So how does a 340 square foot cottage have a kitchen with soul?

The epitome of an efficiency kitchen
The epitome of an efficiency kitchen

In November 2001, when Julia Child left her Massachusetts home of forty-two years to return to her native California, she gave her kitchen to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, Behring Center.  She told the Smithsonian curators, “For us, the kitchen is the soul of the house.”

Those words have resonated with me ever since. So how does a 340 square foot cottage have a kitchen with soul?

The allocated space for our poor kitchen had been flying around like a wild Ping-Pong ball on our floor plans. (Remember my earlier note to self…never ask the opinions of others…follow your first instincts???)

This is the wall the kitchen was originally designed for. Nice, long and out of the way.  The bathroom vanity base to the right was custom made for us by Finch Welding- more on that later
This is the wall the kitchen was originally designed for. Nice, long and out of the way. The bathroom vanity base to the right was custom made for us by Finch Welding- more on that later
The chimney divides the one room space. The kitchen could be tucked in the back, just off the deck. We thought it would be perfect for summer BBQs.
The chimney divides the one room space. The kitchen could be tucked in the back, just off the deck. We thought it would be perfect for summer BBQs.

 

It bounced between the original plan, on a nine-foot wall in the front section of the house to the revised plan, butting up against the exposed brick of the chimney in a much smaller space just off the rear deck. Perfect for summer barbeques we thought. We had five feet to work with…a mere sixty inches to shoehorn in a sink, counter top, refrigerator and cook/oven.

My first instinct was to head for Ikea. With the emerging trend of tiny houses I thought for sure IKEA would have perfect options in both appliances and storage ideas for us. Wrong.

We looked a kitchen designed for boats but that wasn’t right either- not enough built in benches or cleverly hidden cabinets to store things in. I kept researching small-scale appliances only to discover they were exorbitantly expensive. What to do, what to do.

Will, my hero, discovered Acme Kitchens in Hudson, NY.

Acme has been in business for 80 plus years and specializes in custom-built kitchenettes. This place is pretty cool and I will post more about Acme in another blog. Acme produced a kitchen to our specifications, sixty inches long, fully loaded with all appliances, even a gas cooktop. They shipped it to us in a box. Seriously.

Will arriving with our kitchen...complete with refrigerator and freezer, sink, faucet, oven and gas cooktop!
Will arriving with our kitchen…complete with refrigerator and freezer, sink, faucet, oven and gas cooktop!
The kitchen arrives on the deck
The kitchen arrives on the deck

We unwrapped the kitchen and installed it in the back of the white cottage.

This is the kitchen- we pulled out the refrigerator to make it easier to move into position. Pretty efficient.
This is the kitchen- we pulled out the refrigerator to make it easier to move into position. Pretty efficient.
The kitchen is being installed next to chimney
The kitchen is being installed next to chimney

It fit pretty snugly into the space and was perfect access for all the outdoor dining we anticipated doing on our deck. The electricity and gas lines were hooked up. Will and I made a mad dash to Ikea for some cool minimalist storage ideas.

 

Efficient kitchen but little room for storage so we turned to Ikea for some good ideas. This turned out to be a winner.
Efficient kitchen but little room for storage so we turned to Ikea for some good ideas. This turned out to be a winner.
Who doesn't love Ikea's directions?
Who doesn’t love Ikea’s directions?

Kitchen installed- tick that box.

Ha- not so fast.

No sooner was the kitchen in place then we decided it was in the wrong place. We kept looking at clean open space in the front of the cottage. It was calling us. Will unhooked the electricity, shut down the gas lines and moved it to the front.

It looked pretty forlorn, all by itself, there in the living space. Downright soul less in fact.

Will decided to move the kitchen to the original spot. Much better
Will decided to move the kitchen to the original spot. Much better

A much improved location…but giving it soul quickly became our next mission.

 

If only these walls could talk!

The red house holds a lot of secrets. First secret was the hidden door Will discovered in between the kitchen and the dining room. And then came the wallpaper that revealed itself, hiding behind the lathe and plaster, when Will started tearing down the walls of the dining room.

Buried under the Under the plaster and lathe we discover wall paper which had been applied directly onto the wall planks
Buried under the Under the plaster and lathe we discover wall paper which had been applied directly onto the wall planks

As Will worked his way around the dining room, tearing down every square nail, ripping off every inch of lathe and plaster, we discovered there was not just one, but two layers of wall paper and a border on the plank walls.

Dining room, original planks and wall paper
Dining room, original planks and wall paper

It was a pretty darn cool discovery. However, neither one of us knew much about wallpaper. We had no idea what this discovery could possibly tell us about the house or its former owners. I can’t speak for Will, but I can tell you my knowledge of wallpaper is limited to licking lollipops while my mother poured over enormously large and heavy books filled with reams of wallpaper samples when she fell into full blown decorating mode. The shopkeeper let my mother take the old books home and she would spend hours re wall papering my dollhouse. Lollipops and doll houses is where I draw the line. I was clearly not educated or equipped to handle our new discovery.

Will and I, eager to show off our latest discovery, invited our neighbor Carl Sprague  http://www.carlsprague.com/and his mother Tjasa Sprague ( famous for her tireless work on restoration of Ventfort Hall , http://gildedage.org, the guilded age mansion and museum  in Lenox, MA) who have a wonderful appreciation and curiosity for such things to come see our latest findings. They snapped pictures and ooohed and awed and then told Robert Kelly, a renowned expert on wallpaper, to come see for himself.

I asked Mr. Kelly how he got so interested in wallpaper. He started out innocently enough as a painter/paperhanger in his hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts and little by little got pulled into the romance and history of wallpaper — one of the most prolific and enjoyable decorative materials ever invented. After a long career spanning over thirty plus years working with wallpaper in historic homes (including Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, Martin Van Buren’s Lindenwald, Washington Place in Hawaii and the Governor’s Mansion in the Virgin Islands..(And now the Red Cottage), he turned to writing. His first full-length book is the Backstory of Wallpaper, published on September 12, 2013. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0985656107 . It has been nominated for the Historic New England book prize and nominated for the Lee Nelson Book Award of the association for Preservation Technology. Mr. Kelly also has a wonderful blog, http://wallpaperscholarblog.blogspot.com/

 

 

We were in the hands of an expert. From Mr. Kelly’s wallpaper interpretations we learned a few more secrets about the age of the house and who may have lived there.

 

The front room, aka the dining room, which is original to the building of the house, has unpainted plank walls that are 9”x15” wide and run vertically for the most part. The middle section of the wall facing the street is paneled horizontally. In preparation for wallpaper the grooves of the tongue and groove planks are filled with a cement-like substance but it was impossible to determine when this was done. Since the planks remain unpainted it is possible that the planks were not decorated for some time in the 18th century and early 19th century.

 

By the mid-eighteenth century, Britain was the leading wallpaper manufacturer in Europe, exporting vast quantities to Europe in addition to selling on the middle-class British market. Fashionable eighteenth century Americans purchased wallpapers from France and England. The origin of the paper in the red house was distinctly American. It was of poor quality in Mr. Kelly’s professional opinion, and the application of the wallpaper was also poorly done, leading him to surmise that the people who lived in the house were not entirely well off but wanted to appear as such.

 

By the 18th century designs include panoramic views of antique architecture, exotic landscapes and pastoral subjects, as well as repeating patterns of stylized flowers, people and animals. The foliate leaf/vine pattern paper is a repeating pattern that is made from hand carved blocks.

This is the first layer of wall paper we found under the lathe and plaster. The width of the paper is 19 1/2 inches wide.  It was applied directly to the plank walls. Although the leaf/vine pattern is French inspired, it is definitely an American copy. The whitish/pinkish ground color was brushed on the paper first before the yellow and red design was applied. The block cutting and printing is indifferent and Mr. Kelly felt "everything about the paper suggests a low cost when it was first purchased and hung. The very wide overlap of an inch is often found in 18th century work, less often in early 19th century work. This suggest that a country handyman was given the assignment of hanging the paper. The numerous mismatches reinforce this assumption." 18th century....1700s.  This is some kind of old wallpaper!
This is the first layer of wall paper we found under the lathe and plaster. The width of the paper is 19 1/2 inches wide. It was applied directly to the plank walls. Although the leaf/vine pattern is French inspired, it is definitely an American copy. The whitish/pinkish ground color was brushed on the paper first before the yellow and red design was applied. The block cutting and printing is indifferent and Mr. Kelly felt “everything about the paper suggests a low cost when it was first purchased and hung. The very wide overlap of an inch is often found in 18th century work, less often in early 19th century work. This suggest that a country handyman was given the assignment of hanging the paper. The numerous mismatches reinforce this assumption.”
18th century….1700s. This is some kind of old wallpaper!

 

We found this block printed border applied above the red leaf paper on the plank walls in a few places. The design, inspired by French patterns, is American. The border is about 5 3/4 inches high. Seven color registration dots can be seen on the selvedge edge. Printing colors; blue, tan, yellow, white and gray. The selvedge edge should not be visible, suggesting that it was hung by someone "unfamiliar with professional practice"
We found this block printed border applied above the red leaf paper on the plank walls in a few places. The design, inspired by French patterns, is American. The border is about 5 3/4 inches high. Seven color registration dots can be seen on the selvedge edge. Printing colors; blue, tan, yellow, white and gray. The selvedge edge should not be visible, suggesting that it was hung by someone “unfamiliar with professional practice”
Two layers of wall paper on the dining room walls. The white ground paper layered over the red.
Two layers of wall paper on the dining room walls. The white ground paper layered over the red.
This ashlar block pattern wallpaper was layered on top of the existing red leaf wallpaper. We think it dates back  one hundred fifty years or so, circa 1840-1860. Each sheet measures 14 inches high by 20 inches wide. The thickness of the ink suggests this was block printed. It is typical of low- priced American wallpaper of that period.  The design is considered "especially naive" and influenced by typical indigenous woodcut commercial designs used in newspaper cuts, stenciling, advertising etc. The paper was often mis-matched, indicative of an amateur hanging job.
This ashlar block pattern wallpaper was layered on top of the existing red leaf wallpaper. We think it dates back one hundred fifty years or so, circa 1840-1860. Each sheet measures 14 inches high by 20 inches wide. The thickness of the ink suggests this was block printed.
It is typical of low- priced American wallpaper of that period. The design is considered “especially naive” and influenced by typical indigenous woodcut commercial designs used in newspaper cuts, stenciling, advertising etc.
The paper was often mis-matched, indicative of an amateur hanging job.

Things I never knew…the real key to determine the age of the paper is whether the paper is “joined” paper or “continuous” paper. Joined paper was necessary prior to the invention of continuous papermaking machines; the method was to paste the edges and join the sheets together end to end into long rolls. The paper was then grounded in color and finally printed upon.

Continuous paper was documented for commercial use in France by 1831 and advertised in 1835 in several locations in the US. It is logical to assume that continuous paper gradually edged out joined paper over a 5 to 10 year span so that by 1845 practically all wallpaper would have been continuous.

What Mr. Kelly found surprising and the incongruity hard to explain is that the underlying wallpaper is NOT joined paper, while the one on top IS. The underlying paper may be an early cylinder paper, which was known to have been produced in Berkshire County. The Berkshire connection is especially interesting because of the existence of the Laflin wallpaper factory in Lee, Massachusetts, 1825-1837.