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.
We knew we had to replace the kitchen’s old linoleum floor and the countertops stained by years of use. We were tired of our makeshift recycling bins by the back door. I looked forward to display space for my collection of Quimper china and hoped we could rework an old pantry area, freeing up some more shelves for family treasures and photos and maybe a plant or two.
And most of all, we wanted to create a place where we could sit and share meals. Work on our laptops. Read the paper over coffee and talk about our day over a glass of wine. The existing floor plan made it hard to create a comfortable sitting space.
We went back forth with ideas; shared concepts with friends and family. I spent hours reading home magazines and became an avid visitor to websites like Houzz. My husband and I drew endless sketches of possible floor plans—I thought about gutting one of the small bedrooms off the kitchen. He needed an office space somewhere.
We considered redesigning the old pantry into a dining nook, but our son, a landscape designer said, “Why would you want to sit and look at the driveway? The dining area should be on the other side of the house looking out over your garden!” My stepfather, an engineer and a talented artist, drew up a plan and suggested knocking down the adjoining bedroom wall and putting in a solid expanse of windows looking out towards the perennial garden.
Finally we decided it was time to hire a contractor. We hired Scott Peacock of Osterville, who came highly recommended. We liked Scott right away: he was easy to talk to, really listened, and loved old houses. The three of us came to an agreement pretty quickly; the bedroom wall had to come down to create a dining area with a view of the garden and we could create enough space to add a small office for my husband.
My stepdad’s wall of windows made the cut and Scott suggested Anderson’s Architectural windows, which would match the house’s old, six over six windows. “We chose the Anderson Architectural Series because the windows give you the true, single-thickness appearance of the house’s original single-pane glass windows with wooden dividers,” says Scott.
We agreed on replacing the floor with fir, to match the original floors throughout the house and hired Centerville’s FL Hardwood Floors. Scott came up with plans to remodel some of the remaining cabinets and build new ones with places for recycling and extra storage space, freeing up shelves for china.
“I knew that Susan and Steve wanted to save the existing kitchen, but that they really needed more usable space,” says Scott from his office in Osterville. “We decided to update the sink wall with a new farmer’s sink, new cabinets, a recycling area, yet we kept the design in keeping with the existing kitchen and even using the original black cast-iron drawer pulls on the new pine cabinets. The new windows showcased Susan’s garden and added so much light to the space—it was great to be part of the redesign of this old house, to work as a team and come out with such a great result.”
The wall of windows cast so much light into the space that we knew we wanted to spend as much time as possible there. We asked Scott to build us a window bench, which his crew designed and built in the company’s Marstons Mills woodworking shop. New shelves were added above the windows and several spots throughout the kitchen to display china, family photos, and collectibles. The old pantry was rebuilt with some new shelves, making it possible to move all the food out of the kitchen cabinets.
In a last minute flash of inspiration, Scott opened up several areas of walled off space above the cabinets, hand-fashioning attractive wooden arches with trim that matched existing moldings. The spaces are ingenious display areas for interesting china, a glass collection, and plants.
Next we turned to the countertops, which can be one of the most challenging things about remodeling a kitchen. There are so many choices available and it is such a crucial decision. It seems easy to replace almost everything else in a kitchen if you choose something that you don’t like, but ripping up the countertops for a second option because you don’t like the color or the design could be an expensive process.
We quickly realized that we needed some expert help in this department and turned to Coastal N Counters in Mashpee. Stacey Ducharme and her husband, Mark, operate this conveniently located business right off Route 28. Stacey provided invaluable, candid assistance, helping us choose a countertop that would work with our color palette and also suggesting a surface that is beautiful, but also durable and easy to work on. Stacey quickly steered me away from choosing black Corian countertops; I had seen a photo of a kitchen similar to ours in a national magazine and loved the simplicity of the black surface.
“Black countertops are great for families who will not be working hard on their surface—but you have already told me you are a gardener and a flower arranger and the first time you do a floral design on black countertops, there will be scratches everywhere that can be hard to remove,” said Stacey. “Let me show you a Corian by Dupont that will work perfectly with your Quimper china collection as well as with the warm ivory tones of the paint on the walls and cabinets, and I promise you will love these countertops!”
Stacey recommended a wide Glendale edge and wall splashes several inches high for sloppy gardeners. She provided me with a big sample of Corian’s “Saffron” that looked like marble. As soon as I laid down the sample on the existing kitchen counters, I knew she was right. Within a week, Coastal N Counters’ friendly crew arrived and installed the countertops. The warm gold and sand-hued patterns reminded me of the beach in the summer sun and gave the entire kitchen a brightness that still makes me happy; especially on dark winter days.
Before the final floor was put down, we chose warm off-white paint for the walls and the woodwork and at Scott’s suggestion, a bright white ceiling paint to lighten the space even further. We traveled to Orleans and picked up three handsome, hand-crafted ceiling lanterns from Nauset Lantern. Reminiscent of lighting created for ships featuring brass or copper surrounds around an onion shaped glass, the lanterns cast a rippling glow of light on the ceiling.
When the last carpenter left, we brought in a table and chairs to the new nook and sat, looking out at the garden. The whole kitchen glowed with light. We opened the windows and the scent of roses from the garden outside floated in. I put some Quimper china on the shelves and tried to figure out how to decorate all the marvelous new space on the shelves and in the cabinets.
This is another one of those moments when turning to a professional can really make a difference to the final design of your kitchen. or any interior in your home. I asked Michele Chagnon-Holbrook, the owner of Casabella Home Furnishings in Sandwich to come and help me put the finishing touches on the kitchen.
“Kitchens should always reflect your own personal style,” says Michele, whose lovely home furnishings shop is on Route 6A. “By simply adding a few key touches to your kitchen, giving it a warm and inviting look, you can create a beautiful space in just a day.”
After visiting our kitchen and seeing the garden, Michele had a theme in mind: a seaside garden. “A garden is such a peaceful place and it provides the ideal theme for a kitchen’s design. Bringing the outside in and creating a garden/seaside look is easier than you think,” the interior designer explains.
In just a few short hours working with Michele, nature reigned in our kitchen. “Designed with a subtle aquatic/garden theme in mind, this kitchen relies on natural elements to blur the line between outdoors and indoors,” says Michele. “Casual, shore-inspired furniture pieces and antiques with wood and woven finishes act as neutrals in the room. Earthy greens mixed with beachy textures mimic a relaxed seascape. Remember—seaside decorating is just not about shells and boats!”
Michele explains that kitchen shelves do not need to be just for plates and glassware. “We decided to think outside the box and sprinkle in the unexpected,” she says of the kitchen’s design. “The beauty of decorating in a garden/seaside theme is that it can compliment your own keepsakes. We embraced decorating diversity here and paired the old with the new on the additional shelves and recently opened spaces by taking glassware and plates that have been in the family for generations and mixing in beautiful greenery from the homeowner’s garden, along with family pictures in frames from Casabella.”
When our kitchen was done and all the professionals—now good friends—had packed up the last tool and measuring tape, we sat down on a late summer afternoon and watched the sun set in the garden outside our kitchen windows. The kitchen glowed with light from the new windows, bright everywhere on new countertops, along pillows piled high on our bench, and on old treasures and new in every corner.
Maybe someday, people will sit in our kitchen a century from now and wonder how someone chose to create this kitchen full of light that brings the outside in all year-round. I hope they love it as much as we do.