler’s pantry.

 

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In removing one such piece, I found this pale green. Original finish?

 

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The same pale green is on the inside steps of the ice chest door.

 

 

AND IN THE 1890s….

 

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Typical kitchen sink.

 

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Typical kitchen sink.

 

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Typical kitchen sink. Slate with a enameled basin. LOVE the marble floor slab.

 

.io
Typical kitchen sink. All slate with nickel-plated components. To die for.

 

i
Typical cast-iron range.

 

 

 

 

47 Responses to Wanna Meet My Kitchen?

  1. Lovely!

    What about soapstone as a countertop for the future kitchen? In my experience it takes abuse a lot better than marble. Were the counters of the period determined by region or by how wealthy the homeowner was, or some combination of the two? I find kitchens fascinating, and as an avid cook, can definitely appreciate the utility of these old ones. I am, however, perpetually thankful that my recipes today don’t start with “light a fire”.

    You may find this link interesting- I’ve gone down the rabbit hole a few times and it’s been fascinating.

    Reading the cookbooks and housekeeping manuals of the era gave me a whole new appreciation for how these rooms were used. Also- fried chicken in the 1500’s is pretty much the same as fried chicken in 2016.

    • Oh my golly is that link ever a rabbit hole!!

      The Country Kitchen book from 1911 has just absorbed over two hours of my time. I just wish I understood the terminology better. And they don’t actually give cooking instructions, just the ingredients. Could take a lot of trial and error to get some things right.

  2. There certainly is not much wall space!

    I imagine that the space where the fridge will go probably had something like a Hoosier cabinet in place.

    From what I’ve found in my bored-with-time-on-my-hands internet travels is that everything was stored in the pantries and very little in the actual kitchen. Of course, back then a typical kitchen would have much less ‘stuff’ than they do nowadays. No tupperware, no small appliances, etc.

    By the time you filled all the shelves, cabinets, and drawers in the two pantries I’d bet you wouldn’t have much stuff left over. Leaving a clean and uncluttered kitchen!

    I have a feeling that the perfect kitchen items will find you.

  3. As Melody stated, with the huge pantries full of shelves and cabinets, perhaps the kitchen would not need so much storage as we think if it today? A table here or there with slop buckets under sinks and baskets for carrying items to and fro?

    What about a stove? Would gas have been used at the Cross House? Surely there are quality reproductions?

    Would it be possible to tuck modern appliances like blender, toaster, microwave, etc into a freestanding cabinet you build for just that purpose? Or maybe just go with tables and counters and throw caution to the wind and unashamedly leave those modern niceties out to peek at us?

    I just know what ever you decide we are excited to be watching and playing along!

  4. Ross, I have a question. In the picture that shows the door leading into the Butler’s Pantry, it looks like the cabinets in there have been cut into, to make an opening into the family hallway and on into the library. Is that how the original Butler’s Pantry was? I remember it having floor to ceiling cupboards on the entire west wall of the Butler’s Pantry.

  5. I am agog. AGOG!

    My mother was a real estate agent. I guess she technically still is, but hasn’t done that work in a very long time. The houses in our area, while mighty mighty old, have all been redone, remuddled, and “sanitized” of their Victorian wonders. So when I see a house like yours, that still has evidence of a speaking tube, dumbwaiter, laundry chute (we had one!), and A BUILT IN ICE CHEST, my heart pounds and my head spins. In short, your house is killing me.

    I love it. I love every chipped paint inch.

  6. My grandfather built his brick house with Masons he sponsored from Germany. He wanted the best workmanship and he paid their way to Ohio from old country. His home would have two full baths while it was the first house on the street to have indoor plumbing ! Yes two bathrooms and gas lights. His kitchen had 6 doors. It only had a place for the stove and a place for a refridgerator, formerly the ice box. There was a large area for table and chairs as he had a large family ! The kitchen sink was large and in the pantry where the base cabinets and upper cupboards were. Everything was stored there or in the fruit cellar in the basement. Plain and simple. A modern twist would be an all wood table oversized to fit,kitchen counter height with a shelf underneath. Half table half island with overhang for stools for seating enough for all of us. Have you ever seen the worktable on Downton Abbey? Kinda like that, but with seating.

  7. If you go for the updated, 2016 kitchen, Ross…could you just make a large island and have that be most of the kitchen with maybe some of the wall space make up with narrow cabinets. I know it’s king of odd but just thinking outside the box.

  8. If you get a sink on legs how would you handle the dishwasher? Wrapped in wood and sitting next to (and protruding beyond) a period sink? I can’t think of an attractive way to do it. I want to say that Option 4 makes the most sense but I really like the idea of an all-analog vintage range and a refrigerator that isn’t self defrosting. I would have had a vintage range in a heartbeat if I had found one that was 30 inches wide and gas. But on the other hand, a 1950’s kitchen would never, ever have the original wood floors, so there’s not really any historical period you can be faithful to. I’d consider going 2016 and putting in a vintage range anyway just because you can. (I’d also put a small cabinet in front of the chimney breast between the range and the wall just because I spread out and make a big mess when I cook)

    Also, I really, really like having drawers in my base cabinets. If I had limited wall space, 2 pantries, and a breakfast room, I’d be able to give up most of the cabinets in the kitchen proper, but it would still be important to have spices and some basic everyday dishes and cookware at hand. A couple base cabinets with drawers could hold most of that. I’d want either an island with storage or an open island with a pot rack to supplement it though.

    For me closed storage is better as I will never, ever style shelves that hold things I use regularly, but I don’t know how you operate in the kitchen. My parents’ kitchen is 12 or 12 1/2 feet wide and they have a 30 inch island in the middle with 24″ cabinets on one wall and 18″ cabinets on the other, so you can definitely fit something in for a little extra work space.

    • I have a large floor to ceiling pantry cabinet (2 1/2 ft x 2 1/2 ft.) with doors and deep shelves. The bottom portion has a built in dishwasher, the top is the first shelf. The door to the cabinet hides the DW along with kitchen staples and at the top my home canning supplies. I have much less space than you. I was alright with having my stove and refrigerator visible but the DW is better hidden in this 1896 home. I guess we each have our own fine line of what we can tolerate and my cutoff was a visible DW.

  9. The house I used to live in when I was younger was built in 1893. Its kitchen, though not fully intact (such a bummer) had evidence of what my dad called “runners” on the wall. I’ve seen in other homes from the early 20th century the same small runner boards (more like trim than anything) that were used to hang kitchen items like ladles and skillets from. We also had two very small shelves that ran over our sink that had groves in the wood which I’m assuming were for plates. The bottom shelf had hooks in it that we used for coffee mugs and other utensils. I’m not sure if this was evident at the Cross House at all? I just know that our kitchen was tiny and we had about 3 shelves to utilize and those things came in handy!

  10. A bit off the topic of your kitchen, but I’d love to tour the stairs and landings leading to your basement if any bits are still original. Our original kitchen and laundry were in the basement, and I’ve been stymied as to the level of finish to restore them to!

  11. Another rabbit hole is the archive of Aladdin Homes catalogues. I fell into that a long time ago and found great fun in looking through their 1916 catalog of home furnishings — even discovered I owned one of the pieces (complete with identifying brand in a drawer). So, although this is a few years past your house’s date, you might find something in the kitchen cabinets (in a couple of places) and plumbing and lighting fixtures.
    “https://www.cmich.edu/library/clarke/ResearchResources/Michigan_Material_Local/Bay_City_Aladdin_Co/Documents/1916_furnishings_annual_sales_catalog.pdf”

    Or, for those more disposed to destroy a day (or three), the archives start here:
    “https://www.cmich.edu/library/clarke/ResearchResources/Michigan_Material_Local/Bay_City_Aladdin_Co/Pages/default.aspx”

    • Everythng for your modern home but the bricks and lumber but that’s ok if you don’t mind making your own cinder blocks. And a floor furnace, the hated floor furnace as the newest and greatest, yikes!
      Just scanned if. I need a buffet, small desk and…and…a time machine.

  12. Ross, I’m sorry I haven’t commented sooner (I have been lurking for about a year now). First I want to say you have a fantastic house, and it couldn’t be in better hands. In regards to your kitchen, I must agree with a previous comment of yours, that an island with under counter refrigeration would be great, it could even be designed to look like a piece of furniture to distinguish it from the original cabinets in the pantries. I could go all day providing suggestions, however, I understand that the kitchen is a tricky room in a historic house. It has to be functional for modern use, however, it must in some ways stay true to its past. I don’t envy the choices you have to make in this room Ross, but I truly believe whatever you decide will be the right choice for the Cross house.

  13. I’d go original but with a huge old looking table as an island. That was likely their working space anyways. If original isnt gonna work I’d go 2016 but very simple and with a big ol’ cool island. The thought of a 1950’s kitchen I just can’t stomach. I like that Era but not in that house.

  14. Also if I hit the lotto I’d offer you $5 million for that house… I’ve already decided.lol After you restore it of course. But I’d absolutely need a close to period correct kitchen. Even if you are using new to make look old…which I know you hate doing….but ya just got too make it go with the majesty of the rest of what your doing.

  15. The built-in cabinet in our pantry has the very same shelf supports! I’ve always thought they were cool, and cleverly-built, as the side trails were easy to make by drilling a row of holes in a board, then ripping it down the center to make two rails. Cutting the rounded ends of the support pieces would have to be done slowly by hand, though. I’ve seen variations of this approach using sawtooth rails, which would make the supports easier to make, but more work to cut the rails.

    I also really like your beadboard, with the alternating flat and grooved panels. Are they two separate boards, with alternating faces? Or perhaps double-sided, with one flat side and one grooved side, installed in an alternating pattern?

    Finally, I commiserate with the challenge of laying out modern functionality in an old kitchen. Our small Foursquare still has 3 doors and one large window taking up a lot of wall space. My parents house (1895 Folk Victorian farmhouse in Illinois) has 4 doors and two large windows. The range is positioned in front of one window and the fridge intrudes an the other.

  16. Hi Ross. I just discovered your blog and I’m fascinated with your house. I did the google earth street view and it’s autumn, maybe winter, and the olive green paints are going on the house. If you go across the street to the red house that’s catty-cornered to your house and view from the Union Street side of the red house, your house color is still the old blue/white color and it’s obviously late spring/early summer. The google mobile must have taken 6 months at least to photograph your city. ???? (I know, I know, it doesn’t take much to amuse me.)

    In regards to your kitchen, I think the first thing I would ask is how much do you plan to use the kitchen? Are you a gourmand or a nuke it and eat it type? Do you enjoy cooking gourmet meals, or is cooking something you see as a drudge? If you plan on spending a lot of time in the kitchen whipping up 3 sit down meals a day then you would most likely want a state of the art modern sleek kitchen with all high -tech appliances and every convenience known to man (or at least I would.) If, on the other hand, you just heat and eat, then you should think about going period with your style i.e., one large wooden work table centered in the middle of the floor, with a large China sink with built in drain board, and a cook-stove in the alcove. Everything else would be relegated to one of the pantries. (I’m envisioning the kitchen in the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, NC.) If you’ve already got this part figured out, please let us know. I didn’t see it anywhere in your comments.

    • Hi Judy!

      Nice to meet you!

      To me, a kitchen requires but two things: an ice maker and a microwave.

      Luckily, my needs will not be of particular importance in creating a kitchen in the Cross House! Rather, I will create a kitchen that would be appealing to most buyers whenever the house is listed for sale.

      I have no plans to put in a period-correct coal/wood stove. Nor do I plan to resurrect the built-in ice chest. This means that a modern range and refrigerator will be in kitchen. And a dishwasher!

          • Google ’em. They were made here, in Elwood, IN starting in 1898. Highly collectible and usually expensive. They are free-standing furniture with shelves, cabinets, a built-in flour storage/sifter, a pull-out for more counter top space. Sellers also made matching dining tables, chairs, side cabinets etc. Also called Hoosier Cabinets.

  17. Ross, you are amazing. I can’t believe you are going to restore this whole place! Do you think you will live long enough to finish!?? Haha. [From Ross: I hope!]

    I have to comment here on the kitchen. I am glad to see someone who has more doors than we do in Thier kitchen! 6 doors! But wait the bathroom doesn’t open up off the kitchen so you have me beat there!! We have 5 doors in a 11×13 kitchen (1890 Queen Anne) also 2 long windows that I love – we did not shorten them for counters as I see done a lot. They are original glass. It was a tough decision!

    We ended up putting the refrigerator into the doorway to butler’s pantry and eliminated that entry. You still get in from dining room. It’s a storage closet now. The only “closet” for the first floor. The door can always be reopened. It is trimmed out just like the others. Wish I could have my pantry back. It’s small and refrigerator in it would have taken up so much space that didn’t seem worth it to do that way.

    Can’t wait to see what you do here.

  18. Kitchens. I love to look, hate to work in them. I think perhaps you are over thinking the issue. In the 1890’s, the pantry WAS the “kitchen” as we know it. All the prep was done in the pantry, as well as having the staples stored there. The mixing bowls, rolling pins, measuring implements were all in the pantry…not the kitchen. The kitchen was for cooking and clean up because that stove was HOT. Notice how the ice box was in the pantry? The “kitchen counter” was in the pantry because it was cooler than the kitchen. The kitchen table was only there for staging the dishes into and out of the stove because it was wood burning and had to be hot. Once the meal was over, the dishes were washed and returned to the butler’s pantry in a house this grand. In a more modest home, the plate rail and cup hooks were used, but the pantry was still the “kitchen” as we know it. Notice all the air circulation with the doors and windows? Ventilation for that cast iron monster in the corner..with all it’s heat. As the saying goes, “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Now you know.

    Perhaps this could clear up some of your design issues.

  19. The kitchen needs to have both modern & historical elements. I think the Sellers table is an excellent idea. I also think the Ice box could have a function as well in original state. A really great kitchen would greatly enhance sellling value. The rest of the house speaks for itself. To the left of the sink could be a work space & cabinet to house the dishwasher with maybe a butcher block top.

  20. My previous post is redundant. I posted more practical and usable suggestions on the kitchen floor posting. I think the island w refrig/freezer/dishwasher & sinks a much more usuable idea and one you thought was most feasible. Maybe counters combo soapstone/butcher block? The kitchen window needs to be accessible because that is what is best for you Ross. Keep following your dreams and your heart. It really has served you well. How are you able to work and where are you storing your work-related items? In the garage? So there was a carriage house and garage in the original scheme?? I will keep up with your continued adventures!!

    • Hi again, Sandra!

      The 1894 carriage house is next door, wwhich I also own. I do store some items there.

      There is a 1970s garage which I store a lot in.

      I also store some stuff in the basement of the big house.

  21. Hi Ross, I recently discovered your blog from your comment on Old House Dreams. I’ve also seen your posted comments on The Danville Experience. Your house is phenomenal, it will be interesting to see your progress. As far as the kitchen storage goes, I wouldn’t go any newer than 1920’s, but you could have an island made that looks vintage or use an old dresser an an island. And you might put an antique cabinet in the breakfast room for your dishes. It would be convenient to have them close to where you eat. I am enjoying meeting all the parts of your house. Good luck and keep up the good work.

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