Bringing a 21st century kitchen into a house from the 1800’s

The task of modernizing, while honoring the history of an antique house, is never the same job twice for a designer or the contractor. A request to update and renovate the kitchen in an old house in Sheffield came with its own set of needs, restrictions and unforeseen problems. It also came with its own set of interesting details and unique possibilities.

In this case, it had been the family home of the husband of my client couple. The parents had lived with a 1960’s-style kitchen that was filled with their things and reflected their own taste and lifestyle. Now, my clients planned to offer the house for summer rentals. Their objective in calling me in was to redo the 1960’s, distinctly “country” kitchen on a tight budget, using as much of the existing cabinetry as possible.


The room was 15 feet long and 11 feet wide. Not bad for a functional kitchen, except that the number of openings put a crimp in most layout options. There were four doorways and the only full wall had two sets of windows. We pinned our hopes on the possibility of opening up to an adjacent room – a small space that one walked through to reach the main entry and living room. It must have had a specific use in the 1800’s, but now it was just a dark paneled place to put more stuff in, though it did offer one more window to the space.


The wife had mailed a collection of pictures torn from magazines showing the things she liked and the style she wanted. Some clients use Pinterest to show preferences, but those printed pages are still a great help in knowing what a client is imagining. What she envisioned fit beautifully with the existing antique house, so I was happy to work toward this. After measuring and taking photos, I returned to the studio and used AutoCAD to create some optional layouts based upon the removal of the wall to the little room. It would increase the length to nearly 22 feet.

My drawings were met with an enthusiasm that was quickly dashed when the contractor, Jim Waldman, began taking down the wall only to find it was needed to support the weight of the floor above. A portion of wall would have to remain. The ceilings were far too low to allow for a carrying beam. I returned to the drawing board to incorporate the needed support and make the new layout work. As it turned out, this was only the first weight bearing issue that would arise.

The existing cabinet units had been removed intact; fortunately their flush-door style is still available. Using blocks of their dimensions, I could try all of the units in various layouts. The wife wanted to move a much-loved hutch built by her late father-in-law from the dining room to the kitchen. I incorporated that in the layouts as well.

With the layout set and appliances chosen, down came the old acoustic tile ceiling to reveal a new need for support of the story above. When I saw the 2×4’s installed by Jim’s crew, it was easy to envision a way to incorporate that necessary reinforcement.



Display shelves were designed for the many small family treasures. The remaining two partial walls created a nook for the refrigerator.



No mid-century kitchen included space for a microwave, dishwasher, a beverage refrigerator or recycling. Paul Morgan of Cabinet Works in Great Barrington ordered additional units in the sizes we needed. Most of the original cabinets were re-used and Paul brought in the correct size base for the new apron-front sink. Once the cabinets were painted and capped with granite, everything tied in beautifully with the wife’s selection of practical appliances.



The kitchen in process: Before



The kitchen in process: After


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