A Kitchen Manifesto (Part 3)

You can read Part 1 and Part 2 here. They’re worth reading. Trust me.

The Missing Piece

When you delve in to the world of antiques, you will quickly find that there are a multitude of tables. More tables than I ever thought possible.

There are accent tables. Tea tables. Breakfast tables. Parlor tables. Hall tables. Kitchen tables. Dining tables. Five legged tables. Drop leaf tables. Wall mounted tables. And so many more.

If you recall, the very first step in designing this kitchen is to lay out everything I wanted to be able to do. Step 1: Define the Kitchen Needs First.

I thought I had everything I needed. And I was able to use pieces I already had and loved.

Layout+with+Table+and+Settee.png

But. There was a nagging, worrisome doubt in the back of my head. I knew something was missing. As I read through both The Efficient Kitchen and An Ideal Kitchen, I realized exactly what my kitchen design lacked.

Both of these books made a point to designate an overflow work space. This could be in the form of a movable table, a drop down wall mounted table, an extra shelf, or some other feature. The extra work space is not used all the time, but is available when you absolutely need it most. Cooling bread, buffeting a meal, dropping groceries as you bring them in, a special project such as canning or making a holiday dinner. All of these activities are out of the everyday realm of kitchen function. But the design plan absolutely must accommodate them.

Now I do have a table with drop leaf ends already.

Sad, sad state of the kitchen when we moved in. Bleh. Horrible.

Sad, sad state of the kitchen when we moved in. Bleh. Horrible.

I had been on the hunt for a kitchen table. A five legged kitchen table to be exact. I grew up eating meals on my mother’s two five-legged tables and absolutely wanted one of my own. After several years of searching I finally found one (for a mere $175. Pinch me). I believe the wood is cherry, and it miraculously came with all three of its leaves.

Kitchen Table as found

It was a little broken and a little wobbly, but we fixed it up. It’s been the most perfectly enormous kitchen table ever since.

Furniture repair specialist working his magic. Helped by Brandon.

Furniture repair specialist working his magic. Helped by Brandon.

When we moved in to this house, I knew the table would stay in the kitchen. The kitchen is large enough to accommodate the enormous 40”x90” piece and plenty of chairs with it. For a while, I thought that would be my overflow space. That only makes sense right? An enormous table in the kitchen would serve very well as the drop zone.

Kitchen table in current house. Before I destroyed the whole room. Whoops.

Kitchen table in current house. Before I destroyed the whole room. Whoops.

Except…it still bothered me. Using the kitchen table as a primary work space is oftentimes awkward since you are working around chairs. The table does have drop leaves on both ends, but I prefer to leave them up and put a chair underneath for Brandon since he’s so tall. He likes the leg clearance. And this doesn’t solve the problem of what to do when you need both a fully set table AND overflow workspace. Hmm. Hmmmmm.

So I got to thinking. And reading. And thinking some more. Over and over I read Mrs. Child and Mrs. Parola talking about the importance of work tables. Mrs. Parola even went so far as to recommend putting a drop leaf table under a window for extra work surface when needed. Being drop leaf, it could be stored away when not in use leaving the space clear and accessible.

Oh. That’s…something. There was something here…it started to crystallize in my brain. A table…an extra work table…something that was movable…and also expandable…what if…what if it was…

BAM. GOT IT.

In all of fifteen seconds, the entire kitchen design slid in to place. Everything worked. The pantry. The sink. The stove. The dish storage. The counters. The settee. The kitchen table. ALL OF IT. It all worked provided I could find this one missing piece. The keystone of this historic kitchen design.

I have seen a lot of tables. A LOT. And I love them all. But of all the antique tables I have seen, there was one that I had not yet considered. One that I had occasionally seen, often coveted, but never purchased.

Allow me to introduce…The Harvest Table.

NOT MY TABLE. Just hold on.    Image here.

NOT MY TABLE. Just hold on. Image here.

ALSO NOT MY TABLE. JUST BEAR WITH ME.    Image here.

ALSO NOT MY TABLE. JUST BEAR WITH ME. Image here.

ALSO. NOT. MINE.    Image here.

ALSO. NOT. MINE. Image here.

As far as I can tell, harvest tables were used for exactly what the name suggests. They provided extra large work areas for preserving and processing the harvest food.

Some of them are just absolutely ENORMOUS long skinny work tables. These are ideal for many people working at once. Can’t you just imagine fifteen or twenty people shucking corn around this?

As much as I love these big tables, I was really after more versatility and flexibility in my kitchen design. This offers a ton of counter space, but it’s all static counter. There are no real options to expand the space.

The other type of harvest table is a drop leaf harvest table. THIS is was what I realized my kitchen needed. A long, narrow, drop leaf harvest table.

These tables are still relatively skinny, but they have the added feature of having drop leaves on one or both sides. The table can effectively double your work area when you need it to. But when you don’t, it only takes up half the space. BRILLIANT.

I have seen tables like this and even smaller ones at antique stores dozens of time. They’re never very expensive. And I always want them. But I never bought one. Why? Because all I could think was “Dining Table” and with those narrow ends, these would make pretty bad dining tables.

Well Paige, you know why they make bad dining tables? Because they AREN’T dining tables. You know what they’re great for? WORK TABLES. IT’S A WORK TABLE.

Now I know what you’re thinking.

“Paige, you silly goose. That’s just an island. But instead, it’s a table. Why wouldn’t you just do an island? More storage! More counter space! More more!”

NO.

No Island For Paige

Rule number one in life: know thyself. I’m messy by nature. Flat surfaces are just an opportunity for clutter. A drop leaf table means that 95% of the time, the counter space will not be available for me to clutter up. Therefore it will not be cluttered. But when I do need it, pop the leaves up, and I just effectively doubled my working space. Could this be any more GENIUS?

Additionally I know that I LOVE rearranging my rooms. Love it. Like there is nothing better than waking up on a weekend and moving things around my house so that they are all in spectacularly different locations by lunch. By having a freestanding table, I have the opportunity to change up my kitchen layout any time I want. WOO HOO. GO ME.

TIS A HARVEST TABLE

TIS A HARVEST TABLE

Ok. So I know I need a drop leaf harvest table. Now I just have to find one.

And BOY did I find a winner. Coming up in Part 4.

The same principles that run this also run this (2).png

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A Kitchen Manifesto (Part 2)

You can read Part 1 here. It’s worth reading. Trust me.

Now. Where were we?

Oh yes. Historic kitchens are set up for simplicity and efficiency. Modern kitchens are…less so. We need to take the ideas of historic kitchens and apply them to modern day needs. Let’s get to work.

Planning the Functions

This kitchen has been marinating in my head for nearly two years. I have been through many iterations of ideas. I have a sink that I love. I have a stove that I love. I have a kitchen table that I love. I have a settee that I love. I need them all to work in the same room together. But…how?

As I kept working and reworking the layout, nothing ever clicked. I had all these pieces in the room. But still…something was off. Very off.

Copyright 1887

Copyright 1887

Copyright 1914

Copyright 1914

So I did what I do whenever I’m stumped. I started researching. First An Ideal Kitchen by Maria Parola and then The Efficient Kitchen by Georgie Boynton Child. Both books were written on how to set up kitchens. Both books were directed toward normal, every day homemakers. And both books had the same ground-breakingly simple advice.

When you begin setting up your kitchen, you must do one very important task first before even thinking of anything else. Ready?

DEFINE THE KITCHEN’S FUNCTIONS FIRST

Huh? What? Lay out your kitchen according to what you’re actually going to use it for? GET OUT OF TOWN.

While this seems completely straightforward, it blew my MIND to think about setting up a kitchen around what you’re actually going to be doing in it. Ok. Head is now on straight. Let’s do this. What needs to be done in a kitchen?

Here is an example list from 1914 in The Efficient Kitchen.


If you read this list, it’s actually amazing how many items on it still apply to today’s kitchens. And further more, look at how many different functions the kitchen had to serve. Laundry, warming, cooling, storage, cleaning, and more. These rooms had to work very hard.

It really made me think about what functions I need my kitchen to perform. So let’s make a list.

Paige’s Kitchen Function List

  1. Sink and supplies

  2. Dishwasher

  3. Stove and supplies

  4. Pots/pans storage

  5. Refrigerator/freezer. Full size.

  6. 4-6 feet primary work space. Counter height. Near stove. Clear of everything.

  7. Kitchen table and 4-6 chairs - for meals

  8. Wicker settee - socializing and non-table seating

  9. Dry food storage

  10. Dish and utensil storage

  11. Small appliance storage

  12. Pet food and feeding station

  13. Overflow work space

Ok great. I have my list. This is everything I think I need to make my kitchen fully functional.

Notice I said everything I NEED. Not everything I want. If you are working through this exercise, be very very careful to separate the needs from the wants. If something goes on this list, it must be absolutely essential to the functionality of the kitchen. Then we can avoid letting in the “noise of convenience” that often comes with kitchen design and having everything at your fingertips.

Ok. Back to my list. Now we start breaking it down. Here’s an outline of the future final kitchen. We have three doors. And six windows (eventually. Only three right now.)

Farmhouse Vernacular Kitchen

The kitchen originally had a pantry so I absolutely wanted to put that back as it knocks off so many items on this list. The pantry will hold food, small appliances, pet food, and excess pots and pans. Perfect.

Pantry Layout

By the pantry we will have a short run of wall that is essentially dead space. I’ll put something there to house dishes. If I can’t find a piece that works, we’ll build a china cabinet. Excellent.

Dish storage

The refrigerator will be most out of the way if it’s tucked in to a corner. Then I have my antique sink and vintage stove. They will stay approximately in the same place.

Layout with Appliances and Sink

I’ll connect the sink and stove with a run of lower cabinets. These will hold the dishwasher and provide near-stove storage drawers. The counter on top will serve as the primary work space.

Counter and dishwasher

Let’s discuss counters for a moment. In this plan the area between the sink and the stove is my main counter space. When cooking and baking, I am generally only ACTIVELY working in a 4-6 foot wide area. There’s only one of me, and my wing span is 5’4”. So that’s as much space as I actually need at counter height to be reasonably productive.

(Side bar. I know I know I know. I know you’re thinking that’s not enough space. Just hold that thought.)

Lastly the kitchen table and settee are free-standing so I will be able to move them wherever I want them to go. The table can serve as my overflow work space. Perfect. Ok! So that’s our finished kitchen layout….right?

Layout with Table and Settee

Well….hurmph. This is where I got stumped. I look at this kitchen plan. It’s good. It’s close. But it just isn’t quite right.

As much as I am a proponent of unfitted, historic kitchens, this plan just simply does not have enough work space. I don’t need any more active counter space. The run between sink and stove is plenty for every day use. But what I desperately need is the overflow, passive space. Where will I cool cookies? Where will the bread rise? Where will I drop groceries when I bring them home? Where will I lay out canning jars to cool?

I could use the kitchen table…but that has its own set of issues. You’re always working around a chairs. And if you need to set the table and also have extra workspace, you’re in trouble.

This won’t do. Nope. No. Definitely not. Now what?

Well, let’s look at references. Historic kitchens seem to have quite a lot of working space. No, it isn’t all in one continuous counter. But look how many different surfaces are available in the kitchens below.

Circa 1906. From The Craftsman Magazine.

Circa 1906. From The Craftsman Magazine.

Image from JL Mott Plumbing catalog circa 1911.

Image from JL Mott Plumbing catalog circa 1911.

Now let’s go back to the reference books. Look at this 1887 kitchen plan from An Ideal Kitchen.

This plan shows a movable table on wheels, a small table near the stove, a settle table (which can switch between a bench or a work top), and a hinged table. Technically speaking, you could use the dresser too as a resting place if you needed it. That is FIVE different work surfaces available to you, should you need them.

And what’s more, TWO of them are convertible. I am a versatility junkie. I like being able to rearrange my rooms on a whim. Having tables that are magically NOT tables when you don’t need them to be? SIGN. ME. UP.

Come on Paige. Think. Think. You know you’re almost there. Almost…there…

AND THEN.

Then I remembered. A piece of furniture that I had long known existed. Something that I had often seen, always loved, but never purchased. For I did not yet know what I could do with such a piece.

And it was this piece that crystallized the entire design and took my ideas from a kitchen I liked to the kitchen of my dreams.

Mystery Furniture Piece

What piece is this, you ask? That’s coming up in Part 3. Stay tuned.

Part 1 is here.

Edit: See this is why we post things online. Because you see things I don’t. FEAR NOT. The dishwasher will be moving away from the sink some yet to be determined distance. Excellent point to all who saw what I did not for the last six months of staring at this layout.

Kitchen Manifesto Part 2

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?

NOPE.

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…

Stylish-Farmhouse-Kitchen-Ideas-39-1-Kindesign.jpg


… will look more like this.

b745fe5983aca0b8f9938bce38b9686c.jpg

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

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.