Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Victorian Kitchen Revival – Part 1

Have you ever walked into a room and felt transported into something untouched by the erasure of time, imagining the smells and activities that might have taken place there (Déjà vu, if you will)? Sure you have, that is if you have any intuitive sense at all. And if you are involved in restoring an old house, you have a sense of intuition that grows keener with each new, creative activity you employ in your projects.

A few places in Hannibal have done this to me. They include:
  • The grounds of the Garth Mansion. The entire spread with its virtually undisturbed acreage and an old Victorian mansion painted grey made me feel as if I had walked into a 100-year old postcard. That is, until I accessed the restaurant in the back of the house. The newness of this area will jolt you back to the present.
  • An attic of an old house on Olive Street where I once lived. All the smells, tools for living, and cast-off literature made this space a virtual 100+ years time capsule.
  • An old general store at the corner of Center and Main. The dark, smelly and closed-in room with heavily stocked shelves, old stains (blood?) and faint remnants of sawdust on an ancient wooden floor was not for the claustrophobic. The store was converted to something else during the 1970’s.

In all of these properties, I (seamlessly) transcended the present into an alien time staged by props from another era. This sense of transcendence is our goal for a restored Laura Hawkins house, and nowhere am I more excited about staging than in the kitchen. So, back to the restoration of this room…

During the Victorian era, the kitchen was the least regarded room of the house, as far as interior decoration and furnishings go. Preparing food and cleaning up afterwards made a mess. In some of the wealthier homes, extra measures in the architecture were used to separate this room from the more presentable areas of the house. In the case of the Laura Hawkins house, a small hall with an adjacent washroom separated the kitchen from the dining room.
  You are looking at the small hallway that leads from the kitchen to the
dining area. A heavy curtain hanging from a doorway likely shielded
the dining area from
both the kitchen and the washroom (to your left).

Note the half-hearted attempts at updating the walls and the moldings in the photo above. The plastic bag on the floor of the washroom covers a hole where a toilet once stood - not an original toilet, mind you, but one that would have been installed during the late 1940’s to 1960’s.

Why do I often refer back to the late 1940’s when discussing previous renovations? Based on the extensive (and horrid) remuddling of the house exterior circa 1947 and the look of some of the existing bath fixtures, this was when the house underwent much renovation in an effort to “update” and “be like the neighbors”.

As with most restoration projects, the kitchen is often the most extensive and Laura’s house was no exception. So, we stripped through the layers of additions, bad paint jobs, and mismatched amenities to reveal its bones. Remember this wall?
 The North Wall of the kitchen. The doorway on the left leads to the basement,
while the doorway on the right leads to the 2nd floor of the house.

Here is that wall, gutted…

Here is a view showing the ceiling that has now been insulated…

Note the exposed brick on the west wall and the stove pipe portal in it. Here’s another look at it…
 If you look closely, you will see that a brick inserted into the stove pipe portal.
The family likely converted over to a “cleaner” method of
food cooking via a gas or electric stove.

Here is what that wall looked like before its gutting…
 Note the plastered circle where the stove pipe portal existed.

Remember the east wall that overlooks the backyard?
  This 1960’s style sink cabinet is long gone.

Here is that wall now…

Moving to your left, here is the northeast corner of the kitchen…
  At one time this room was a pantry stocked with canned and dry kitchen goods.
A door which had long been removed enclosed this small room.

 Here is a glimpse of the extended pantry that was in place before the gutting…
Moving to your right past the sink cabinet, here is the southeast corner of the kitchen with its sole source of heat (other than the stove)…
Here is another view showing some of the insulation installed…

Here’s a closer look at the heat register…
Finally, moving further to your right, here we are in the southwest corner of the kitchen, right back to the small hallway that leads to the washroom and dining room…

In my next post, we will delve into the many activities of a Victorian kitchen with all of its ugly implements and furnishings. We’ll also look at some sample kitchens of the time and I will share with you our plans to take this kitchen back to Laura’s day.

I’ll even share a recipe or two enjoyed by my own Hannibal relatives during the late 1800’s. Yes readers, I have roots in these hills and like the Hawkins family, they were part of the Scotch-Irish set that migrated from Kentucky during the 1800’s and early 1900’s. Hmm, pork, rabbit, fish… and snapping turtle!


SMU Cox Web Site said...

I don't want a period Victorian kitchen. I have no desire what so ever to chop wood each time I want a hot snack.

What I do want is a nice, not screamingly modern place to park my commercial Viking range so I can get some cooking done.

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