Before & After: A 1920s Kitchen Retains Its Original Charm

Before & After: A 1920s Kitchen Retains Its Original Charm

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Emily Billings
May 24, 2016
(Image credit: Jill Bent)

When Jill and Charlie Bent bought their Cambridge home, the kitchen hadn’t been updated since 1920. Cosmetic changes made the space function aesthetically for the family, but the space had its fair share of structural issues, leaking ceilings, and ant infestations every spring. After compromising their comfort for half a decade, the couple decided to hire a contractor, Monarch Carpentry, to renovate it. “We cook almost all of our meals at home, so having a kitchen we love spending time in has been worth the investment,” says Jill.

(Image credit: Emily Billings)
From Jill: We wanted to create a light, bright kitchen with more space that was efficient to work in and easy to keep clean. As a family, we love cooking, so having a great kitchen was really important to us. On the practical side, we needed something that was structurally sound. But we really wanted the new kitchen to retain a sense character in keeping with the style of the original house.

We were lucky that we had some willing family members around to help us with childcare and elbow grease and we tackled cosmetic changes on the old kitchen as soon as we moved in. We took up the red linoleum floor and had the wood floors underneath refinished. We removed the linoleum countertop and replaced it with a wooden IKEA one. Then we cleaned and painted like mad. We replaced the old metal cabinet and drawer handles with antique wooden knobs my dad had hanging around his workshop. We painted the walls a soft yellow and the woodwork and cupboards linen white. We hung open shelves and an old hanging wall cupboard. It actually looked pretty good and got us through five years of home cooked meals, dinner parties, family holidays and numerous children's birthday parties. But, the structural problems needed to be addressed eventually and we finally made the commitment to renovate.
(Image credit: Jill Bent)
(Image credit: Emily Billings)
We started the project the day the kids got out of school for the summer and basically moved in with our parents for the summer so that we didn't have to live there during a lot of the construction. We moved back in in September, cooked in a makeshift kitchen on our boot porch and washed dishes in the bathroom for two months, (OK, let's face it, we ate a lot of take out during this time too) and the kitchen was finished in time for us to cook Thanksgiving dinner that year.

We weren't able to save anything physically from the original kitchen. The entire 1920's kitchen addition (which was a cement block box with a tiny garage attached) was demolished. Everything had outlived its useful life, and then some. But we did retain some design ideas from the original structure. For example, the transom windows all around that let in great light, and give us some privacy from the neighbor's house. And the new cupboards are actually similar in style to the original 1920's cupboards.
(Image credit: Emily Billings)
(Image credit: Emily Billings)
So far, the kitchen has worked well for our family. We cook all the time and enjoy being in the light, bright space our kitchen is today. We made a conscious decision to only have a few wall cupboards in order to keep the kitchen looking light and spacious and I'm still happy with that. We also decided to open up a wall between the dining room and kitchen and replace it with a half wall, to bring more light into the dining room, and I'm so glad we did that too. It's nice to have the extra light, but still feel like the dining room is separate from the cooking and kitchen mess while we are sitting down to a meal. Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a seating space in the kitchen so guests could sit and chat while we are cooking, but overall, the design works really well with the space and the way we use it. Although it's now almost ten years old, it still feels like a new kitchen to me!
(Image credit: Emily Billings)

Thank you, Jill & Charlie!

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