unmuddling well done : the PROCESS
Old House Journal|December 2020
The biggest project in our 1790 farmhouse would be the kitchen, located in a narrow extension between the original house and the barn (now a garage and bedrooms). The connector, which was there by 1830, probably held a woodshed and summer kitchen. The 1970s owners added a bump-out; another renovation came in the 1990s. By now, the remodeled extension detracted from the integrity of the historic house.
AMY MITCHELL

The renovation reclaimed the old summer kitchen extension as the kitchen proper and imagined the bumped-out addition as an enclosed former porch. INSET The 1990s peninsular galley wall, 15' long with built-in ovens and a closet, had bisected the narrow room.

Amy Mitchell is an old-house owner, a wife, and mother, blogger, and an interior designer based in New Hampshire.

The bump-out extension, now the keeping-room part of the kitchen, is flanked by the original old house at left and the barn-turned-garage on the right.

Good planning: I’m an interior designer, but I still needed a team. Vermont’s Sandra Vitzthum, much-published in OHJ, was my consulting architect. It was she who saw that “reimposing the historic structure,” by reclaiming the old summer kitchen as today’s kitchen, would inform the rest of the project. Kitchen designer Lisa Muskat of LKM Design was invaluable in designing the implied fireplace alcove for the stove, and other custom details. (Lisa, too, owns a 1790 house, so she gets it.) General contractor Jim Duval, of JD Construction in Bow, N.H., understood my vision and was invaluable in carrying it out.

Creating a focal point

This vintage-style, blue-enameled range in an alcove is the single most critical piece of the kitchen, after the raised ceiling and additional windows. The alcove is an important part of the implied history. This space was probably the summer kitchen, with its own hearth. During the Victorian era, inserting the kitchen stove into an alcove helped contain the stove’s heat and fireproof the kitchen. • I had long coveted a (pricey) European stove. A few years ago, Aga, a venerable maker of English enameled cast-iron ranges, introduced their 48 ‘Elise’ model—an updated classic with stainless-steel trim, which costs about $4000 less than comparable stoves.

A walnut dry pantry is at one end of cabinets painted in Benjamin Moore’s Lace Handkerchief, a versatile light beige; the view takes in the formal dining room beyond. ABOVE The previous plan didn’t take full advantage of the space, leaving dead-end walls. The refrigerator jutted into the room. OPPOSITE The navy blue-enameled stove in its alcove is a strong focal point in the kitchen, cueing historical details and colors in the rest of the space. Under retractable pendant lights, the center island is unfitted and has multiple functions.

IMPLIED LAYERS OF HISTORY I wanted the kitchen area to be more in keeping with the 1790 house, even though this space is not entirely original: to recapture the footprint and integrity of the historic, narrow ell connector between house and barn; envision the 1970s bump-out as a later screened porch that has been enclosed; imply a hearth alcove for the stove; use wide-board heart pine flooring throughout to match the house. We’d also specify raised panel cabinets. All this in a workable floor plan, without any adding-on.

When we bought the house about eight years ago, the 1990s kitchen was plenty big, and yet there was hardly any place to sit down. A 15'-long peninsular galley wall with built-in ovens and a closet divided the space into two long rectangles; I was forever walking around it. I began thinking of the “keeping room” concept from colonial days: a cozy, multipurpose space (pre-dating the contemporary open floor plan), built around the hearth.

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