A kitchen in an antique Cape comes alive in the hands of talented local professionals.
In our old Cape house, the original kitchen was once the most important room in the house. Built in 1736, the kitchen was centered around a big fireplace that dominated the room. In the floor, there was a trapdoor that went down to the stone cellar. I wonder if the people who lived here centuries ago stored apples there from the old apple trees still beside the house. The kitchen then was the heart of the house; it was the central source of food, of heat, of everyday comfort from morning until night.
Someday, when I have time, I’m going to research the history of our house. I want to know what it was like in the old kitchen on cold winter days, when the wind off the ocean blows in from the Northeast. I picture the woman of the house stirring soup over the fire; putting bread in the Dutch oven to bake.
I know that our house was built by James Bearse, who came from a big family of sea captains and farmers in Centerville. I do not know who his wife was, or whether they had children—but I am sure that the Bearses spent most of their days in the kitchen.
When my husband’s family bought the house in the early 1920s, a new kitchen had been added, part of an L-shaped addition that included a dining room, two small bedrooms, and a bathroom. The space, built around 1912, was a narrow rectangle without much light, but there was a window over the sink that looked east to enormous lilac bushes that bloomed before Memorial Day. In the 1930s, my husband’s great grandmother planted a Japanese maple within view of the kitchen window. It is a magnificent tree today, arching over the yard, nearly 30 feet tall.
We are the first of four generations to live in the house year-round. The old kitchen now is our living room; to ward off the winter chill that creeps under the centuries-old shingles, we put a wood stove in the ancient fireplace. We still spend a lot of time in that room and it hasn’t changed much in the last 277 years.
After our first winter on the Cape, we began to think about remodeling the 1912 kitchen. It was a wonderful space for summer living, with doors that opened out to the yard on both sides. But during the long months between November and March, the kitchen was just a place to cook meals. We would grab our plates and head for seats by the fireplace in the old kitchen, eating our meals by the woodstove, just like James Bearse and his wife.