How to Design an 1880s Kitchen


In the 1880s, kitchens were designed to accommodate food preparation and family meals. A large table anchored the room; furniture and appliances occupied the perimeter. Storage space was spare, because cooks from that era kept few packaged foods on hand. When you design an 1880s kitchen, you'll have to decide how dedicated you are to authenticity. You can embrace the 1880s style completely, or adapt the kitchen's design to combine historic detail with modern convenience.

Floors, Walls and Ceiling

  • An 1880s kitchen was bright and pleasant, but kitchen design in that era focused on cleanliness and efficiency rather than decor. When you re-create an 1880s kitchen, demonstrate those sensibilities in the materials you choose. For the floors, use stone, slate or ceramic tiles that mimic those surfaces. Cork, linoleum -- the real thing, made from linseed oil and other natural materials -- or vinyl facsimiles also give a kitchen an authentic 1880s feel. Wood floors, though not preferred in the era, are a suitable compromise. Paint the walls white or off-white, and trim them with wide molding and white or light-colored wainscoting. You can paint the ceiling white or cover it with pressed tin tiles.

Furniture and Storage

  • Unlike contemporary kitchens that rely on installed cabinetry for storage, late 19th-century kitchens used only free-standing furniture. To copy an 1880s kitchen floor plan, place a large wooden table in the center of the room to serve as your primary work surface. Look for a table topped with slate, stone or zinc. Arrange antique or reproduction furniture such as a chest of drawers, pie safe and larder -- a large cabinet for storing kitchen staples -- around the perimeter of the room. The pieces can be stained or painted in light colors; their styles and finishes don't have to match. Open shelves installed on the walls provide additional storage for cookware and dishes.

Appliances and Fixtures

  • Most 1880s kitchens had plumbing, and a stove fueled with wood, coal or gas. Food was kept cool in an icebox, and dishes were washed by hand. If you are committed to authenticity, use a refurbished antique stove that hooks up to your home's natural gas or electricity. If you must have a modern range, camouflage it with cabinetry that has turned wood legs. Similarly, you can disguise a refrigerator -- a must in a modern kitchen -- with wooden panels that complement the room's other furnishings. Do the same for a dishwasher, if you can't live without one. A large freestanding sink with separate hot and cold faucets is true to the era's style. Although an icebox probably isn't practical in a 21st-century kitchen, you can include one in your 1880s kitchen design to use for storage.

Details and Decor

  • Complete your 1880s kitchen with accessories and decorative elements that are true to the era. Install schoolhouse-style lamps or reproduction antique pendant lights from the ceiling over the table. To bring in more light, leave the windows bare or dress them in plain roller shades. Hang hooks on the walls and ceiling to hold cookware and utensils, and display antique canisters, jars and dishes on open shelves. Stow an assortment of baskets under the table. When you're not using your modern appliances, such as coffeemakers and mixers, conceal them behind cabinet doors. If you have a collection of period utensils and kitchen gadgets, arrange them on the kitchen furniture so it looks as though an 1880s cook is hard at work.

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