The Evolution of the Kitchen

A few years ago, I had the chance to tour the Newport Mansions in Rhode Island, the “summer cottages” of the Gilded Age wealthy.  While the mansions are over-the-top gorgeous (and literally built to impress), I found the kitchens, sculleries, and butlers’ pantries more interesting.  Maybe because I could actually picture the people who worked there.  I’m not sure how much if anything I have in common with the social set of Newport. The photo below shows the amazing kitchen and two story butler’s pantry at The Breakers, one of the more splendid “cottages” in Newport.

The two-story butler's pantry held all of the dishware for the family.

Gavin Ashworth and The Preservation Society of Newport County

This link connects to a site that shows the evolution of the kitchen from the 1870s to the 1970s.  It’s a little click-baity, but the illustrations and photographs of vintage kitchens more than make up for a.

And it’s a good reminder of why those of us who live in vintage houses, generally don’t have kitchens from the period.  I like my refrigerator and microwave, and wouldn’t really enjoy keeping the stove stoked and the ice box full of ice.

Old House Idiosyncrasies #5–The Trinity House

Not so much an Old House Idiosyncrasy, than an idiosyncratic old house–The Trinity House is a house style from the colonial period that is unique to Philadelphia. These houses were invented to solve the problem of what to do with the center of a large squarish city block:  fill it up with alleyways and tiny houses!

Here’s a great exploration of these homes from the always interesting website Atlas Obscura.

Old House Idiosyncrasies #4–Keeping Cool

The Front Porch of the Grand Victorian Bed and Breakfast in Ontario, Canada. This is exactly the type of front porch that we don't have on our house. Photo Source: Tripadvisor.

The Front Porch of the Grand Victorian Bed and Breakfast in Ontario, Canada. This is exactly the type of front porch that we don’t have on our house. Photo Source: Tripadvisor.

I got back from a trip to Banff, Alberta, Canada a week or so ago, where it had snowed on us three times (yes! In August!). We arrived at San Francisco International and could feel the heat as soon as I stepped onto the jetway. Our very temperate week was ending in a tropical weekend.

Now, I grew up in Boston, so I’m used to hot and humid summers, and at least the summers in the Bay Area aren’t too sticky. But I live in a Victorian house, and staying even somewhat comfortable when the mercury pushes into the triple digits takes a bit of work.

A recent article describes “10 Ways Victorians Managed to Stay Cool Without A/C”.  Reading through it though, I think it should more accurately be entitled “How Victorians Managed not to Die of Heat Exhaustion” as several of the methods don’t sound particularly effective. Continue reading

Old House Idiosyncrasies #3–The Coffin Corner?

An item from the always interesting History Myths Debunked blog brings up the notion of the Coffin Corner.

Source: casacara.wordpress.com

Source: casacara.wordpress.com

In many old houses, at least in many that have steep winding stairs, at the bend in the stairs, there will be a sort of niche in the wall, typically housing a vase with some dried flowers, or maybe even a marble bust, if the house is fancy enough. These little niches are sometimes called “coffin corners”, and were purportedly built into the wall to allow a bit more room to navigate a coffin around the bend in the staircase.

Continue reading

Old House Idiosyncrasies #2–Imbrication

DSC_0271Imbrication is a fancy word that means the overlapping of edges, such as in scales or tiles.  Or shingles, as it turns out.  In architectural parlance, imbrication is the use of specially shaped shingles to create a decorative effect.  Imbrication is often seen in Victorian homes, especially those built in the Queen Anne style, between about 1880-1900. Continue reading

Spooky Lego Victorian Houses

Victorian on Mud Heap (Creator:  Mike Doyle, Source: Mike Doyle Flckr stream, see link in text)

Victorian on Mud Heap (Creator: Mike Doyle, Source: Mike Doyle Flckr stream, see link in text)

One of the hobbies that my sons and I share is building with Lego.  While we’ve made some pretty cool creations (maybe I’ll share my steampunk private railway carriage some day), we’ve achieved nothing that compares with Mike Doyle’s amazingly detailed Victorian homes.  The twist? They’re deserted and falling to ruin.  His use of a monochromatic color scheme in these is both inspired and realistic.  Many more examples on his Flickr stream.

Old House Idiosyncrasies #1

This post is the first in what will be an occasional series on the idiosyncrasies of old houses, their parts, and their décor. Anyone who lives in an old house knows there are many.

Today, let’s talk about chandeliers. But wait, “chandeliers”, strictly speaking, are lit with candles, even though in today’s vernacular, the term is used for any hanging light fixture. But the Victorians, being ever so precise, invented other terms.

A “gasolier” was lit with gas. Gasoliers can be identified as the shade points upward, and is usually wider to accommodate the gas jet. The light, such as it was, was produced by a rather dim, flickering open flame. Here’s a catalogue from the period which shows several gasoliers. Another way to identify a gasolier is the presence of a valve usually on the supporting arm, but sometimes on the burner. Continue reading