Home Portfolio Testimonials Press Contact
New Look
Decorating Remodeling

Field Editor: Nancy Wing
Photography: William Stites

American kitchen design might be a useful tool for an archaeologist. Every decade has its own distinctive look, its own stylistic buzzwords. Before the 1980s, how many kitchens had an island? After the 1980s, how many kitchens did not? Of course, each period meant yet another update for the kitchen. In order to find one that had been untouched for decades, you would almost have to look in abandoned homes.

While the Victorian house that Peter and Cornelia Forrence bought in Montclair, New Jersey, had not been abandoned, the kitchen somehow had remained virtually unchanged since it was built in 1888. And the homeowners decided to keep it that way.

"We didn't want a kitchen that you could walk into and say, oh, this is "1950s kitchen or a 1980s kitchen," Cornelia Forrence explains. "We thought it would be more timeless if it matched the style of the house." But there were problems inherent with a modern family of four using this century-old kitchen. For one thing, the room had no heat. The Forrences decided it was time to call in a professional.

A survey of local architects, builders and designers led them to architect Francis Klein, who had developed a reputation in this town of late 19th century homes for his sensitivity to period detail. "Victorian kitchens were built for cooking and for nothing else," explains Klein. "No one expected the master and lady of the house to eat in there with their children, which is exactly what they do in the 1990s."

Updating the kitchen turned out to be the easy part of this renovation. A new system of ducts installed in the basement brings heat to the room. The kitchen is effectively doubled in size now that an island with a seating area left by the previous owners is removed. A modern refrigerator replaces a chimney that was no longer used.

The real challenge came when architect and clients started getting down to literal brass tacks. Klein's goal was not, as he says, "historical accuracy but rather a sense of history." Nonetheless, every detail had to be carefully researched.

"First we looked at what we liked about the house in terms of proportions, hardware and trim detailing," Klein explains. "Then we had to look for things that are of the period, and of good quality, that we could still buy or build."

Catalogues and shops catering to the period house renovator supplied new hardware, pressed tin squares, door pulls, and lighting fixtures. A local builder skillfully matched new cabinets to old ones. New pine floors were stained to match the original (but now decrepit) pine planks that had to be ripped out.

After the job was done, Francis Klein received what he considers a tremendous compliment. "A builder looked at the kitchen and said to Mrs. Forrence, 'Have you ever thought about renovating this old kitchen of yours?' We were thrilled."

Plan shows the separate eating and cooking areas. Cornelia Forrence enjoys extra floor space in kitchen - it makes maneuvering easy in a household with two children.
Victorian stamped tin squares, previously used in only one section of the kitchen, now cover all walls and ceilings. Architect Francis Klein found a reproduction of the existing design, then painted the squares a soothing cream color. Custom cabinets are built around a new refrigerator. Nearby, an antique Scandinavian cupboard.
Antique Holophane fixture supplements natural light that streams in windows at opposite ends of the room.
38 Park Street | Montclair, NJ 07042 | 973.783.0688