When you work with vintage homes, like we do, we come across a lot of old school closed kitchens. These were built when life was a little more formal than we think of it today. For the last 20 or 25 years, a lot of people are deciding that an open-concept kitchen better fits a modern lifestyle. You know why? They can be pretty great!
Open concept kitchens are famous for many things—allowing light to flow through a house, watching the kids as they play and enabling people to hang out when entertaining. These are definite bonuses for some families and houses.
But we also see a lot of reasons to keep the original structure of a closed kitchen. And believe it or not, a lot of people are realizing they prefer the separation from the rest of the house when cooking.
Before buying an old home and tearing down the walls between the kitchen and living areas, take some time to decide what works for you. Here are some things to consider when it comes open concept versus closed kitchens.
Storage: When you remove walls, you’re also eliminating storage. That can mean cupboards, pantry space and even countertops where you place appliances and prep food. Without those spaces, do you have enough storage and prep areas?
Costs: Turning a home into open concept isn’t just about removing a wall or two. It also includes plumbing, electrical work, rearranging the large appliances like stoves and refrigerators, and moving cupboards. Oftentimes people choose this time to completely remodel everything and kitchens can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Depending of the extent of the work, you may have to hire an architect, a designer, a contractor and a construction crew. Another thing to keep in mind when talking to professionals about home remodels is if they have your best interest and budget at heart. Or are they just trying to sell you on products and services because let’s be honest—this is how they make money. There are many great professionals who will work within your budget and treat you and your wallet with respect. But like any industry, be careful of who you work with.
Entertaining: We hear this one a lot. “We like to have people over and I want to be able to talk with my guests!” That’s understandable but it doesn’t work for everyone. Some people love chopping veggies and prepping chips and dips while chatting with everyone in the kitchen. But others have trouble multitasking or simply want to concentrate while preparing large meals, like on Thanksgiving. Sometimes guests are more hindrance in these instances. We also know people who like to surprise guests with what they cooked or want a more formal dining experience. It’s different for everyone. In this case, take an honest look at how often you entertain and what floor plan provides the best functionality for daily use.
Privacy: This applies to both entertaining and a daily routine. When you have an open floor plan anyone who drops by can see your dishes sitting in the sink, the mess from lunch you haven’t cleaned up or your pots boiling over. The same goes for entertaining. While it may seem fun in theory to have friends hanging out with you when you’re cooking, even small meals or snacks can make a mess. That includes dirty pots, pans, dishes and utensils—that are now fully on display as people trying to eat.
Odors: Sometimes a good scent wafting through the air is the best invitation to dinner! But other times it’s just annoying for those in the house. Is this something that you want on a daily basis?
Supervising children: One of the biggest concerns people have is making sure their children are safe. Fair enough. We have three small boys so we understand this one. There are a couple of things to consider though. How old are your kids? How long will they need to be supervised and is it worth the cost to reconfigure a house if they only need supervision for a couple of years? Will they be safe in the next room when you can pop your head in whenever you need? And this leads us to …
Noise: When you’re concentrating on cooking, will the noise of the kids playing or watching TV disturb you? Or will your cooking and clanking around the kitchen bug them? This also goes for others in the house, such as teenagers or adults. And it goes for entertaining as well. If your guests are drinking wine and trying to chat with each other, will the noise put a damper on their conversation, which is usually the highlight of a good dinner party.
Architectural integrity: We love historic homes and buildings! If you have a vintage house, consider whether or not the changes look right and fit into the home’s décor and structure. Everything needs to be updated sometimes, but we’ve walked into houses where modern “remodeling” looks out of place or downright jarring. For those of us who love vintage charm, modernization can kill some very cool character. When you remodel a property with a distinctive or historical look, if you don’t stick to it the updates simply don’t look right. And this is something no one ever talks about: That new modern kitchen will be out of style in a few years anyway. Now you’re stuck with an architecturally ill-suited kitchen that will only need remodeling in a few years anyway. Keeping a unique or distinctive look of a kitchen never goes out of style.
What’s Right for You? Every family and home is unique. Ignore trends when it comes making big, permanent changes to your house. Think about what functions best for you on a daily basis to make your house as happy and efficient as possible. Also think about what your needs will be in the future. We don’t want to suggest something that doesn’t work for your family or make you feel like you’ve been strong-armed into anything you don’t want. Just the opposite! Hopefully, this list helps serve as a guide before making serious commitments of time, effort and money.
We never noticed this until someone from the East Coast pointed this out: In California we use Christmas lights all year round. That’s not counting when we forget to take down your house lights outside. We’re just festive people.
But it got us to thinking—lights are fun and really can be used all year long no matter where you live. You can use any window but if you happen to have a large picture window, so much the better. String up some indoor lights so they dangle in front of your window. There are lights actually made for this, so they should be easy to find. Plug in and voila! You have a fun accent.
If you don’t want to bother turning them on and off every night, there is an easy solution to that, too. Hang up lights in your window and then hook up a timer. They go on by themselves every night without even thinking about it. As the sun sets, suddenly there are twinkling lights in the living room.
One of the fun things about watching home renovation shows on television is the demolition. The more dramatically someone swings a sledgehammer, the better the viewing. And make no mistake—demo can be fun! But before you start smashing everything up, there are some things to remember about stirring up the ghosts of a house’s past.
Unless your house was built after the mid-1980s or so, the chances of asbestos turning up somewhere in your house is pretty likely. The older your house, the bigger the chances your house has it somewhere. You’ll want to have your house tested for it and if it turns up, you’ll need to call a licensed and experienced professional to remove it.
So what is asbestos? Asbestos is six naturally occurring fibers that can be separated into threads. These fibers seemed like magic for a long time because they are strong, fire-resistant and do not conduct electricity.
The problem is that it’s also toxic and linked to cancer. And yet it was in almost everything, dating back to the ancient Roman buildings. Here in the U.S., asbestos use increased dramatically during the post-war manufacturing boom. Asbestos is frequently associated with insulation, but it goes beyond that. It was everywhere—roofing, cement, plastics, floor and ceiling tiles, paints, wall panels, window putty, stucco, adhesives, vinyl sheet flooring. And on and on. It wasn’t just housing either. Shipyards, schools, offices. You get the idea.
When you start tearing apart a house without removing asbestos, those fibers can break free from where they’ve been hiding and become airborne. Once wafting around in the air, we breathe it in and it sticks to our lungs, causing inflammation.
Before you hit the panic button, here’s something to remember: asbestos products in good condition can usually be left alone because they won’t bother you. The problem arises when the products begin showing signs of deterioration or are ripped out improperly. Or, say, it’s time to change out the insulation.
As long as you take proper precautions, like hiring professionals for testing and removal, you’ll be okay. A little common sense and a good plan before redoing your older home can save a lot of time, effort and your health.
Have you ever noticed those masonry blocks that appear on some buildings’ corners? We see them a lot, especially with some older, more stately places that we work on. Those block things actually have a name—they’re called quoins, which is pronounced coins. Quoin is a French word that just means corner. Sounds fancy though!
There was a time when those blocks were functional and provided walls with strength and stability. They were also used as decorative features that could add some panache to a corner or give the illusion of strength. Building technology has improved to the point that they’re no longer necessary for the structural support. Today quoins are pretty much used as a way to add visual emphasis or contrast. Quoins are usually uniformly cut blocks (or imitation blocks that are cast) that alternate evenly between long and short lengths, though sometimes they’re all square or some other variation.
Quoins were originally popular in Europe in various incarnations. They can be seen in ancient European buildings, including in windows to add strength, and was especially favorable in the 1600s England and France—so the French term makes sense. The look found its way to the United States in the 1800s when we were a new country and our architectural styles were heavily influenced by Europe. We still see them today, especially with European-style houses that are popular these days.
In some homes and buildings there is a small window above a door or up high that can often serve solely as decoration or swivel open up just a little. Transom windows —that’s their name— come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Because they are high up, when transom windows are above front doors or above, say, living room windows they can allow sunlight to stream into a room. Also, you can close your curtains but still get the benefits of natural light from the transom window above. Also, when they swivel open, they can allow for air circulation.
Less common today are interior transom windows above doors or front doors in older apartment buildings. There were popular—and necessary—before the days of air conditioning. They allow for light and cross ventilation while still maintaining privacy because they are small and up high. Today, they are still a great addition to homes for both decorative and functional purposes in rooms that need a little extra ventilation. In older homes, they’re a terrific original feature that can easily be preserved.