Respectfully Renovating: Period-Appropriate Products for Historic Kitchen Renovations

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Respectfully Renovating: Period-Appropriate Products for Historic Kitchen Renovations

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Renovating a historic home can be tricky. Take things too far and you risk losing the all-important charm factor, but leaving everything untouched can eventually make spaces feel dated. Preserving the history can also mean having to forgo modern conveniences, which can be especially troublesome in the kitchen.

So what is a historic home owner to do? A successful renovation, one which meets modern-day needs yet respects the home’s pedigree, relies on the right product choices, and this is especially true in the kitchen.

The Cabinetry

High-quality custom cabinetry is designed to last decades. It is also typically one of the pricier elements in any kitchen renovation, so it’s important to choose a timeless look that you won’t soon tire of. While one might assume that natural wood would the best choice for an older home, some species tend to look dated after a while. Remember the oak look of the 80s and the cherry craze of the 90s? Natural wood can also look dark and heavy. Painted cabinetry, especially white, has wide appeal and works well in virtually any home.

The door style of cabinetry has as much to do with period-appropriateness as the material and color. While a cabinet door with no added trimwork has a clean, contemporary look, a Shaker-style door, one with a flat center panel and simple, square trimwork, has an uncluttered look that is neither too modern nor too antique-y.

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This kitchen, designed by Ellen McKenna Design, includes Shaker-style cabinetry.


Like cabinetry, countertops will last decades, so choose a style that works with your home’s overall look and isn’t so “taste-specific” that it will feel dated, boring or busy – or all three – in a few years.

kitchen design


The kitchen above, in a home designed by Andreozzi Architecture, includes soapstone counters, which are a great choice for a historic home, as is marble. Newer on the kitchen design scene is quartzite, a natural stone with striations that give it the look of marble without the extra upkeep.

home remodeling

This remodeled kitchen, in a historic Boston brownstone, has quartzite countertops; design by Roomscapes Cabinetry and Design Center in collaboration with Developer George Haroutiounian of See Real Estate.

The “Fifth Wall”

The ceiling can be an unexpected place to infuse a touch of historic style in a kitchen.

In the Andreozzi Architecture-designed kitchen above, a coffered ceiling with inlaid beadboard is a rich architectural element that would work well in both historic and transitional-style kitchens.

kitchen remodel

In the remodeled kitchen of this historic home, builder C.J. Riley, Inc. has used a press-tin ceiling treatment for a decidedly vintage look.

The Fixtures

Light fixtures are a great way of reinforcing a historic look. The kitchens above, designed by Andreozzi Architects and Ellen McKenna Design, include warehouse-style pendant lights over the island, a great look for historic and transitional-style kitchens. The C.J. Riley Builder-designed kitchen has schoolhouse lights, another classic look.

For the other kind of fixture – faucets, that is – Kohler has an entire line devoted to all things vintage. “Inspired by turn-of-century charm,” the Kohler Artifacts collection pairs the look of a bygone era with modern technology.

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Faucets from the Kohler Artifacts collection.

The Finishing Touches

It’s the details that really “make” a room. When it comes to things that can easily be changed, such as cabinet pulls and paint colors, flex your creative muscles.

The hinges on the cabinets on the left above have the look of an antique meat locker – such a fun look – and on the right, traditional half-moon drawer pulls have been updated with squared-off corners and a burnished bronze finish. Photos via Décor Pad and Sim Op Studios, respectively.

While changing the color of painted cabinetry can be problematic, a fresh coat of paint on the walls is something that can be done by a professional in a matter of hours, or DIY-ed over the course of weekend. Again, we’re going for a “livable history” look here, rather than perfect preservation. Saturated shades of red, blue and gold may be historically correct, but can come across as a bit heavy in the kitchen, a room where most of us spend much of our time. The soft colors of a New England beach, rather than Miami Beach, contrasted with a just-right white are surefire choices to create a welcoming space that is also historically appropriate.

From Benjamin Moore (L to R): Annapolis Gray, Revere Pewter, Saybrook Sage, Metropolitan Gray, Simply White.

With smart product choices, striking the delicate balance between historic charm and modern touches can be done…beautifully.