A Kitchen Manifesto (Part 1)

An Introduction

Let’s play a game. Here are two pictures. One is from 2019. And one is from 1920. Tell me if you can guess which one is which. I’ll wait.

Figure 1.  Harris & Ewing Collection

Figure 1. Harris & Ewing Collection

Figure 2.

Figure 2.

I guess that’s not really fair. Even in black and white, no one would ever mistake the second image for a kitchen from 1920. It’s just so clearly NOT.

This kitchen came up in google as a “farmhouse kitchen.” Yet it so completely clearly does not even remotely resemble the kitchen from 1920. But why? What exactly makes it so different?

Ok yes. There is more stuff in the 2019 kitchen. More counters. More cabinets. More lighting. More refrigeration. More everything. So that makes it a better kitchen, right? More stuff means you can get more done?


I don’t buy it. A hundred years ago, more food came out of the kitchen on a daily basis than we would ever dream of cooking today. Three meals a day. Seven days a week. To feed an average household size of 4.5. Bread, soup, pastries, meat, vegetables, coffee, tea, snacks, EVERYTHING. It all came out of one kitchen. And a kitchen with decidedly SO MUCH LESS STUFF than we have in modern kitchens.

But people obviously ate. So how did they do it?

One word: efficiency.

The Efficient Kitchen by Georgie Boynton Child. Copyright 1914.

The Efficient Kitchen by Georgie Boynton Child. Copyright 1914.

Historic kitchens were absolute masters of efficiency. Everything had a place and a purpose. Nothing was placed in to the kitchen without there being a very good reason for it to be there. Built in cabinets were expensive so they were placed thoughtfully and with great deliberation.

The kitchen also served as the central hub for cleaning, laundry, grocery delivery, meal serving, dish washing, food preservation, and a hundred other tasks. So while needing to be able to support massive amount of food production, the kitchen also needed to be able to be flexible, depending on what was required of it that day.

Circa 1914

Circa 1914

Now. If you’re here reading this, chances are good you have some amount of interest in historic kitchens - particularly in creating historic feeling kitchens that still function for modern life. Good news! Me too.

Unfortunately, nobody on the internet seems to be interested in telling me how to do that. So I had to go hunting. And BOY did I find some good stuff.

I would like to take a moment to mention Forgottenbooks.com. I don’t even remember how I found this website, but it was an absolutely magical day when I did. They offer THOUSANDS of scans of historic, out of print books on every subject imaginable. If you’re willing to wait a month or so, they’ll even print a copy for you. AMAZING.

While hunting through this gargantuan treasure trove of information, I found two kitchen reference gems.

An Ideal Kitchen by Maria Parola. Copyright 1887.

An Ideal Kitchen by Maria Parola. Copyright 1887.

First is An Ideal Kitchen, written by Maria Parola in 1887. This “…guide for all who would be good house keepers.” details exactly how to appoint a kitchen, pantry, and china cabinet in 1887. As far as reference books go, this is a fantastic place to start. Kitchens in 1887 were large and spacious, a good size being 16’x16’ or 15’x17’ according to Miss Parola.

(Side bar: my kitchen is exactly 15’x17’. There was much joy and squealing to be had when I made this discovery.")

The primary permanent fixtures in the kitchen at this time were the range and the sink. Groceries were stored in a pantry, and dishes were stored in the butler’s pantry or china closet. Everything else in the kitchen was mostly unfixed (with the notable exception of the drop down table under the left window below. Which is so GENIUS I might explode).

Kitchen 1887

While I absolutely love the way this kitchen looks and feels, it isn’t quite right to my house. Since my farmhouse was built in 1905, I am aiming for a SLIGHTLY more modern kitchen. Note the use of the word SLIGHTLY. I do not mean stainless steel anything. That’s just silliness. I mean modern in the way kitchens were arranged. Much had changed in kitchen ergonomics by 1914 - which brings us nicely to the next book.

The Efficient Kitchen by Georgie Boynton Child. Copyright 1914.

The Efficient Kitchen by Georgie Boynton Child. Copyright 1914.

Enter, my one true love, the holy grail of kitchen reference, The Efficient Kitchen. Written by Georgie Boynton Child in 1914, this is EVERYTHING THAT IS RIGHT IN THE WORLD OF KITCHENS.

In 1887, domestic help was still very much alive and well. Houses were larger. Kitchens were larger. Kitchen staff was still employed. So the larger proportions of the room made perfect sense to accommodate more than one person.

By 1914 however, houses began to shrink in size (kitchens now around 10’x13’ according to Mrs. Child). Fewer households employed hired help. Many homemakers found themselves at the helm of the food ship and desperate for a way to minimize their time in the kitchen.

And along came Georgie. Based on the introduction, she and her husband spent years together investigating how kitchens function and how they could be run better. They even went so far as to learn manufacturing best practices to improve efficiency, and then figured out how to translate them to the domestic space.

(Side bar: As a manufacturing engineer whose entire job it is to increase production floor efficiency, I am relating SO HARD to Mrs. Child right now. Get on it, girl.)

The Efficient Kitchen Contents

What Georgie and her husband discovered was that HOURS of time could be saved simply by giving thought and care to the placement of items in the kitchen.

Everything she mentions is such a “DUH” moment. Oh I use flour at both the baking station and at the stove? Maybe I should have two containers of flours. DUH. OF COURSE.

What did I get out of these two books? A WHOLE bunch of amazing information. But the ultimate takeaway is this: today’s kitchen plans are unfocused. Completely unfocused. They are driven by maximizing counter space and cabinets without actually understanding what will go in them. In light of that, no wonder the use of the kitchen is also unfocused.

Our ridiculously over-fitted kitchen when we moved in. Literally whatever you needed was always on the OTHER side of the table. I was never working in the right spot.

Our ridiculously over-fitted kitchen when we moved in. Literally whatever you needed was always on the OTHER side of the table. I was never working in the right spot.

Yes it is wonderful to have miles of counter space. But then you have to decide what part of the counter you are going to use every single time you go to make food. Which means none of the equipment you need can be set up efficiently for that use.

In manufacturing engineering we focus on reducing decision points for the operators. Decision making increases mental fatigue. The fewer decisions, the easier the job, the happier the operator.

The kitchen operates the EXACT SAME WAY. Every time you have to make a decision about where to store the bread, where to mix the pie filling, where to chop vegetables, you experience decision fatigue.

Here’s where things get absolutely fascinating. These books were originally written to teach home makers what to add and how to outfit their kitchens so they could operate in the most efficient, time saving manner possible. The resulting kitchens were neat, simple, totally efficient, and beautiful.

But what happens if we apply the same practices and teachings to our kitchens today? I’m not sure yet. But I have a hunch that the resulting kitchen, instead of being this…


… will look more like this.


These kitchens are not only beautiful. But they work. And they work hard for you. They are functional, simple, stunning, and timeless. And that’s what I want.

Where do we start? That’s coming up next time in Part 2. See you then!

Kitchen Manifesto

Project Don't Starve Week 1: Cilantro Lime Chicken

Depending on what part of the world you are in, this may not be relevant. But here in Kentucky it is HOT. Still hot. Far too hot for my liking.

Which means while having a meal that cooks itself all day sounds amazing, I also have a severe aversion to eating piping hot food while it is also piping hot outside.

Yet…it’s Project Don’t Starve week 1! Out of all the fabulous recipes sent in, I decided to start with Cilantro Lime Chicken as recommended by Lady Jane. Because it seems like this might be good cold. Maybe?

To stretch this out a bit (and since it’s just two of us) I’m going to make three meals out of it for this week.

Project Dont Starve Week 1

Week 1: Cilantro Lime Chicken

Recipe (adapted from sidechef.com)

Combine the following in a crock pot:

  • Salsa

  • Juice of (1) lime

  • 1.25 oz taco seasoning packet

  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro

  • 2 finely chopped jalapeno peppers

  • Chicken breasts, trimmed

Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. Shred with fork when done. Add back to crock pot and mix well.

Makes three meals for (2) people.

Black beans - warm through on the stove

  • black beans, undrained

  • salt and pepper to tast

Corn Salsa - mix all ingredients well

  • Frozen corn, thawed

  • Diced red onion to taste

  • cilantro, chopped, to taste

  • Salt and pepper to taste

Meal 1: Burrito Bowls

Cilantro Lime Chicken
-Black beans
-Corn Salsa
-Monterey Jack Cheese
-Sour Cream

Meal 2: Wraps

Cilantro Lime Chicken
-Black beans
-Corn Salsa
-Monterey Jack Cheese
-Sour Cream
-Flour tortillas

Meal 3: Nachos

Cilantro Lime Chicken
-Black beans
-Corn Salsa
-Monterey Jack Cheese
-Sour Cream
-Corn chips

Shopping List (2 people)

6 large chicken breasts
2 cans reduced sodium black beans
1 bags frozen corn, 12oz
2 bunches fresh cilantro
1 red onion
24 oz salsa
2 jalapeno peppers
1 tomato
3 limes
1 packet taco seasoning, 1.25 oz
Monterey jack cheese
Corn chips
Flour tortillas
Sour cream

What did we think?

We loved this!! It was super easy. I used the full two peppers and it really isn’t hot at all. We ate it over rice bowls the first night. I took the whole concoction to work with me for lunch cold the next day and it was just as good. It also made more than I thought it would. From this recipe we will get about four meals worth of food. It’s a really great crock pot chicken meal! And tastes great with a variety of dishes. Would recommend!!

TTFN! Feel free to follow along with us if you want some meal ideas! Tag @farmhousevernacular or use the hashtage #projectdontstarve on social!


This post contains affiliate links.

Announcing: Project Don't Starve

The time has come. That time. The special time. Which time you ask?

The time that we FINALLY get to start working on the kitchen. The time to begin transforming this horrible, torn apart, 1980s kitchen back in to an oasis worthy of a 1905 farmhouse. Isn’t that EXCITING?! Yes. Yes it is.


It also means that I have to figure out what the heck we’re going to eat out of a crock pot for the next eight months and where the heck we are going to eat it. Fortunately I have the second part of that figured out.

After a Saturday spent grunting, shoving, heaving, and panting, I now have a temporary kitchen set up (more on that later). Is it glamorous? Nope. Is it styled? Definitely not. Am I excited about it? YOU BETCHA.

As for the first part? Welp. That’s the project. Project Don’t Starve, to be exact.

All in one guide to a well fed home renovation.

All in one guide to a well fed home renovation.

The big secret is that I don’t LOVE cooking. Well…I shouldn’t say that. I might enjoy cooking - when I’m not project managing a massive DIY home renovation. But for now it most definitely falls in to the category of hassle instead of hobby.

In a valiant attempt to make sure we remain reasonably well nourished over this kitchen renovation, I asked you to give me your favorite crock pot recipes of all time. EVER. Anything that can be made in a slow cooker or an electric fry pan, sign me up.

Disclaimer: no I will not get an Instant Pot. I don’t care how cool they are. Pressure cookers scare the life out of me, and I would most definitely be the 0.00001% of people whose Instant Pot explodes. Being highly risk averse by nature, hard pass.

To say you responded with gusto would be the most embarrassingly understated comment of the century. I have enough recipes to feed us for YEARS.

So. For the next…however long it takes us to finish this room…I am going to make one of these recipes a week. I will post about which ones we are making up here on the blog along with my thoughts and modifications. Then they’ll stay collected for you as a reference for doing your own kitchen renovation. Or if you just need a plan for good food.

All aboard the Project Don’t Starve train! We’re pulling out of the station. Do you have a favorite recipe? Let me at it! Let’s give it a go! And let’s NOT STARVE.


Why don't they make them like they used to?

Long time, no video! Hello all. Over on instagram we do a little weekly talk called Manifesto Monday. The last few weeks we have gotten in to some really good topics so I wanted to start bringing them over to YouTube.

Today we're tackling the question "Why don't they make them like they used to?" Obviously the quality of mass manufactured products has changed dramatically over the last hundred years. And you've probably noticed that the quality of certain products has gone down. Why? Well...that's a big question. Let's see if we can answer it.


Hey you guys! One of the most asked questions I get is how do we make our renovation budget? With an old house renovation, budgeting is a HUGE deal. It doesn’t matter if you are a do it yourself rockstar or prefer to hire things out. Every home renovation still needs a home renovation budget. Today’s video talks you through a few of the ways that we diy budget our home renovation and it is one of the most crucial steps in renovation planning. Are you guys doing a renovation on a budget? Do you have any tips? Let me know below, and I hope our renovation budgeting tips are helpful.

American Architecture Styles | Folk Victorian

Today we are kicking off a new adventure into learning about American Architecture Styles. There is such a huge range of styles in American architecture but we’re starting with one near and dear to my heart: the Folk Victorian House. Victorian homes and Victorian houses were obviously known for being a little over the top - that’s the typical Victorian aesthetic. The Folk Victorian house is the same...but a little different. At the core, it is a simple folk house or a national house. But with a bit of extra Victorian trim. This is the style of our Victorian farmhouse and is a wonderful example of classic rural architecture.

Hope you guys enjoy and thanks for watching!

GETTING THINGS DONE - Three Steps to a Renovation Plan

Hey there! Time for another video!

Are you guys struggling with home renovation project management? Whether you are working on an old house renovation or a new house renovation, you need a home renovation plan. But renovation planning can be overwhelming. Where do you start when you are renovating a house? How do you deal with those renovation realities like, you know, actually having to live in your house during a home renovation?

Well, great news guys! Today’s video is my super simple three step process to help you with your home renovation planning. If you are tackling a home renovation on a budget, remodeling a house, or working on a renovation plan for old houses, these steps will get you back on track. When you are renovating a house, you need a renovation plan. Watch the video for this three step process to get your home renovation project back on track.