Updating Your Vic­tor­ian House?

Contact us for authentic Vic­tor­ian period design, preservation, restoration, renovation and remodeling services.

Italianate  House

Drawing: Victoria Heritage Foundation.

We specialize in updating period homes while preserving the feel, style and craftsmanship of the historic era. We can seamlessly incorporate a modern kitchen, bath or addition into your Vic­tor­ian home.

Reproducing An Updated Victorian Kitchen

Go into your kitchen and remove all the prepared and processed foods in your cabinets, pack them in boxes and move them to the dining room. Now, pack up and remove all the small appliances.

You can keep any staples (flour, sugar, salt, dried beans and legumes, pasta, coffee, tea, and baking soda or powder), and spices.

If you have potatoes or on­ions in your root cellar, you can keep those as well as any fresh produce or meat in the fridge (for purpose of this experiment, renamed the "icebox"). Now consolidate those in as few cabinets as possible. How many did you need? One? Two? Not many.

This illustrates one of the principal problems in reproducing a Vic­tor­ian kitchen. We have to store many more foodstuffs than the Vic­tor­ians even imagined could exist.

Storage was very basic in a Vic­tor­ian kitchen because there was not much to store.

A Vic­tor­ian kitchen would have a lot of overhead racks for pots and pans, and hooks and open shelving for cookware and dishes. There was little need for food storage. The food to be consumed in a day was purchased, or picked, or slaughtered that day. Only a very few staples were stored for more than a few days: flour, sugar, salt, and perhaps lard, baking soda, and some home-canned vegetables — essentially the same basics that had been kept on hand since Colonial times. Add to these the very few factory-processed canned goods and bottle sauces and condiments, and we have all of the food likely to be in a Vic­tor­ian kitchen. By modern standards, not much.

We also have to do something with electric appliances that the Vic­tor­ians did not have. Electrification was available in just a few major urban areas even as late as the turn of the 20th century. But, there were as yet no practical electric appliances to speak of, and would not be for another twenty years. Electricity, where it was available, was used mostly for lighting.

There were appliances, all sorts of clever appliances, just not electric appliances. Vic­tor­ians were the ultimate gadgeteers, game for just about any new gizmo that someone could dream up.

Vic­tor­ian kitchens were filled with all manner of labor-saving devices, hand-powered but by no means primitive or rudimentary. A manual food processor quickly chopped and diced food with a few turns of the crank. The table-top the coffee-mill ground whole coffee beans about as fast as the electric grinders of today, and with a lot less noise. In place of the Kitchen-Aid Stand Mixer, Vic­tor­ian kitchens might be equipped a with a crank-operated blender by Landers, Frary & Clark of New Britton Connecticut that made short work of making cakes, cookies, and bread. A manual fruit press squeezed the morning's orange juice in a few minutes. No "made from concentrate" here.

Vic­tor­ian Small Appliances

If you think labor-saving appliances are a recent development, think again. Vic­tor­ian kitchens of 100 years ago were often technological marvels, equipped with scads of labor-saving small devices.

Coffee Mill

Stand Mixer

Food Processor

The major appliances in the late Vic­tor­ian kitchen were the icebox, using actual ice to keep food cold; and the stove to replace the venerable hearth. For most of the period coal and wood provided fuel for cooking. Only late in the period did natural gas ranges become available in cities. Sinks and faucets in the kitchen were also something new. Indoor plumbing was a creature of the Vic­tor­ian Age.

So, now we have identified the design challenge. Planning a kitchen to look and feel authentically Vic­torian yet not sacrifice modern storage, appliances, functionality, and convenience. We don't want to do without dishwashers, refrigerators and modern ranges, and we want to include the design efficiencies of a modern kitchen — but we don't want it to look modern. We want it to look Vic­tor­ian. How, then, to strike a workable balance?

Whatever solution we come up with has to meet the basic rules for kitchen design, or the kitchen will not be acceptably functional, and it has to include a necessary convenience that Vic­tor­ians did not have — electricity.

Vic­tor­ian Kitchen Furnishings

A Vic­tor­ian kitchen did not have built-in cabinets, it had furniture. The furniture provided work surfaces and places to store food and utensils. The essential furnishings for a Vic­tor­ian kitchen are a large central work table, kitchen dressers, and larders, supplemented as needed with safes, drawer chests, shelving, and hooks.

The Vic­tor­ian Kitchen Dresser

In Vic­tor­ian times, dressers were not just for bedrooms. Kitchens had them too. The name derives from its original use as a place to arrange or "dress" meals before serving. Dressers were a common feature of better-equipped colonial and Early American kitchens. They were often used to store, and sometimes display, dishes and cookware. Eventually, they moved into the dining room and evolved into the china hutch.

The Vic­tor­ian versions were usually more involved than the simple, open shelf dressers of the Colonial era. The step-back upper cabinet was often enclosed with doors, and the larger lower cabinet commonly fitted with drawers. There were, however, many variations, some less and some more elaborate. The Hoosier-style cabinet, possibly the most elaborate dresser of them all, was almost a kitchen unto itself (See sidebar). Once fitted cabinetry became popular, dressers fell out of favor, at least on this side of the Atlantic. In the U.K. they are still fairly common items of kitchen furniture.

Vic­tor­ian Larders, Pantries and Safes

Dried and canned food was stored in larders. Before refrigeration, meat and other perishables that needed to be kept free of insects were stored in "safes". The tight-fitting doors kept insects and other critters out. Safes are still being produced, and there are many available in antique stores. Reproductions are often made with pierced tin panels, which allow cooling air to circulate inside the safe. Few of the originals were made with pierced tin panels, except in the Deep South where the feature originated.

Larders were what we now call pantries. In the 19th-century the word "pantry" had a different meaning (see "Pantry Perfect for more information.) The larder was sometimes a separate room, often located on the cool side of the house or in the basement to store perishable food before refrigeration became common. More commonly, it was built as a stand-alone cabinet full of drawers and shelves that had a home somewhere in, or immediately adjacent to, the kitchen.

The Vic­tor­ian Central Worktable

The centerpiece of any Vic­tor­ian kitchen was its work table. It was the main work surface and was located, if space existed, in the middle of the kitchen. If there was not enough space, it was pushed against one wall.

It was usually massive — as large as the size of the room would allow — with thick turned legs and a heavy top. The top was originally wood but as the Vic­tor­ian concern with sanitation and hygiene grew, the top would have been covered in some sanitary material, such as zinc or oilcloth. It should have drawers on both long sides for convenient storage of small utensils. Some were outfitted with bins for flour, sugar and so on. Under the table, for additional storage, would be baskets, shelves or drawer chests supplemented with pan and pot hooks overhead. This was often all the storage needed in even a busy Vic­tor­ian kitchen.

In a typical Vic­tor­ian household, most meals were eaten at the kitchen table. Only the main meal, usually at noon, would be eaten in the formal dining room. Breakfast and evening supper would be taken in the kitchen on the multi-purpose work table.

In the original kitchen, the table would have been just chair height. It was common in a Vic­tor­ian kitchen to sit down while preparing meals, because it took many hours of shelling, shucking, peeling, dicing, slicing, apportioning, measuring, weighing, combining, blending and mixing. Today, most of that work is done for us at the food factory. So our table should probably be counter height so it is convenient for work while standing.

If a table won't work, replace it with a central island but make the island look as "table-ish" as possible, including using legs, even if they are fake.

Cabi­netry in a Vic­tor­ian Kitchen

A Vic­tor­ian kitchen should not look built in. Built-in cabinets came much later to American kitchens — not becoming common until after 1930. Use as few built-in cabinets as possible in a Vic­tor­ian kitchen, and make the few that are included look more like furniture than built-in cabinets.

Door styles should be mixed and matched for the desired effect of making the cabinetry appear to be free-standing. Vary the leg styles as well, for the same purpose.

Avoid duplication. You want the cabinets to look like they were added at different times as the family's needs grew and changed.

Painted cabinets rule in Vic­tor­ian kit­chens.

Stained wood can be used but it is not strictly authentic and should be used sparingly. The furniture effect preferred in the cabinets is enhanced if the cabinetry is given more than one finish, some stained but most painted. White was considered the "sanitary" color but usually not bright, appliance white but a softer off-white. White may be mixed with other pastel colors to good effect. As long as the colors compliment each other, even three or four different finishes can be used.

The one semi-modern cabinet that does look completely at home is a Hoosier-style step-back cabinet combining base and wall cabinet in one integrated (or apparently integrated) unit. These cabinets provide scads of useful storage.

Hoosiers are not actually a Vic­tor­ian cabinet. They were marketed only at the very end of the Vic­tor­ian period and did not become widespread until well into the Arts & Crafts era. But, while Hoosiers were uncommon in Vic­tor­ian kitchens, dresser cabinets were very common, and Hoosiers are an advanced form of the dresser cabinet, so they work well in Vic­tor­ian kitchens and we can fudge the timeline a few years.

For more information on Hoosier cabinets, see Arts & Crafts Kitchens.

Work Surfaces in a Vic­tor­ian Kitchen

Vic­tor­ian working surfaces were slate, soapstone, wood or zinc. Individual work tables or Hoosier cabinets might have enameled steel tops. In fact, zinc and "porceliron", a type of enamel steel similar to that used on modern cooking ranges, are more or less the defining work-surface treatments of the era. Copper also works well, and was fairly common during the period but mostly in upscale homes.

Manufactured stone or stone-look laminates would also be convincing if they look like slate or soapstone. Corian®-type solid surfacing is not appropriate. Tile should be used sparingly. It works best if it mimics stone.

Mix and match countertops and other work surfaces, some zinc, some stone, some wood to give more of a furniture feel. A mass of countertop in the same material extending the length of the cabinetry is not the effect we are looking for. We have also seen concrete countertops used to good effect in Vic­tor­ian-style kitchens. But you have to be careful with this material. It should look like stone. If it looks too much like concrete, it seems out of place.

For more information on the various countertop materials available and the pros and cons of each, see New & Traditional Countertop Choices.

Vic­tor­ian Kitchen Flooring

The hygiene movement encouraged homeowners to use sanitary surfaces in their homes. Flooring was of particular concern. Christine Frederick, a pioneer home economist of the late Vic­tor­ian period summed up flooring choices for the "modern" Vic­tor­ian kitchen this way …

"The floor covering of a kitchen should allow complete and easy washing, the surface should not be covered with any porous material which will absorb or stain with grease. Linoleum, tile and a new cork material very restful to the feet are the best coverings; wood is too porous and turns dark and ugly with washing …"
Christine Frederic, The New Housekeeping New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1913

Many contemporary flooring materials are not appropriate for Vic­tor­ian kitchens but most natural and traditional materials work well. For a complete account of flooring suitable for kitchens and baths, see Flooring Options for Kitchens & Baths.

Vic­tor­ian Wood Plank & Strip Flooring

Wood flooring was not a favored material until very late in the Vic­tor­ian period. At the beginning of the era, wood floors were usually unfinished, protected by oil or wax. They often turned gray from frequent washing and "holystoning" — scouring with a block of soft and brittle limestone. (Anyone who served aboard ship in the pre-1980 Navy or Marines is quite familiar with the process which was used to clean the wooden decks of the Navy's warships. Between frequent scouring, saltwater, and fierce tropical sunshine, ship's decks were often so glistening white, people thought they were painted).

Wood floors became more common once durable enamel paints were available. But, only very late in the Vic­tor­ian age did stained and varnished floors appear as paint companies began to offer tougher, longer-lasting varnishes. The dark floors you see in old houses is not the result of wood stain. It results from a darkening of the finish over time and embedded dirt — although wood stain is often used today to replicate the look.

It was common to paint or varnish the floor once a year in conjunction with spring or fall cleaning — a major event in the days when the smell would permeate the house for days, and varnish or floor enamel took up to a week to harden.

The hardwood floors of this period were typically oak, chestnut, or maple. Maple was particularly popular for kitchen floors due to its closed pore structure. Unlike the ring-porous woods — oak, chestnut, and elm — it did not easily absorb spills.

Toward the turn of the century, straight grain Douglas fir became the wood of choice, first in kitchens but then working its way into other rooms.

Wood floors were relatively expensive because their installation was very labor-intensive. Before the invention of the electric floor sander, floors were planed by hand using large floor planes and scrapers. It was back-breaking, time-consuming work.

Once the floors were smooth enough, they would be given several coats of shellac. Shellac, however, is a problem finish in a kitchen. When it gets wet, it turns cloudy. So, to protect the shellac, floors were waxed.

One advantage of shellac is that it can be removed easily with alcohol and re-applied (which means it can also be damaged easily by alcohol). The varnishes available late in the Vic­tor­ian Era stood up to more wear and abuse but, if damaged, the floor had to be planed or sanded down to bare wood, a much more burdensome process.

Linoleum: The Vic­tor­ian "Miracle" Flooring

Genuine linoleum was the original sheet flooring material, first patented by Englishman Frederick Walton in 1863. He formed a company to manufacture the material in Britain. In the U.S. one of the prominent manufacturers was Armstrong Cork Company, founded in 1860 by Thomas M. Armstrong and John Glass to make cork bottle stoppers. It had become the largest cork supplier in the world by 1891 when it was incorporated.

Because cork was a fundamental ingredient of linoleum flooring, Armstrong's venture into manufacturing linoleum starting in 1909 was a natural offshoot of its main business. It added asphalt tile manufacturing in the 1920s, ceramic tile and carpet in the 1980s and wood flooring in the 1990s. The flooring business was reorganized as a separate corporation, Armstrong Flooring, in 2016.

Although some people still call all sheet floors "linoleum," the real thing is quite different from sheet vinyl floors that are the modern replacement for linoleum.

Vinyl is made from petrochemicals (today mostly natural gas). It is not an environmentally friendly or very healthy material. The Green Building Council (USGBC) in a report released in 2007 called vinyl one of the "worst materials for human health" because it out-gasses a dangerous carcinogen called dioxin almost constantly.

Linoleum is made from natural materials. Its name derives from its main ingredient, linseed oil. (In Latin, linum is the word for linseed and oleum means oil.) The oil is boiled, mixed with melted resins, and combined with powdered cork, wood flour, ground limestone, and other natural materials. Mineral pigments provide the color. This mixture is formed abound a burlap backer into a durable sheet by applying heat and pressure, then draped in a heated seasoning room to allow the linseed oil to cure for a few months.

In the latter half of the 1800s, linoleum would have been the first choice for an upscale "modern" Vic­tor­ian kitchen.

Cork: The "Green" Vic­tor­ian Kitchen Flooring

Many people believe cork to be a relatively fragile material and are surprised to see cork listed as one of the common Vic­tor­ian flooring materials. In fact, cork used in flooring is very robust, wears well, if virtually impervious to water and has a long history as a resilient flooring going back to the first half of the 19th century. It reached its peak in 1927 when 2.9 million square feet of cork floors were sold. It is very durable. The cork floor in the lobby of the Department of Commerce building in Washington, D.C., installed in 1930, is still in use today, as is the cork floor specified by Frank Lloyd Wright for his "Waterfall" house in Pennsylvania.

Cork was not only the first but is in many ways the best resilient flooring for a kitchen. Due to its unique cellular structure (about 2.4 million air-filled cells per cubic inch), cork is a very resilient floor. It has a little "give" and feels soft to the foot. Yet it is extremely tough and durable. Modern finishes give cork a high level of protection from dirt and chemicals, and cork is naturally waterproof. Its cellular structure prevents it from absorbing water, which is why it was the original material for fishing bobbers and life vests. With proper care, cork floors last 100+ years, and if damaged, can be easily repaired, although most cork aficionados don't bother — a little scratch or gouge just adds to the patina.

Cork is also the "greenest" flooring available. It is completely sustainable and renewable. Cork is the bark of the Cork Oak tree. The tree, grown predominately in Europe and North Africa, has a lifespan ranging from 150-200 years. Cork is harvested using methods that have remained virtually unchanged since the uses of cork were first discovered. Once the tree has reached maturity (typically 25 years), the first harvest of cork bark is removed from the tree. The process is repeated at intervals of nine years (the minimum interval required by law), at no time affecting the health of the tree. During each harvest, no more than 50% of the bark is removed, allowing the tree to protect itself using its natural defenses.

Cork floors are even "greener" because they are made from waste — cork left over from making wine corks, ground into small granules and baked under pressure in molds at varying temperatures producing shade variations in the finished tile product. A dye may also be applied but most of the color you see in cork is just the result of baking.

The cork slab is then cut into tiles, smoothed and finished with several applications of polyurethane or some other durable coating. The coating adds to the natural resistance of the cork to dirt and stains. Damp mopping with a mild detergent is all that is required to maintain a cork floor. Cork does not stain easily nor ever require cleaning with harsh and unhealthy chemicals.

Ceramic & Stone Tile: The Durable Vic­tor­ian Flooring

Ceramic tiles are okay, if not strictly to period. Ceramic tile that looks like natural stone, and, of course, natural stone tile is better, particularly if it is somewhat rough. Flagstone and slate would be ideal if a little difficult to care for.

Stone tile includes granite, marble, slate, and limestone as well as a huge variety of exotic stones. Some varieties, such as granite, are practically indestructible, while others are vulnerable to scratching, cracking, and other wear. (Imperfections, however, may make a stone floor more attractive.) Some stones commonly used for countertops, such as soapstone, are too soft for use on a floor.

The disadvantage of natural stone and unglazed tile is that they need a surprising amount of regular maintenance. Stone needs to be kept clean and dry, and it needs to be resealed regularly. Manufacturers usually recommend that it be sealed annually but it may be necessary more often in high-traffic areas — as often as every three months in a busy kitchen.

Typically stone floors would be oiled or waxed. Today's modern stone sealants would work as well, last longer, and require reapplication less frequently.

Some tile makers offer tiles that look like slate and stone are protected by a tough, impermeable glaze which never needs sealing and is virtually maintenance-free other than brooming and an occasional light mopping.

Moldings in Vic­tor­ian Kitchens

We commonly see ornate compound crown moldings in recreated Vic­tor­ian kitchens. Actual period kitchens rarely had them. The idea has been imported by kitchen designers from parlors and other public rooms where elaborate and ornate moldings were almost required. This heavy crown treatment also assumes you have a typical 9 or 10-foot Vic­tor­ian ceiling. If not, then some aesthetic adjustment must be made. Crown molding is appropriate but simple crowns are best.
Base molding can be more complex. A deep molding is really not optional. Early horse-hair plaster wall seldom reached the floor, and the gap between wall and floor was hidden by moldings. Base moldings should be deep, at least 6", and at least 3/4" thick. Nine to 12 inches is better, and usually requires a compound, multi-part molding. By contrast, modern base molding is usually just 3/8" thick and not more than 3-1/4" high. Chair rails are rare (unless incorporated into wainscot) but picture molding, usually incorporated into shelving, can be used to hang pans and other kitchen implements at or slightly above eye level.

Moldings are what gives a Vic­tor­ian room its characteristic look, so don't skimp. Wide moldings as window and door treatments are the norm to complement the wide, sculpted baseboard.

Vic­tor­ian Plumbing

Vic­tor­ians mastered the art of applying glass to cast iron and, delighted with their achievement, used this sanitary enamelware wherever they could.

Cast iron tubs in baths were the standard as were cast-iron sinks in the kitchen. They also learned to plate brass with nickel. Nickel, unlike brass fixtures, did not tarnish and did not require weekly polishing. Nickel was replaced by more durable chrome at the beginning of the 20th century. But for most of the Vic­tor­ian era, nickel was the king of faucet coatings.

The Vic­tor­ian Kitchen Sink

Sinks set into cabinets of the type found in modern kitchens were rare in Vic­tor­ian times Not unheard of but rare. Most kitchen sinks were attached to the wall and supported by cast iron legs. To keep water off the wall, the sinks were usually cast with tall backsplashes. These sinks are ubiquitous in architectural salvage yards in the Midwest, and not hard to find. Cast iron with a thick, durable enamel coating, these typically nothing more than a pumice stone and a little elbow grease to restore them to pristine condition.

The problem with this sink, however, is that it provides no place for storage. So, for the modern reproduction kitchen, the sink is often set on top of a cabinet — a technique that actually works fairly well and does not depart so radically from the traditional Vic­tor­ian kitchen as to jar the eye or sense of appropriateness.

Another solution is to use the modern analog, the farmers or farmhouse apron-front sink. These have become the go-to sink for Vic­tor­ian renovations although they were not usually found in urban homes during Vic­tor­ian times. A great variety of these sinks is available, and require neither cleaning or restoration before use. Farmhouse sinks can also be mounted under countertops while traditional wall-mounted sinks cannot be — at least not without a lot of modification.

A copper or zinc sink is also a good choice. Copper sinks were set into cabinets to provide the support that the thin copper or zinc sheets did not provide. The advantage of using copper today is that the sinks are widely available and readily fabricated by small-scale artisans who can make them to any size or specification. Copper is a reactive metal, and a maintenance-intensive material if the desire is to keep it new looking. Most owners just let it tarnish and enjoy the patina of a well-aged copper sink.

Zinc is harder to find but most copper fabricators will venture into zinc on request. Unlike copper, zinc is virtually no-maintenance. It will typically darken over time but the well-seasoned look of zinc is more attractive than the industrial look of new zinc, so most owners just let it the sink age naturally.

Vic­tor­ian Kitchen Faucets

Kitchen faucets in styles suitable for a reproduction Vic­tor­ian kitchen are easy to find. Originally cold and hot faucets were separate. The water mixed temperatures in the sink. The hot water dispensed by the faucet was often scalding hot, and dangerous. Such faucets are available, mostly from foreign suppliers, but they are illegal to install in a dwelling in some localities in North America.

Modern two-handle faucets mix the water inside the faucet before dispensing it into the sink. These are much safer and preferred. Single handle faucets were not invented until the 1940s, and there is no true Vic­tor­ian analog. Nonetheless, a number of companies make single handle faucets in styles more or less convincing as a Vic­tor­ian kitchen faucet.

The preferred finishes are natural polished brass and nickel. Chrome was not widely used as a protective finish for faucets until well into the 1920s. During the Vic­tor­ian Era, it was rate and expensive. Plated nickel was a relatively soft metal that wore off over time, exposing the unprotected brass beneath but it was less maintenance-intensive than plain brass which needed to be polished several times in a week to keep its shine and prevent tarnish.

Fortunately, new finish technologies have largely banished the polishing cloth. Nickel is no longer the fragile finish of the past. Nickel finishes applied using a new technology called physical vapor deposition is much harder than chrome, never needs any sort of polishing and retains the new shine nearly forever with an occasional wipe using a soft cloth.

Likewise, PVD "polished brass" is no longer actual brass but a much harder, non-reactive metal such as zirconium that looks like brass but does not tarnish as is virtually maintenance-free.

All of the major faucet companies like

For more information on the types of finishes used on faucets today and the advantages and disadvantages of each, see Faucet Basics, Part 5: Faucet Finishes.

For more information on faucets in general, including what features and qualities to look for when purchasing a faucet, see Faucet Basics. For reviews and ratings of over 250 faucet brands, see Faucet Reviews and Ratings

Vic­tor­ian Kitchen Appliances

Modern appliances tend to look out of place in a Vic­tor­ian kitchen — more so than is the case with any other kitchen style. We cannot do without them, so special efforts need to be made to make them fit in. Fortunately, there are ways of incorporating modern appliances without destroying the special look and feel of a period kitchen. Essentially these boil down to four approaches.

The first is using an actual period appliance. Some Vic­tor­ian appliances can be used in their original form or modernized with new innards to keep the look of the period with the convenience of modern functionality.

Gas ranges fit nicely into this category. The technology of using natural gas to produce heat has not changed much in 140 years. All it takes is a supply of gas, and a burner. The modern burner is not very different from the burners used 140 years ago. The big improvement is that modern burners are sealed so that any spills stay on top of the stove instead of migrating inside.

The other significant change is the safety and reliability of ignition. Today we use electric ignition. Our grandparents used kitchen matches or a pilot light — not nearly as safe. However, it is not a difficult process to add modern electric ignition and sealed burners to a period stove. It's a little more complicated to modify an old range to use electricity but again it is possible. We much prefer, however, to stick with gas. Gas cooks better (which is why almost all professional chef stoves are gas) and is more authentic to the period.

If the range needs restoration, dozens of companies recondition old appliances. For a range, reconditioning means taking it apart, sandblasting and cleaning, inspecting, and repairing or replacing gas valves, and thermostats. Pilot lights and thermostats need to be calibrated to meet modern codes. The interior will usually get new insulation and gaskets.

Reproduction Appliances

The second alternative is to find a modern appliance that looks like it could have been around in the 1920's and 30s. There are such things but they're not made by GE, LG or Amana; or, in fact, any other appliance maker you have ever heard of. They are made by small companies like Big Chill and Elmira Stove Works. Some reproductions are totally convincing. Some less so. Modern ranges and wall ovens with 1890s styling are virtually indistinguishable from the original and fit right into a Vic­tor­ian kitchen. The differences are apparent only when the appliance is in use and the modern electronic controls and ventilation systems are exposed.

Other appliances like dishwasher panels and microwaves are less successful. Nothing makes a microwave look like it belongs in a period kitchen. The best solution for a microwave is to hide it in a cabinet. Similarly, a retro dishwasher panel looks like … Well, we're not really sure what it looks like but it does not look like it should be there. We suggest using reproductions for ranges and ovens and leaving dishwashers and microwaves to be handled by hiding or disguising the appliance.

Disguising & Hiding Appliances

Which brings us to our third approach: disguising. This approach works well for dishwashers. Modern dishwashers can be hidden behind panels that match the cabinetry. Many dishwashers are designed to accept a wood panel insert to match the cabinetry.

Refrigerators are more of a problem. They are simply much too large to look convincing in a Vic­tor­ian kitchen, so we try to move them out of the kitchen into an adjacent pantry or mudroom where possible. But if this is not possible, they should be wrapped with cabinet wood both to minimize their bulk and to disguise their modernity as much as possible. For more information on wrapping refrigerators, see Kitchen Remodeling on the Cheap. We have also resorted to building them into a closet.

Using Modern Appliances

The final appliance option is to simply use modern appliances. Ok, it's not strictly to period but, so what? A kitchen is not a museum. It needs first and foremost to be fully functional. Style comes in at a distant second. If it takes modern appliances to get to full functionality on your remodeling budget, so be it. If any of your family, friends or neighbors are offended by your lack of pure historic authenticity, ban them from your kitchen. There, problem solved.

One big advantage of staying with strictly modern appliances is that they are a lot cheaper. Most of the restored antique and retro-look appliances available on the market cost two or even three times the price of a non-retro-look equivalent appliance. So, sacrificing a little authenticity for a leaner budget is, for many homeowners, a sterling idea.

Another advantage is that since the 1970s modern appliances have been made to standard measurements which fit modern standard cabinetry. Antique appliances usually do not and special accommodation must be made for their use.

Most Requested Feature in a Vic­tor­ian Kitchen

Since 1900 the meaning of the word "pantry" has changed. Today it means a place where food is stored, and usually refers to one or more cabinets or a closet adjacent to the kitchen.

In the late Vic­tor­ian age, the room where food was stored was the "larder". The pantry was a serving area located between the kitchen and dining room. Often it was not much more than a wide hallway equipped with ample countertop space and, commonly, a sink. Typically the butler would fetch the cooked food from the kitchen, dividing it into serving portions, arrange it on dishware invitingly, then serve it. The pantry usually had swinging doors at both ends which helped keep kitchen noise, heat, and odors away from the diners.

With the simplification of house design that occurred during the Arts & Crafts period of the early 20th century, the butler's pantry was largely eliminated and replaced with built-in cabinetry inside the dining room for storing dinnerware, linens, glassware, and silverware — all the things formerly stored in the pantry. Improvements in cooking technology, such as the natural gas or electric cookstove made isolation of the kitchen from the dining area much less important to dining comfort.

Today the tendency is to call any walk-through pantry a "butler's" pantry but this term is not strictly correct unless it includes a counter-height set-up and serving area, and possibly a small sink. In a modern household, the serving area makes a convenient landing zone for loading groceries into the pantries — at least until you finally get around to hiring a butler.

For more information on pantry design, see Pantry Perfect: The "Can't Go Wrong" Pantry Design Rules.

The Vic­tor­ian Bathroom

The Vic­tor­ians invented the modern bath with running water, porcelain fixtures, and a flushing toilet. And to celebrate their inventiveness, proceeded to add as much fuss and detail as they could to the room. Vic­tor­ian bathrooms, especially in England and the Northeast United States were elaborate fanciful rooms.

It's easy, and an oversimplification, to view the Vic­tor­ian Bathroom as yet another example of Vic­tor­ian excess. They were indeed often opulently decorated, particularly in the homes of the well-to-do, where the bathroom was often as much as showplace as the main parlor. But, in fact, the overwhelming theme of most Vic­tor­ian-era bathrooms was comfort. They were, in many ways the most comfortable baths ever built, designed for luxuriating and relaxing. The large rolled-edge bathtub almost demanded a leisurely bath with lavender oil and a good book.

The focus on comfort translates well to today's Vic­tor­ian home — and even to homes that are not the least Vic­tor­ian. Sleek, sanitized functionality may have held sway in American bathrooms for the past 100 years but homeowners seem to be returning to the cozy bathrooms of the past as a place to relax, refresh, renew and shed the cares of a busy and stressful day… (Continues)

Rev. 04/05/20