• December 13, 2004

Kitchen Archaeology

Kitchens, Restoration Diary

My Mom sent me “Shop Drawings for Craftsman Interiors, Cabinets, Moldings, & Built-ins For Every Room In The Home” for an early birthday present. A section titled “Kitchen Nook” caught my eye. I have often wondered why our house didn’t have a kitchen nook or as I have more commonly heard it referred to, a breakfast nook?


Many bungalows in our neighborhood have breakfast nooks and I’ve always been a little jealous that we don’t have one.

If space allows, every house should have a nook-a delightful little space off the kitchen for breakfast or lunch, a place for kids to do homework while dinner is being prepared, the ideal spot for coffee and conversation.

The accompanying illustration originally printed in Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman magazine really got my attention. The placement of the nook was in the exact spot where one our of our built-in cupboards resides. The illustration shows a very humble opening in a wall with simple molding around the opening, nothing eleborate – almost like box with a window added onto the side of a kitchen.


Why is this in any way significant? On the other side of the wall is a small half-bath that is exactly the same width as the cupboard. We know this room is original to the house but couldn’t figure out it’s original purpose? It never made sense to me why there was a small room off the back of the house that could only be accessed from the outside, off of an open back porch.

It makes more sense that this room (currently our downstairs half-bath) wasn’t open to the outside but was really a nook off the kitchen. There is room enough for 2 built-in benches with a table between them. The existing window would have been perfectly centered on the wall over table.


It is possible that the nook was removed to add a bathroom downstairs and a built-in cupboard was placed in the opening to add more storage in the kitchen. If this happened, it would have been a change made fairly early on because the cupboard is very well crafted out of Douglas fir, although it’s in rather poor condition now.

Changes that were made after the original owners sold the house were not well crafted and usually haphazardly pulled together out of available materials. Although, it would not have been out of character for the original family to have made changes to the house. We have on record that they added an upstairs sleeping porch in 1916 and built a garage in 1918.


What is interesting is that the molding around the cupboard is different from the other built-in cupboard in the kitchen. This molding matches the molding around the doors. To me that suggests that the this could have been an opening (because the molding matches the doorways) for a nook.


While the molding on the other built-in is flat and matches the molding around the windows.


It seems odd that the moldings on the two built-in cupboards are different. In person, the built-in cupboards are similar but not exactly the same. This leads people to ask if the built-ins are both original or to question if one was added later? The truth is we don’t really know. Up until now I had thought they were both original.

One reason why I’m not completely sold on the idea that the built-in cupboard and bathroom behind it were originally a nook is because of a baseboard molding running along the back wall inside of the cupboard. The other built-in cupboard also has this baseboard molding. If the built-in was added later why would they bother to put in a baseboard?

This also leads me to wonder if perhaps both built-in cupboards were added later? Why would either of them have baseboard molding? Was that common?


It is challenging, but fun, to try to figure these things out so many years after the fact.

More photos of breakfast nooks



Comments { 13 }
  1. Sean Maloof

    These types of questions have always been the best part of having an old house – I have Lived/restored/ visited many houses of your vintage, and my first impression after looking at the Photo would be that the cupboards were added. Basic kitchen cabinet design didn’t change much until the late 1930′s, and doors could be bought at the lumber yard pre-made as today (while stripping several cabinet doors through the years, I have found the measurements and price of the doors under the paint!) For some reason, they often did put molding inside the built ins. My guess is that the molding would be done first and then the cupboards would be installed. One somewhat invasive way to answer your question would be to pop out the support strips ( the pieces that the shelves rest on) and see if there is paint or wallpaper on the plaster wall. Also see if the shelves and supports themselves are built the same way and with similar materials as other built ins in the house ( the linen closet, if there is one, would be a good comparison). Another tip off would be the floor at the bottom of the cabinet. I have never seen then put finish flooring under a cabinet, it is always the fir subfloor. If there is old looking linoleum, that may answer your question too. In any case, have fun, and my rule is not to render anything unusable in the excavation process…( This is based on experience, and it was ugly….)

  2. tchotchke

    Oh, how exciting! I’d be tearing those cabinets out and trying to recreate the nook [ much to my husband's dismay :) ]
    My house was gutted and turned into a duplex in the late 40′s. I don’t know how they did it, but I have the same trim throughout. They added newer windows, and tons of doors, and yet they have the trim around all of them matching. I know there was no way all these doors were here originally – I don’t think closets were that popular back then – but I still wonder how they got it all to match in the end.
    If I was more ambitious, I would start stripping all my woodwork – I think then maybe it wouldn’t appear to match perfectly.

  3. heather

    I know! A carpenter who works onold houses was here yesterday and he confirmed that the built-in was originally an opening for a nook. He got really excited and wanted to restore the nook.

    We didn’t get too far along in planning out the nook before David came in and put a stop to it. David is adamant that we have another rest room in the house. He is right that it is more convenient for guests. So, I guess our tiny rest room which is also taking up the space behind the built-in cupboard will stay…

    But, it does make planning the kitchen a little easier. Now I can entertain the possibility of removing the built-in cupboard and putting in some desperately needed counter space.

    Although, the idea of having a little nook of the kitchen where one of us could sit and talk while the other one cooked dinner is such a nice image.

  4. sean maloof

    When we redid our kitchen in our 1923 Bungalow, we placed our refrigerator and stove in a niche, which really opened up the rest of the space, which had previously felt really cramped. Perhaps you can do something similar, put the range in the middle of the opening and flank it with counter space, and do some vintage inspired tiling on the back wall, or put the refrigerator in there and build cabinets around it to give it a built-in look. Our kitchen still had the original ‘California cooler’, so I modeled the refrigerator cabinet after it, which makes it blend in better.

  5. nonamebrand

    come on, dave… another guest bathroom can always be added in the basement! it looks like a lot of work taking out the old 1/2 bath and storage (you’d find more easily… think vertical!) but you’d be very satisfied in the end!!!

  6. Emily

    Not to cause problems between you and David, but it looks like you have enough room for a half bath between the current bath and the doors leading in and out of the porch. Maybe in the long range plan you could restore the nook and just move the bath over. After all, with the upstairs sun porch, the den, and the front porch, it’s not like you need the extra living space. Plus, the breakfast nook is such a perfect space for a young family to have in their home.

  7. heather

    I can’t really speak for Dave (ok, here I go speaking for him), but if I were going to speak for him, I think he would say that it’s is too bad that I didn’t figure out that the room was a nook BEFORE the back porch is almost finished.

    Maybe I could have realized the space was a nook when all the walls were open, while the floor was torn out when there was easy access to all the pipes, before we relocated the back door and put in the windows?

    I have already thought of moving the bathroom forward because it is kind-of dead space on the back porch but right now it comes down to money and relocating some of the new windows we just put in (more $).

    I also recieved a great book called “Bungalow Nation” for my birthday tomorrow that has a picture of the cutest little nook. I really want the nook but I think it comes down to money at this point.

  8. debo

    This would be something that would exasperate me. (figuring out a nook was most likely there AFTER the new bath is about done.) We actually did put a nook in almost the exact location as yours during our recent kithen remodel. Ours bumps into what was once the utility porch however. If you look at the floor plans in the reissue of the Kitchen Book cirica 1917(?) that AB sells, almost every kitchen layout has a nook in the same backdoor location. How soon do you plan on doing the kitchen? Maybe you could just live with it a while and enjoy the bath as you design layouts that incorpate your nook. You’ll probably need to have a plumber move pipes around when you do the kitchen anyway and you could move the bath then. Good luck!

  9. Kurt

    Wow, great website, and I love your before and after shots of your dining room. People after my own heart. I thought I was the only crazy soul out there stripping paint like mad off wood.

    Neat to see that you have a bit of the original kitchen left. Mine is a 50′s make-over, which has its own charms I guess. True linoleum, huge white electric stove. We haven’t tackled it due to more pressing projects and the price of the kind of kitchen we’d like. Challenging piece of an old house isn’t it.

    I put together some pictures (sorry no website)for others to see of what my wife and I have done in the last 4 1/2 years on our house.


    Kurt Peterson

  10. heather


    Hi! You guys have done an amazing job with your home. It is gorgeous!

    What color did you paint your master bedroom? It is very close to a color I had in mind for one our rooms upstairs.

    Thanks for sharing your photos. We love to see what others have done.

    heather + dave

  11. Maureen

    I have a 1925 bungalow with the nook space in tact — but the benches and table ripped out at some point.

    I want to replace the benches and table and was wondering if you know of any designs or photos?

    Also I think I am going to rip out my built in maple cabinets to get a better layout in my kitchen. Would anyone be interested in them? Base cabinets are 27″ deep, wall cabinets go to the ceiling.

  12. heather

    Hi Maureen. I have a few questions for you. Do you know if your cabinets original? What part of the country do you live in?


  13. Lana

    I have the exact breakfast nook in the first picture (even the end details are the same.) I actually find it very comfortable for sitting, but it is getting too crowded for our family, so we are considering a remodel. It needs walls behind the benches for support. If any of you are still looking, if we decide to remove ours, I would consider selling it. Also I would love to see pictures of people who repurposed their nooks. The low window we have is lovely at table height, but makes it nearly impossible to use the space for anything else. I deseperately need more storage.

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