Interest in mid-century homes is rising as a new generation is coming to appreciate their open, innovative floor plans and uncluttered charm.
Mid-Century Gone Bad
But there is also a dark side to mid-century carpentry: During the Mad Men era, unfortunate things were happening to older homes in the name of “modernizing.” They were being stripped of their original charm and left with little else.
One example is the elegant dining room in my brother and sister-in-law’s 1908 home. It stood shrouded in mediocrity for over 50 years after a bland mid-century remodel.
Another example is our own kitchen. As I mentioned in my post Kitchen Remodel Part 1, the original kitchen in our 1927 bungalow was sliced in half by a wall in the 1950s as part of an unfortunate remodel.
The purpose of the remodel: To turn the space on one side of the wall into a cramped galley kitchen with a lowered ceiling. And to turn the space on the other side of the wall into a confusing interior room, essentially a wide hallway, which Chris and I referred to as “the Weird Room.”
Why was this ever done? The answer is lost to time.
After several years of living with the space and planning the remodel, it was finally time to tear down that wall and bring the kitchen back to its original size.
I could not wait for this wall to come down so we could see the whole space as one big room!
Stories from the Past
Chris enjoys a good demolition project, and he arranged to work with a demo crew to remove the wall and take the whole space down to the studs and ceiling joists.
Turns out you can learn a lot about a house by tearing out an old remodel. As the wall came down, the stories unfolded.
The Hidden Closet
While tearing down the Weird Room wall, the crew came across a little broom closet had been walled over and forgotten.
Someone must have thought, “Who needs closet space anyway?” And why make the space part of the room when you can just wall it over and not have to use that pesky square footage?
When the crew uncovered the closet, the little light fixture in it still worked.
Unfortunately the closet was pretty damaged at this point so it had to be removed, but it did add some space for our new kitchen that we hadn’t counted on – just right for a planning desk.
A Coincidence . . . or Something Else?
When the demo crew brought down the part of the wall nearest the dining room, an old newspaper fell out. The date: November 12, 1952. Now we had an approximate date for the unfortunate remodel.
But that wasn’t the eerie part. Can you guess?
Yes, the day that Chris and his crew tore down that wall was also November 12.
I decided to take that as a good sign.
Squaring Off the Past
Many houses from the 1920s have coved ceilings and arched doorways. When we bought the house, it had a coved ceiling in the living room, but the entrances to the dining room and the kitchen were squared off, not arched.
We always thought that was weird since, as a design scheme, coved ceilings and arched doorways usually go hand in hand. We suspected that the squared-off entrances were not original but part of the mid-century remodel.
The demo project proved our suspicions to be correct. When the crew reached the wall that separated the kitchen from the dining room, they uncovered evidence that the doorway had once been arched.
We had already planned to change the squared entrances to arches as part of the kitchen remodel, but this at least confirmed that we were actually returning an original feature to the house.
Raising the Ceiling
Perhaps as important as tearing down the wall was tearing off the lowered ceiling in the galley kitchen and bringing the space back to its original height.
In this photo the original ceiling is exposed. You can see the line where the greenish paint ends. That is where the lowered ceiling was hung, almost down to the window frame.
By the paint line we could also see that the original cabinets went all the way up to the ceiling – a feature that we later repeated with new cabinets.
Here is a full demo photo of the same area, taken to the studs and joists. We were happy to see the framing was still in good shape.
Let There be Light
The dark and gloomy Weird Room was finally gone! The former dividing wall would have been right about in the center of this photo.
You can also see the brick chimney stack and pipe vent for the original kitchen stove – located in the area of the former Weird Room. This leaves no doubt that the entire space was once the kitchen.
Now that the wall was gone, the room looked so light and spacious. Daylight was streaming in and this entire space would soon be one nice bright kitchen again.
More to Come
Check out Part 3, featuring before and after photos of our remodel. I will also cover how not to starve during a major kitchen remodel. So stay tuned!
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Featured image courtesy of the Seattle Municipal Archives, Image #13672
For more on our kitchen remodel, check out:
- Kitchen Remodel Part 1: Plan “B” For Better
- Kitchen Remodel Part 3: Our New Original Kitchen
- How to Survive a Kitchen Remodel
- Bringing the Arched Doorways Back
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