An original 1920's kitchen nook - complete with pendant light fixture

Heritage Style Kitchens Part 2

A well designed new kitchen in Calgary
A well designed new kitchen in Calgary

Do you like the look of kitchens of the past? Is your older home pretty authentic everywhere else except for kitchen? When was the last kitchen renovation done in your home – the 1970’s?  Of all the rooms in a house, there is a good chance that your kitchen has experienced the most changes over its life span.  You may also agree that not all of those changes were for the best.

Social influences and technological advancements have made contemporary kitchens very different from those of 100 years ago and homeowners have attempted to keep up with the styles ever since. Even their location has changed.

Late 19th century kitchens were placed either at the back of the house to guard against fire from the stove, or in a separate building known as the summer kitchen.  Some kitchens were located in the basement. Although inconvenient for servants, this site ensured that cooking smells did not permeate other rooms in the house—something wealthy Victorians abhorred.

19th century kitchens could be quite large, especially in upper-class homes. Kitchens were furnished with a large central table that served as a working surface as well as a dining area for the servants.

An original 1920's kitchen nook - complete with pendant light fixture
An original 1920’s kitchen nook – complete with pendant light fixture

The early 20th century saw many changes. Servants were scarce and the kitchen became the domain of the woman of the house. Smaller homes meant smaller kitchens, and these needed to be efficient for time-challenged women who not only maintained a household but also worked outside the home during the first World War.

By the 1920s, the kitchen we know today began to emerge. Technological advances in plumbing, sewage disposal, gas, and electricity accelerated the changes. Electrical appliances promised savings of time and energy. Cabinetry began to line the walls of the kitchen and, by the 1930s, upper and lower cabinets made their appearance.Eating nooks with benches appeared in kitchens of all sizes.

The 1940s saw different layouts emerge—single galley, double galley, L-shape, and U-shape. Manufacturers of 1950s kitchens developed industry-standardized cabinet sizes. The 1960s and 1970s introduced new colour schemes and technological improvements.

The 1980s styles were a backlash against industrialized kitchen planning. Once again, buyers were offered a choice of cabinet styles that looked more like free-standing furniture. The concept of cooking began to change from one of work to one of creative social pursuit.

Few homeowners today are willing to give up comfort in favour of authenticity but kitchens in heritage homes need to look like they belong.

Heritage Syle in Kitchens
Heritage Syle in Kitchens

Here are some tips:

  • Research cabinet styles that were popular at the time your house was built. Check out books and reprinted catalogues from the era.
  •  Arts and Crafts cabinetry is appropriate for homes that were built in the late 1890s to 1920s. Painted cabinetry is also authentic.
  • Incorporate unfitted furniture pieces such as antique Hoosiers or step-back cupboards, or choose cabinetry that looks like furniture.
  • For islands, pick a style that emulates the big work-tables of the past or use a sturdy wood harvest table.
  • Keep industrial looking appliances hidden from view as much as possible or make them less obtrusive.
  • Choose colours for walls, appliances, cabinetry, and accessories that suit the era of your house.

It takes some effort to design a kitchen that works well with a heritage home, but it can be done without sacrificing contemporary wants.

To read Part 1 of Heritage Kitchens click on this link: Heritage Kitchens Part 1

Heritage home consultant Johanne Yakula is the author of “Historical Interiors of Alberta”. Contact her at:

2 thoughts on “Heritage Style Kitchens Part 2

  1. As someone that sells houses every day I would suggest that it’s kitchens and bathrooms that sell houses. Some buyers are attracted to ‘old bones’ in a house but most will insist on modern amenities over vintage obsolete options.

    1. I agree but it’s much easier today to choose products that compliment they style of an old house without compromising the comforts of 21st century living. Why not have your cake and eat it too? 🙂

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