Updating an 1887 farmhouse kitchen was a labor of love in this Victorian house.
By Sally Kramer
If the kitchen is the heart of the home, our Victorian house was very nearly flatlining back in 1999. No heat, no plumbing, no electricity—and sagging on a dirt foundation, to boot!
Sometimes now, Steve and I have to laugh, wondering what we were thinking when we bought it. Sitting vacant for years, the Victorian house had fallen into such horrible disrepair that a developer planned to bulldoze it. When he found he couldn’t—a heritage association in 1976 had declared the house historically significant—he painted it and put it up for sale.
I’d always wanted to live in one of the old farmhouses dotting the area. And the first time I drove up
to this one, it felt like I’d come home. It reminded me in many ways of my grandparents’ dairy farm. I knew this Victorian house had good bones. Though I work as an office administrator, my true passion is design. It wasn’t too hard to envision what could be if we were willing to live in chaos for a little while.
Which we most certainly did! We even bought a concrete mixer and jacked the house up, section by section, to lay part of the foundation every weekend for a year—a solution my brilliant husband devised when a quote for the work came back way over our budget.
Steve and I did almost everything ourselves for the kitchen remodel, or with help from our three grown children—Scott, Stephenie and Kym—and their spouses. They live in older houses, too, and Scott’s a contractor. We all often swap skills on various projects and kitchen remodel tips.
Finished in 2003, our farmhouse kitchen remodel took nine months, not including planning. I still have the 3-inch-thick folder with all my sketches and plans. We gutted the Victorian house right down to the studs. The 1950s cabinets did the room no favors, and a built-in hutch wasn’t salvageable, though I kept its pulls. They’re now on the hutch Steve built, a scaled-down, redesigned version of one I’d seen in a magazine.
Steve, who’s retired, once ran his own cabinetmaking shop, and these hardwood cabinets are really something special! Our kitchen remodel allowed the microwave, dishwasher and fridge to now be concealed in cabinetry. The fridge cabinet, next to the hutch, even rolls out to allow for appliance repairs.
I love how the seeded glass in our farmhouse kitchen cabinets breaks up the solidness of the wood, and the old-fashioned beadboard on the walls. The plate rack over the oven lets me display more of my blue-and-white plates. We found our oven in a Portland store. It’s a reproduction of a cast-iron, wood-burning stove from the 1800s, and similar to one we’d had in a previous home.
A big, deep farmhouse sink feels just right here, as do the long farmhouse kitchen table and bench. The table is one of Steve’s more recent projects. As our family continues to grow—we welcomed our first grandchild last spring—we’ve found we need an accommodating table! Steve even included drawers in each end to hold place mats.
A previous owner of our Victorian house had sealed the adjoining pantry off from the farmhouse kitchen to use it as a garden shed. We reopened it and now have plenty of storage. I made old-fashioned bins there that hold our recyclables.
I really wanted a blue-and-white farmhouse kitchen. It’s such a refreshing combination—and one that highlights my blue-and-white porcelain dishes and cups. I’ve been collecting for years, often finding pieces in secondhand stores, ever since an aunt gave me a teacup on my 21st birthday. But I knew getting the right shade of blue for the walls could be tricky. So I took a teacup with me to the paint store!
Now the walls beautifully set off plates, antiques and other treasures. Among them is a flow-blue plate mosaic—I’d found the shards while digging in the yard and glued it together, complete except for one piece. It hangs near the working antique telephone Steve built, using original parts he’d found online. There’s also a button-tree picture I made using buttons selected from my mother’s button jar.
We found a special spot for a painting of our Victorian house, a Christmas present from the daughter of the Cunninghams, who bought the house in the 1950s. Researching the house, I was delighted to find many descendants of the five previous owners still living in the area, and we enjoy having them over.
It’s such a treat to walk with them through the rooms, listening to their memories. A granddaughter of the family who bought the Victorian house in 1905 even let me copy her old family pictures, and we display them on a memory wall in our library. I’ve etched our name, along with those of the previous families, on the glass of the outside door by the old phone.
We’ve loved establishing these connections and learning more about our Victorian house’s history. It’s become even more important to Steve and me to do our best to honor our home’s past, even while updating it for the future. Especially in our farmhouse kitchen, now truly the heart of our home.