Op-ed: Renovating a historic kitchen

Remodeling a kitchen is a typical home improvement undertaking. But when the task is being done in a historic house, more often than not it’s a restoration of what the space looked in a previous time. When the Board of Directors of the Loring Greenough House decided to launch a kitchen restoration project, we determined that the late 19th century Victorian era was the period we wanted to bring back to this colonial-built house.

Since its construction in 1760, the Georgian-style house has undergone a number of changes and modernizations. Many of the original features were long gone, due to the changes in the stylistic tastes of its different occupants over the years. Our job was to restore the kitchen to the era most compatible with its existing features.

An examination of the kitchen allowed us to see how the changing times had impacted this key space in the residence. In place of the original cooking fireplace stood an impressive, cast iron, coal-burning stove, bearing the date of 1901. Beneath one of the two windows stood a modern sink, with a temporary cabinet nearby, probably installed in the early 1970s. The original magnificent, wide pine floorboards stood ready, as in the past, to bear domestic foot traffic. Servants’ bells, unused for many years, lined one of the walls. Blue latex paint (definitely late 20th century) covered walls, cupboards and drawers. Evidence of the addition of modern plumbing could be found behind cupboard doors, installed in the early 20th century.

Our mission became clear. We could not turn the clock back to 1760, but we could focus on what the kitchen might have looked like in the Victorian era. Thus the modern sink and cabinetry had to go. The original late 19th-century soapstone sink, long stored in the old cart shed, would be reinstalled in its original location. A historically sensitive cupboard would be designed, constructed and installed between two windows.

The kitchen would be painted in historically relevant colors. To determine what those were we conducted a paint analysis, which revealed dozens of layers of paint dating from the colonial period to the present. The color selected was in one of the layers thought to be from the Victorian period.

Our next task was to fund the project. A GoFundMe campaign (definitely 21st century) lots of social media outreach, a cocktail party and other efforts raised enough funds to do part of the project. Then Kevin Cradock Builders stepped in and generously offered to construct the new cabinets, gratis. No ordinary carpenter, Kevin Cradock specializes in fine millwork and construction – a perfect match for the Loring Greenough House. His bighearted donation made all the difference. Construction will start in October.

Come visit the restored kitchen of the Loring Greenough House in November. You will see what the kitchen might have looked like over a hundred years ago, with the old original pine floor boards, servants’ bells, soapstone sink, historically sensitive cabinets and period paint.

By Diane W. Spears, President of the Board of the Loring Greenough House, and Dorothy A. Clark, Chairperson of the Community Education Committee.



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