Tuesday, September 21, 2010

21 September 1956 “Small Kitchen and Early American”

I have mentioned before how my home, which is quite old, has a very small kitchen. It was most likely added around the turn of the 20th century. It’s cabinets show that it was updated sometime in the 1950’s but unfortunately it is in a sad state. At some point the whole thing must be redone.
I originally had thought of making it larger and every time I draw out plans I continue to scale it down. In fact doing the opposite of what happens in my favorite movie “Mr. Blandings Builds A Dream House”. Mr and Mrs. Blandings (played by Carey Grand and Myrna Loy)are in their architects office just to ‘look’ after having to give up on their antique home to the bulldozer. By the time they leave they have added extensively to the basic plans. At one point Mrs. Blandings exclaims, “I will not subject my daughters to live in a home with less than four bathrooms”. Though, they currently live in a one bath two bed apartment in NYC. It is a great movie and really shows the beginning of the American move towards the bigger home. Though, it won’t really come to fruition decades later for most of us.
So, to my point, in one of my vintage interior design books, I found this kitchen.smallkitchen1It is so tiny yet so pretty. It has even made room for an eating area for two. Here is the blueprint of the room.smallkitchen2Yes, you are reading that correctly. Roughly an 8 x 8 room. That would be a walk in closet in a modern home! Yet, my own kitchen is just about 10 x 10, quite small. I have no problem whipping up all kinds of lovely dinners and desserts in there. It has its quirks of a floor that slants to the right. I have to prop up my cakes in the oven with little rocks so it sets evenly, but I deal with it.
So, the more I think of any of the expense that will have to go into this room shall be in the basics such as tearing up the floor to have new joists installed and a new subfloor. While doing that I might move the door and simply rearrange the layout of the room to fit my needs based on various ideas from my vintage magazines and books. In other words, the smallness is really growing on me.
I also have really come around to the Early American look. I have talked of this little discussed decorating style of the mid-century. It was a modern/quirky take on colonial furniture. Copper jell-o molds, colonial inspired fabrics, knotty pine and anything ‘old’ made into lamps and tables such as spinning wheels and butter churns. There is a very tongue in cheek quality about it that I have come to appreciate.
Since my own home is from the actual New England colonial era, I think it a very fitting look for my new vintage kitchen when that time comes.
 knottypinekitchenI love the use of the bright red counters with the knotty pine. I think I would have my trimmed in either the 50’s aluminum or see if I could get a vintage aluminum dipped in ‘copper’. And though I am going to have a new subfloor, rather than put in heart of pine wide boards like the rest of the house, I want real linoleum (not vinyl). This is actually kind of expensive, but again, if I were to keep the room it’s original small size, than one could have nicer quality items as it would be used sparingly. Even a vintage roll of wallpaper can be as costly as 100 dollars a roll, but when one only needs one roll to do one wall and maybe the back of one open set of cupboards, a realistic expense. The same goes with vintage fabric, which is often hard to get in large amounts.
How many of you are unhappy with the size of your kitchen? Could you be actually happier with less space, but better laid out with your own choice of nicer appointments which would be less expensive due to the smaller space. And as always with small spaces, less clutter when one had less space to accumulate, right?
What are your thoughts on smaller vs. larger in the kitchen? How much space do you actually use in the kitchen? Are there cupboards or counters that actually just hold ‘junk or mail’ and don’t actually serve a practical purpose? It is a fun project to look at a room and think, ‘hmmm, what if it was smaller, what would I keep?”


  1. I love the design of that first kitchen you pictured. Since it's all organized and the appliances are proportional to the room, it doesn't seem to matter that it's small.

    I have mixed feelings about small kitchens, myself. We probably have more kitchen space that we need right now (and the layout is OK but could use improvement), but in our previous apartment the kitchen was small with big appliances and dark wood (which makes things look even smaller, like a depressing cave). There wasn't even enough room for our 4 small appliances (toaster, coffee-maker, microwave, blender) AND room to cook.

    A friend of mine currently lives in a small apartment with a kitchen that is almost too small for even 1 person. If she wants to open the dishwasher or the oven, she has to back out part way into the dining area! At least the appliances and cupboards and floors and things are good quality-- a bigger problem than space with our previous previous place was old, poor-quality stuff. It didn't matter HOW hard I scrubbed that countertop that must have been white when installed in the 1980's, it would never be white again.

    Our current kitchen is open-plan, meaning that the kitchen and the dining area and the living area are essentially just one big room, with the spaces separated only by carpet changing to tile and a high bar-style counter. Most of the modern houses I see are like this, not that I'm complaining. When did it become normal for kitchens to be open-plan as opposed to a separate room?

  2. The open kitchen actually really began in the 1950's with the modern design. Yet, many a new built colonial or cape would often have an ell off the back keeping the kitchen closed off with a swinging door to the dining room, or in a larger house to the butlers pantry then to the dining. I like having my kitchen separate from our eating area, yet had dreams of a breakfast nook. I am now convinced, thanks to the above 8 x 8 kitchen, that I can steal a little corner for breakfasts with hubby. As we have no children, it is only the two of us at breakfast time. Also homes were built to be expandable as your family grew.

  3. I am quite happy with the size of my kitchen. Our house was built in 1932 and the kitchen is a separate room , not open plan at all which I like though my husband doesn't.
    The room is about 16" by 11" plus has a walk in pantry where the porch and back door used to be. The back door was moved in the 1980s.
    The only problem with my kitchen is that although it is quite light it doesn't get any direct sunlight so it can be quite cold especially in spring and autumn when the fire isn't alight. It was designed this way because the original cooker was a fuel burning stove which I imagine made the room very hot especially in summer. We have a woodburning heater where the cooker was, the cooker was removed in the 1980s.
    We have the kitchen table in the centre of the room, we eat all our meals here and I couldn't do without it as a work surface when I am baking, also for sewing and children's home work.

    The house does have a dining room but we use that as the loungeroom and the loungeroom has become what we call the playroom, except the children don't actually play there any more. It has the piano, stereo, computer, my sewing area, bookshelves and the very sunny windowseat.
    It is amazing how much living you can pack into a small home!

  4. Jenny-that sounds lovely. I do want to make room for a walk in pantry, but not sure if I really need it or not. Our kitchen is also not heated, most likely for the same reason. When the original bit of our house was built it was, of course, heated with the fireplaces and also the fireplace that is now in the dining room was the original kitchen, as it was the colonial period and there were no such things as stoves and we still have the metal hinged hook that holds an old pot in it, as well as many old cooking implements (like an old hand hammered metal bread board you uses to put and remove the bread from the bread oven of the fireplace) that part has been turned into a storage cupboard years ago, so I couldn't bake bread in there. But our kitchen has an electric stove (that will go once I find the perfect 50s range (hopefully an old Chambers stove). So, the electric stove provide not much heat so in our winter it is rather cold in there. The floor is quite cold then and I am glad it is closed off from the rest of the house, a it would be horrible to heat it as I am sure there is almost no insulation in that room.

  5. I love our kitchen. It is 8 wide by 13 long and is what is called I think, "a shotgun" kitchen. You walk right through it to get to the BIG pantry/laundry room.On one of the 8' wide ends is a big window and a window seat. Very nice. It is the perfect size for cooking in because you have everything at the ready. Nice amount of counter space next to stove and fridge and if you turn around the sink and the dishwasher are right there. There is a window pass-through into the dining area. Small really can be quite perfect.
    We designed it ourselves from an existing space and did all the work ourselves. It is a very old house. I think it was begun in the 20's as a camp ground covered space and has been added onto from there.
    Julie in Wa

  6. That floor plan looks very functional. I once lived in a house that had a tiny kitchen with a similar floor plan. You save a lot of steps.

    I hate my kitchen now. We have a large double-wide mobile home. The kitchen is long and large, with an island.

    The island, unfortunately, gets in the way of the "work triangle." Then, when you open the dishwasher door, it almost hits the island, so you have to step over the opened door to get to the other half of the kitchen. Many bruised shins. I walked around that island like a dog on a chain.

    After seven years, I said to my husband, "Either that kitchen island goes or I go!"

    We figured out what to do: I shoved one end of the moveable island up against one of the counters, making a "peninsula" out of it instead of an island. I did lose one cabinet and one drawer -- I now use those for items I don't use often. When I want those items (rarely), I pull the "peninsula" out of the way, take the items, and shove the peninsula back into place.

    I also bought a second set of measuring spoons and cups, and a second carton of salt, and a second canister of sugar.

    I keep one set on the left half of the kitchen by the stove (my "cooking" kitchen), the other set on the right half of the kitchen near the microwave (my "baking" kitchen). That way, I save MANY steps, rather than going back and forth for those items like I did before. The sink is in between the stove and microwave. It's like I have two kitchens in one.

    A cheap fix, looks nice, plenty of work space, and workable.

    Although it is modern and pretty and looks like it came out of a magazine, whoever designed this kitchen should be fired.

    I'd be MUCH happier with my small kitchen like I had in my other house.

    I remember the Early American look from back in the late 60's and 70's. Loved it.

  7. Our first home had a closet-sized kitchen and it was pretty confining. The house prior to the one we are in now was built in the 30s and had the most amazing vintage kitchen. The cabinets were metal and there was a dark red vinyl-type countertops. My favorite part was the HUGE double sink with built-in drainboards. I painted the ceiling pale green and put up really cute wallpaper with apples on it and a border of black and white checkerboard. I collected all sorts of 40s and 50s kitchen items and honestly, everyone who saw it went nuts over my "Betty Crocker Kitchen". When we moved, I insisted on taking the vintage stove with me. We gutted the kitchen here (very bad late 70s/early 80s *style*) and I designed a 50s style kitchen around the stove. I'll put a link at the bottom of this where you can see a photo.

    As for the size issue, I think it depends on the number of people in one's family, how much entertaining one does and how much cooking one does. We are now empty nesters, although our adult son lives in our guest house and usually eats with us. However, I love to cook and entertain and for some reason, everyone ends up in the kitchen with me. For that reason, I love having a large kitchen. On the other hand, we someday hope to retire in New Orleans and will most likely have a significantly smaller house and kitchen. As long as it's well-designed and organized, I think I'll be okay with that.

    Here's the link to my vintage-style kitchen:

  8. We live in a small 2 bed 1 bath house. It was built in the 50's. The kitchen is small but larger than our last apartment kitchen.
    The only thing I dislike is that it does not have room for even a small table for 2. And there is not much counter space for cooking. I dislike feeling crowded while making recipes.

    I have to keep in mind how much nicer it is than our last kitchen though. :) Trying to keep things in perspective! :)

    I would like in a dream home a kitchen with a breakfast nook and at least a bit more counter space.

  9. I love these kitchens! I think the reason I do is because everything seems so purposeful. From the decoration with bright cheery colors and patterns, to the layout of the floor plan, everything was chosen to maximize efficiency and make the work pleasant. That is one reason I prefer them to today's take on the kitchen. With so much industrial looking stainless on appliances and the neutral colors, I can hardly wait to be done with the chore of cooking.

  10. Our kitchen is 6 X 10 with almost no cupboards. The size I could mange, but I would LOVE more space for pots & pans!

    I love the cozy kitchen pictures, they look so welcoming!

  11. While I need a lot of room in my kitchen to cook, because I cook/bake a lot, I hate the new trend of huge open kitchens. I'm not a Food TV star. There's no need for room for an audience! I read an article about this recently. The writer suggested a big island with bar stools so your friends can hang out and watch you cook. I know a lot of kitchens have islands, which are nice for traffic flow, but reeeel-ly?

    We recently renovated our kitchen and so many builders wanted us to break thru to the dining room to make it all one big room, a trend realtors advise against. I don't want everyone in the kitchen. And I certainly don't want the cooking mess in the background while entertaining and eating at the dining table. A friend has a big open kitchen and she loves it but she mentioned her mother offered to hire a woman to help her if she hosted Christmas this year. She wants to have the help but how can she when the kitchen is open to the family room (where they all hang out- their beautiful living room is a waste!) and dining room? I know we all live more casually than generations past but this just doesn't make sense.

    Like you said, I think we, as a collective, are trying to cram too much into the kitchen that has nothing to do with food prep. One thing my builder said (he was the only one who could work with the space we had- and it turned out very well!) was that I was the only client he had that actually really cooks. Most of his clients tell him they want to update their kitchen but don't even use it much. They order in or go out to eat almost every night! How sad. And disturbing. It's like it's all for show!

    Have fun with your kitchen. It's so nice to make it functional for how YOU use it.


  12. We lived in a house built in the 1950's with a kitchen with a floor plan almost identical to the one you posted. We have a large family(there are 7 of us)and I have to say it drove me bananas. I do ALOT of cooking and my daughters are beginning to help. We do ALOT of food processing(canning, dehydrating etc.). I tried to can jam in that kitchen and I was so frustrated. I felt I had no room to set anything. I now have a kitchen that is 14x14 and well laid out(planned by me). I love it.
    I think it is a good point that you should consider the size of your family when planning your kitchen(and what you do in the kitchen). What I need to function may be much more than what a smaller family needs. We just got done doing peaches and pears. We had 103 canning jars sitting on the counters waiting to go in the pantry. Where would I put them in such a little kitchen?
    Also, the lay out has alot to do with the efficiency of the kitchen. My husband is a construction contractor. He brings house plans home to make up bids and I like to look at them, particularly the kitchens. Sometimes the kitchens are absolutely huge but obviously are not designed for cooking. There will be very little counter space even though the square footage is larger than my kitchen. Also, the work triangle will not be placed effeciently.
    So, I think a small well laid out kitchen can be much more enjoyable than a large ineffecient one.....but for me I will choose a large EFFECIENT kitchen!
    Sorry such a long post! and best wishes with your kitchen plans!

    oh, p.s. my kitchen cabinets came from a home built in the 1950s. We bought them for $500 and installed them in our home we built. I love them very much(they are very similar to the picture of the pine cabinets you posted). Inside one of the cabinet doors are markings and names of the previous owner's children's heights as they grew.(starting in 1959) I left them there and added my own children's to it.

    Sorry so long!
    Amy F.

  13. Amy, how nice your cabinets have a history to them. And in a new home too. I'm impressed with your canning. :)


  14. My kitchen is awful, 1980s builders special. It's poorly planned, poorly made, and falling apart. We're currently in the process of saving up for a new one. One of the issues is that the kitchen is quite small, about 7*7, and the dining room is huge so we could have a table large enough to seat 12 but cooking for them would be a nightmare. I plan on expanding the kitchen a little. It's open to the dining room anyway so I can spill out a bit and put some fitted cabinets in on the wall next to the kitchen too for pantry space and storage of cleaning gear which is currently shoved in the half bath/laundry room. The cabinets are horribly designed. In one corner I have one of those cabinets that goes deep, it's about 36" across but there's just a 12" wide door on the right side and the left is obscured by another cabinet. It might not be a big deal but the other cabinet is the dinkiest little thing at 6" wide. I keep the mugs in there, stacked and sort of staggered since I can't even fit in two side by side. There's another corner cupboard under the island which goes down the side of the dishwasher. That's so hard to access that I actually found a stray box of crackers from the previous owners in there about 4 years after we moved in!

    I have a plan that makes the floorplan a bit bigger, about 7*8 plus cabinets continuing along the wall in the dining room, and much better. The current layout has lots of dinky bits of countertop like one area that's big enough for a toaster and another area tucked in the corner between the sink and stove that's practically inaccessible and no use for actual work. Once I rearrange I'll have much more counter space and it will be more sensibly arranged with the island moved across to the other side so I'll have a L shape and an island rather than a C shape.

  15. It sounds like you have some good wiggle room when you want to enlarge your kitchen. If your dining is open to your kitchen, maybe you could try a row of cabinets furhter in the dining room that acts as a wall. I always liked the 'Bewitched' kitchen, how you could have it open to the dining or else close the shutters between the pass through.
    Those basic 80's builders cabinets are the worse. They are ill planned and as you said always have odd dead spaces.

  16. The idea of bewitched kitchen is really useful and also informative. Even I have also tried it. But My living room is so tiny . So I can not adjust whole cabinets very well. So that I have set all the cabinets corner of the wall.


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