Saturday, February 28, 2009

Evoluton of a Kitchen

When my parents bought this house in 1960, the room we now use as a kitchen was the dining room. Two standard, but somehow narrow, doors opened from the dining room into the living room and the kitchen. There was a long window that looked onto the back porch and a door to the porch on the east wall. A third doorway opened onto the south bedroom. It had no door, but Dad built one for it. At one time the south bedroom had been another porch. Dad speculated that the house may have had a wraparound porch at one time, because the bathroom appeared to have also been a porch. (Looking at the roof line, I don't think this was so.)

The room that we use as a utility room now was the kitchen then. (Double click on the above picture to get a clearer view of the utility room.) The sink was a deep cast-iron sink that was not enclosed in a cabinet -- it just hung out bare for all the world to see. Mom hung a curtain around it's base to hid the pipes. It was placed about where the hot water heater is now in the utility room. That sink was really a pain to use because it was so low! Mom was 5'5 1/2" and I had already reached my growth at 5'6 1/2". It seemed we had to bend double to do dishes in that sink. She washed. I squeezed in by the window to get to the drainer to dry them. The gas stove stood on the other side of the bathroom door and we had to go into the dining room to find the refrigerator. Mom placed a metal topped work table in the corner where she would later place the chest-type freezer.

There was a lovely floor to ceiling cabinet on the east side of the window. We had to stand on a stool to reach the top shelves, so that's where Mom put the seasonal items, like the turkey roaster, or canning things in the winter. The cabinet had beadboard doors, and a wooden (or was it metal?) counter top. A large bread board slid out of a slot underneath the counter. There were two fold out bins -- one in the upper cupboard and one in the base unit. The upper one had a sifter built into the bottom of it. The bins fascinated me. Dad told me they used to go to the mill and get 25 lb. bags of flour to dump in them. The sifter let the housewife have easy access to the flour without opening the bin. Mom sniffed. "Yes, and it sorted out the weevils if the flour went bad before the entire 25 lbs. were used up." The lower bin was for beans or other bulk items. Mom hated that old cabinet and was glad to see it go. I've always missed it. It was cool.

Sept. 7, 1960, on my 12th birthday, Dad started ripping the chimney out of the dining room. That marked the beginning of their kitchen remodeling job. He closed off the window and and turned the outside door of the dining room into a window. It became the window over the sink. To give more light, Dad opened the doorways to the living room and utility room into archways. Just for looks, he made the arches triangular rather than curved. They bought new birch cabinets and created Mom a modern kitchen in the old dining room. No more bending over a cast-iron sink! No more antique cabinets! To make certain Mom didn't need to bend over the sink anymore, Dad raised the sink another inch by putting a spacer under the counter. After all, he was tall (6'1") and Mom was tall. They needed tall counters. [Note: You can see Grandpa Herron's Barrister bookcase to the right of the archway to the living room. You can also see my poor, half-naked Furball, who has a nervous conditionon which causes her to over-groom and lick off her own hair.]

In the mid-1970s Dad paneled the walls with a birch paneling. For a while Mom had carpet in the kitchen. She learned quickly she didn't like it. When the dishwasher overflowed and spilled soapy water all over the floor, it was just about the last straw. Even with Dad's indoor-outdoor vac, it was hard to get all the water up. The next day, there was a circle of lighter carpet where the water had been. The dishwasher soap had cleaned that section of carpet. Mom had no idea her floor was that dirty! That was it. The carpet came up and she returned to a vinyl floor.

People only THINK houses are static. They are living organisms, too. They change with the personalities of their occupants. My son lived here briefly after Dad died. He changed the kitchen from gas to electric. Pat and I put the gas stove back in 2008. We have moved the range and refrigerator twice trying to fit the equipment we have into the space available. Expanding the kitchen into the south bedroom will be an even greater change. We are reinventing this kitchen one more time. When we finish, the kitchen that was an afterthought tacked onto the north side of the house will be a dominate feature facing the south. The dining room will be back, but it will be an integral part of the kitchen great-room.

My gas range will be the focus of the kitchen, in an island in the center of the room. We will have a sink that looks out a double window onto Seventh Street. I'll be able to see the children playing in the school yard and watch my flowers blooming. With four windows and two large arches, the room will be open and airy. It will be the country kitchen I've always wanted. And I'll have rocker in the kitchen, too.

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