Nowadays the kitchen is considered the heart of the home but the kitchen in the Victorian house was designed to be practical rather than pretty. It was used for one purpose and one purpose only — the preparation and cooking of food.
Today we look for so much more from a kitchen. We aim to make it everything from a place to cook, eat and socialise, to an area in which we can tackle all manner of household chores, everything from doing the laundry and ironing to helping children with homework and managing a busy home.
But you can retain the style of Victorian era houses without sacrificing creature comforts and labour saving gadgets we like to have at our fingertips in this technological age.
So what was the kitchen like in a Victorian style house?
Whether you lived in a Victorian terraced house, a Victorian townhouse or a Victorian mansion, the kitchen would have been built to be practical.
The old Victorian house features high windows in the kitchen to help ventilate spaces which often became very hot. And it would have unglazed tiles on the floor to prevent slips.
Walls were plastered and whitewashed or given a slight tint with laundry blue, which, it was believed, helped repel flies and other insects which were prevalent in the Victorian era.
The lower half of walls were often covered in boards coated in tiles or gloss paint to provide a hard-working, wipeable surface.
Victorians generally used solid fuel range ovens although the first gas-fired ranges were exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and a portable gas oven was available from 1868.
There was no dining table, the daily repast was taken in a lounge. There was no fridge or freezer so shopping was done far more regularly than it is today to ensure the freshness of food to you needed little storage space.
In fact, there wasn’t much storage space at all as there weren’t too many gadgets to cram into cupboards and pots and pans were often hung from airers on the ceiling.
Top tips to help retain that Victorian house charm
Victorians loved heritage colours, the darker shades of red and green, and used them in the kitchen with utter abandon. You can modify the look by restricting it to one one well naturally-lit wall and contrasting it with paler hues or tiles elsewhere in the room.
It is often assumed that metro wall tiles are a modern trend, but in fact they hark back to the earliest days of London Underground. That was way back in 1863 — almost half way through Queen Victoria’s 64 year reign — and instantly add a touch of vintage style to your Victorian architecture.
Collect period items from second-hand shops and antique markets — they can add a touch of authentic charm to any Victorian room but especially to your kitchen. It’s still possible to find good condition glass-fronted cupboards which can be wall-mounted for extra storage space.
Taps are one of the most recognisable Victorian house characteristics and provide an easy way to get the look. Try a pull-down tap for timeless appeal. You can search out original, reconditioned taps from salvage experts or try more efficient repro models.
Original Victorian kitchen sinks were huge and could accommodate stacks of cutlery, crockery and pots and pans and provided ample space for washing copious amounts of fruit and veg. Track down a deep and expansive Belfast sink to fully immerse yourself in the Victorian period.
Reline walls with contrast wood panelling as part of your Victorian kitchen design. It’s cheap and cheerful but immediately transports you back to the era. Tongue and groove panelling is quite easy to fit and is a great addition.
If it is originally Victorian, live like a Victorian and make the most of the original features you have. If the ceilings are high, think about having cabinets that reach from floor to ceiling to make the most of the space.
Accessorise with linen – it’s relatively easy to pick up old linen or to buy tablecloths, runners and napkins which reflect the Victorian style. William Morris designs such as the Strawberry Thief are timeless and you will never bore of them.
Nights were long and very dark so maximise natural light from your Victorian windows by considering a half blind, preferably made of stiffed white lace or linen to give an authentic look. Victorians loved heavy drapes in other rooms but they needed as much light as possible flooding into their kitchens.
Add a touch of grandeur by hiding the extractor fan above your cooker or range with a false chimney breast. Tile the recess and you immediately have a modern appliance with a vintage look for an old-fashioned price.