Period kitchens

Deborah Holmes

Custom built cabinetry, painted in historically accurate colors, adds to the period feeling of this kitchen remodel.

The kitchen has been the heart of this antique cape in a tiny fishing village in Maine for 220 years. So when the new owners decided to update the house, last remodeled in the 1970s, they focused on the kitchen.

The owners wanted a kitchen with 21st century convenience and 18th century charm. Just as it did two centuries ago, the family's life pulses around the hearth. The heart of this sensitive remodel is a massive cast iron cookstove, an AGA cooker. One of the homeowners had grown up with a similar cooker in England. Site-built cabinets painted in authentic period colors, an island with butcher block and granite countertops, and custom-designed plate rack add to the period feel of the kitchen. Original wainscoting and exposed beams add warmth and charm.

aga stove
This coal-fired AGA cooker was on the top of the customers' wish list for their dream kitchen.

before picture
Kitchen, in before photo, was last remodeled in the 1970s. In the remodeled kitchen, the main sink has been moved from in front of the window to a new island. An AGA cooker replaces an old stove and separate wall oven.

farmhouse sink
Old fashioned farmhouse-style sink features a modern faucet with hidden water filter.

plate rack
In keeping with the age of the house, walls are free of cabinets, except for the custom designed plate rack requested by the customers.

The secret to the AGA cooker, much loved in England, and increasingly popular in high-end remodels in this country, is a small, highly efficient fire box. The enameled beauty is fueled year-round by coal, its gentle, radiant heat a source of comfort in mid-coast Maine, where chilly, damp nights are common even in the summer. Well insulated lids covering hotplates can be removed for cooking. Likewise, the four well-insulated oven offer a range of cooking temperatures at a moment's notice. In short, the stove has the appeal of Grandma's cookstove, with the functionality required by a busy modern family.

The homeowners chose the design firm of Bulldog Associates Worldwide, Ltd., owned by Jean Sharratt, to give them the kitchen of their dreams. A native of England, now living in New England, Sharratt also grew up with AGA cookers,

"These customers wanted all the modern amenities, but it was obvious that they were not going to be happy with a contemporary style kitchen with cabinets covering every wall," says Sharratt. She describes her kitchens as "bespoke," a term used by English cabinetmakers to mean custom cabinetry, designed and finished on site.

Part of the remodel included a new utility room in what had been an adjoining shed. Built-in cupboards provide extra storage while a second sink handles messy cleaning jobs, keeping the kitchen island free for cooking and light cleaning. The new utility room also houses the washer and dryer.

At 305 square feet, the main kitchen room is good sized. However, three doorways and three windows made layout challenging. The room also needed to accommodate dining space and the AGA, which had to be located on the chimney wall for ventilation. Free-standing custom cabinets flank one side of the AGA, providing an appliance garage for blenders and toasters, a small work surface and storage for pots and pans. A built-in pantry balances the bulk of the stainless steel double door refrigerator on the facing wall and provides yet more storage.

The island not only frees up wall space, but balances the mass of the AGA and separates the work and dining areas. A drop down baking center in the island also functions as a serving area for the new dining area. A farmhouse sink with an exposed apron adds to the old-fashioned appeal of the kitchen.

In the original kitchen design, the person washing dishes had the best view in the house -- the sink was installed in a wall with a picture window overlooking the harbor. The eating space was squeezed between doorways to the mudroom and inside hallway.

In the new design, diners get the view, with an country kitchen table set in front of the window, and the sink and dishwasher are moved to the island.

A pantry closet neatly stores food and offsets the bulk of the AGA cooker and the stainless refrigerator.

mudroom before
Mudroom before...

mudroom after
...and after

Kitchen remodel, including mudroom and utility room in 1780s cape.
Location: Maine
Designer: Bulldog Associates Worldwide Ltd., projects throughout North America and Europe.
Cost: $70,000, including $9,000 for second hand AGA cooker

About the Author
By Deborah Holmes, The Old House Web

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