Secrets of the past, revealed

Isn’t it interesting to look at a picture of an elderly person (or in the mirror, for that matter!) and compare it to their image when they were young? Occasionally we get to do something like that as we poke around our house. We find clues to what originally existed, like patches where radiator pipes once pierced the floor, or the shadow of a tiny corner sink in my already small bedroom closet. I like to imagine how people lived here over the years: what they looked like, what they wore, how they went about their daily routines, and how they reacted to the events that shaped their world. Those mysteries are part of the charm of living in an old house.

What will we find when we dig into the kitchen? Every time we open up a wall I hope we find a windfall of thousands of dollars, stashed for a rainy day and long forgotten. No such luck … yet.

So, let the renovation begin! We start the demo with the white plastic tile that lines the walls. They pop off willingly, exposing stinky mastic.  (What’s in that stuff? I don’t really want to know!) I’ve lived with these tiles for 28 years because initially I thought they had a kind of funky, shabby-chic charm … but I finally have to admit that they are just plain shabby. Time for them to go.

Then comes the dusty work of busting through the mastic, plaster, and lath, down to the studs. That’s when we discover another house secret. I’ve always figured that the kitchen was remodeled in the late 1940s. The arch between the kitchen and breakfast room and the little round shelves on the end of the peninsula are just like the remodel my dad, a kitchen designer, did for my grandma at that time.

Our back porch was probably enclosed as part of this project. Before that, it had been open, perhaps with half walls. With the tiles and lath and plaster gone, we can see that the back of the peninsula cabinet is framed as a wall … which matches the odd chopped-off wall next to the upper cabinets. The breakfast room had originally been a separate room–a butler’s pantry! That’s why the ironing board cabinet is there (when I moved in it still held an ironing board.) Why have I never noticed that the window and door trim doesn’t include the angled piece that finishes off every other window in the house?

As the kitchen is confugred today, it’s light and bright, even during a Seattle winter. But it must have been quite dark with the breakfast room’s east-facing windows hidden in a pantry.

White-painted bead board paneling will replace the tiles. But first … we need a little electrical work done.


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