Friday, May 31, 2013

Kitchen Archaeology - Wallpaper and Paint in a 1920s (and 1950s) Kitchen

1920s wallpaper fragment in my kitchen
I recently had a small fire in my kitchen (before you ask--yes, I'm ok; I am the bozo who started the fire by pushing a cardboard box from the counter onto the stove top, which pushed the knob and turned on the burner beneath the box).  It was a small fire, but the damage has caused quite the project in my house.  I'm suffering through what I am sure are all of the typical miseries of a kitchen renovation.  I'll spare you the painful details. 
Yes, that is some of my personal collection of Dansk back in the butler's pantry--no casualties reported.
The fire was on my stove and burned the microwave above and a tiny bit of the cabinetry above.  Somehow this has necessitated ripping out an entire bank of very solid 1950s cabinets.  This seemed frivolous to me, but I am learning that questioning one's contractor about such matters is not advisable.  So yesterday, some nice Mennonites (the local cabinetry gurus) came and ripped them all out so that they could be copied.  And look what was behind them.
Am I the only one who gets excited about things like this?  I find it fascinating to see old and original decorative schemes in situ. A quick bit of history:

1920s kitchen from an Armstrong linoleum ad--breakfast nook, butler's pantry, free standing stove.  Would that my kitchen were this big! Find the image here.
My house was built in 1928.  The kitchen is by no means large, but has a breakfast nook (very popular in the '20s) and a butler's pantry (with more storage than I will ever need).  Kitchens in the '20s typically had freestanding furniture and appliances and often some pretty bold colors and patterns throughout. 

1950 kitchen by Curtis Woodwork--find it here.
Judging by the cabinetry and general layout, the kitchen was likely remodeled in the 1950s.  Upper cabinets, everything built into nice tight lines, bulkhead above the cabinets, scalloped valance above the sink and rounded shelves to the sides--I've got all of that. 
So when I see the wall behind the cabinets, I'm guessing that the adorable wallpaper is pre-1950s (when the cabinets went up) and possibly original to 1928, as I don't see evidence of paint or anything else behind it.  The red on the right side is a bit of a mystery--it apparently pre-dates the 1950s cabinets (it goes up to the ceiling behind the bulkhead), but is only on the right.  Maybe it was a wallpaper and red paint combo? The cabinets were built in place, and unlike today's cabinets, were right against the wall so they did not need a back piece.  Those big white areas are the backs I saw when I opened the cabinets. 

Since new cabinets are going in, I've specified that thin backs should be added instead of trying to scrape down the walls.  I like the idea of leaving these remnants intact. 

This project has given me a new appreciation for Retro Renovation, a great blog about mid-century homes.  I followed it casually in the past but it has become my bible as I consider floors and hinges and pulls and curtains...


  1. Ah yikes! Scary fire.

    But what a cute pattern! :D I recently read about the 1950s posters in a closed-off part of the Notting Hill Tube Station, and it was really interesting. Love stories of finding hidden treasures. :)

    Thanks for the link to Retro Renovation. I'd never heard of it before, and think I'm really going to enjoy it!

    1. Retro Renovation is an invaluable resource--Pam does an amazing job!

  2. What a wonderful find! I too am embarking on a kitchen renovation and it is all kinds of complicated. Saw your post on Etsy and glad I stopped by :-)

  3. No, you are NOT the only person who gets excited about finding old and original decorative schemes! I live in a 1927 home and get very excited about the story my house tells under the layers! An interesting post and that wallpaper is charming!