Colonial Kitchen & Fireplace Designs

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The kitchen is an important room, and for many people, the aesthetic center of a home's interior. In this lesson, we're going to talk about the popular colonial kitchen style and learn about it both historically and in terms of modern design.

Kitchen Designs

Few rooms in a house get as much use as the kitchen. For many families, the kitchen serves as the social epicenter of the house - a place to cook, eat, mingle, gossip, relax, and connect. Of course, for others, it's just a place to store Chinese leftovers. Either way, the kitchen is an important part of the home and therefore a major focus of interior design. The kitchen can set the aesthetic tone for a home's interior. One popular kitchen style incorporated widely in the United States, particularly in the South and in New England, is a modern interpretation of the historical colonial kitchen style. It's a distinct aesthetic that can bring a little history into one of the most important rooms of your home.

Colonial Architecture

When we talk about colonial-style architecture, we're talking about a series of styles popular on the American East Coast in the 18th century that were utilized by those wealthy enough to construct buildings using consistent aesthetics. Colonial exteriors were often defined by exposed brick, symmetry, and specific kinds of shutters and trimming. Interiors were divided between public and utilitarian spaces. Public spaces like dining rooms and entertaining rooms were symmetrical, covered in hardwood, and refined. However, not all parts of the house were meant to be seen by everyone.

Notably, the kitchen was the realm of cooks, servants, and often, slaves. Guests would not see the kitchen, so it was designed for utility, not attractiveness. Colonial kitchens were functional and practical. Interestingly, the fact that the kitchen was the dominion of the working class may be part of its appeal in modern times. American culture emphasizes an egalitarian optimism, allowing both the folksy and aristocratic elements of the colonial architecture to coexist in the modern home.

The kitchen was the realm of the servant

Colonial Kitchens in Modern Homes: The Fireplace

So, how do you go about creating a colonial-style kitchen (or at least the general aesthetic of a colonial kitchen) in a modern home? As with any historic revival style, this requires a balance of stylistic elements and modern needs. The most important element of a colonial-style kitchen is the fireplace. In colonial times, the fireplace was where cooking actually occurred and was the central feature of the kitchen. So, we're not talking about a cute, petite fireplace here. Colonial fireplaces were wide and tall, sometimes large enough for multiple people to stand inside. They are most frequently made of brick, with a stone hearth extending from the base into the kitchen floor.

Restored colonial kitchen

The large, utilitarian fireplace is a must-have in any colonial-style kitchen. Many people actually enjoy cooking in them. Cooking in such a fireplace is generally done with Dutch ovens placed in coals, or pots and kettles suspended on a spit or metal arm over the fire. For those who want the aesthetic of a colonial kitchen, one option is to make sure that the fireplace is topped with a large mantle of wood or brick. Hanging various colonial cooking tools - such as pokers, kettles, and pots - adds a nice decorative element that generates a utilitarian, folksy aesthetic.

Other Decorative Elements of the Colonial Kitchen

Besides the central fireplace, there are other decorative elements that can be used to capture the feel of a colonial kitchen. Remember, the colonial kitchen was defined by function, so it would have had a less unified, refined look than the rest of the house. Large patches of exposed brick give the room a (tastefully) unfinished appearance. Brick was safer than wood in colonial kitchens, but wood beams and floors were still common, and hardwood accents can add a lot to your colonial kitchen as well. Wood cabinets and shelves are popular way to accomplish this.

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