November 15, 2023

Gathering Together: 8 Kitchens at the Heart of Historic Homes

It’s a tale as old as time. Invite people over for a party and everyone gathers in the kitchen. No matter how sparkling the dining room or how stylish the living room, people stand amongst the dirty dishes and piled countertops in what is the heart of the home.

That was as true for those who lived and cooked in various Historic Artists Homes and Studios and National Trust for Historic Preservation Historic Sites as it is today. These houses, from different eras, in different parts of the country, with different design sensibilities and historical significance, have one commonality. The kitchens played a similar role in the owners’ lives, as a place to gather and to connect over food.

Gather with us and take a peek into eight unique historic kitchens.

A Central Stove at Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park (Cornish, New Hampshire)

View of a late 19th and early 20th century kitchen with a detailed stove at the center. The Magee Furnace from 1898 matches the original which was removed from the room at some point.

photo by: NPS/Don Freeman

The kitchen at the Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park which features a cast-iron cook stove.

A National Park for the Arts, Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park, shares the work of formative American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848-1907). While much of the site showcases his bronze works of art, it also includes “Aspet,” the home he named after the town in France where his father was born. Today the historic Aspet kitchen offers a window into the culinary practices of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its focal point, as would have been when it was in daily use, is a remarkable cast-iron cook stove, the technology of the time. While the Saint-Gaudens’ family original kitchen range was removed in the 1920s, restorers know the current “Kitchener” stove, made by the Magee Furnace Co. in 1898, is the same size as the original, thanks to indentations left on the floor underneath the original. The ornate cook stove in the historic kitchen also holds a place in history. Magee Furnace Co. was a notable name in 19th-century kitchen appliances and won an esteemed award for its work at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. That award, the World’s Columbian Exposition Commemorative Presentation Medal, was designed by Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Modern Custom Cabinets at the home of Sam and Alfreda Maloof (Rancho Cucamonga, California)

View of a kitchen in the home of woodworker Sam and Alfreda Maloof. It has hand crafted spice rack above the dual-copper range.

photo by: Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts

A glimpse into the kitchen of Sam and Alfreda Maloof showcases Sam Maloof's incredible woodworking skill.

The Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts was relocated to its current location in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. when a long-planned freeway extension threatened the future of the home of a man considered one of the best woodworkers of all time. The current site (chosen because its lemon trees were similar to the lemon grove of the original site) allows their home to function as a living museum, to show Sam’s artistry and see how the couple lived, and also inspire other woodworkers and artisans. The kitchen at the Maloof home is as much an example of Sam’s work as simply where the couple cooked and fed others—including President Jimmy Carter—at dual copper tone ranges. Carter was a craftsman, too, and was known to enjoy Alfreda’s favorite casserole dinner. The wood kitchen cabinets, counters, and one-of-a-kind spice rack above the ranges in the California Modernist home were all hand-crafted by Sam (1916-2009).

Through The Ages at Cliveden (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Cliveden's 1959 Kitchen

photo by: Cliveden, Inc.

The 1959 kitchen at National Trust Historic Site, Cliveden.

Built as a country house for attorney Benjamin Chew, Cliveden was completed in 1767 and was home to seven generations of the Chew family. Cliveden has long been famous as the site of the American Revolutionary War Battle of Germantown in 1777, as well as for its Georgian architecture. New research is unearthing a more complicated history at Cliveden, which involves layers of significance, including the lives of those who were enslaved and in service to the Chew family. The kitchen dependency served as both a kitchen and living space for servants or enslaved laborers during the 18th through early 20th centuries. Over time the building and cooking technologies changed. A modern kitchen was constructed in 1959 in Cliveden’s colonnade, a former service passageway, when the property was owned by Samuel Chew V.

A Flair for Drama with Renee and Chaim Gross (New York, New York)

Black and white image of three women working in a kitchen one at the stove, one posing in the middle and the third standing at the sink.

photo by: Renee and Chaim Gross Foundation

Renee Gross, Judy Aronoson, and an unidentified woman in the in the Gross kitchen on LaGuardia Place in New York City.

When Renee and Chaim Gross lived at 526 LaGuardia Pl., the Greenwich Village townhouse welcomed all manner of artists, writers, actors, poets, collectors and intellectuals. They came for conversation and inspiration. When the couple purchased the New York building in 1962, they had the opportunity to reimagine the interiors completely. Working with Modernist architects Arthur Malsin and Don Reiman, sculptor Chaim (1902-1991) had close involvement with all design choices during the renovations. The kitchen was built with a partial wall, open at the top so that Renee could engage with her guests in the dining room while making her famous chicken soup. Today the galley-style kitchen at the Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation appears as it did when the Grosses were in residence, with black and white marbled linoleum floor tiles, solid rosewood cabinets with minimal hardware, a solid surface white laminate countertop with metal edging and a dramatic stainless-steel hood above the range.

Bringing the Outside In at Manitoga (Garrison, New York).

View of the Manitoga kitchen from the dining room. White counter tops are edged with light brown wood and an opening allows those sitting in the dining room to look through to the kitchen.

photo by: Manitoga

View of the recently restored kitchen at Manitoga in the Hudson Valley.

American industrial designer Russel Wright (1904-1976) was known for marrying modern design with surrounding nature. All of that is on display at Dragon Rock, his family home set within the 75-acre woodland garden of Manitoga in the Hudson Valley. The kitchen and dining area at Dragon Rock were recently restored to showcase this striking visual and physical connection to the outside quarry stone walls and terraces, dramatic waterfall, and its tranquil pool. Visitors can see modern materials—such as Formica, laminates, and large decorative acrylic panels—used in unexpected ways. Modernist efficiency is on display with a built-in mixing station, custom overhead lighting panels, period metal cabinetry and 1960s appliances, and an innovative built-in pass-through cabinet separating the areas. Wright also configured an Eero Saarinen-designed dining table for daily use.

See To It at The Glass House (New Canaan, Connecticut)

View of the kitchen at The Glass House. A low countertop with cabinets that looks out into the rest of the home adding to the minimalist open space feel of the modern home.

photo by: Carol Highsmith

The kitchen at The Glass House fits into the Modern-style home. It's design allows users to see into the rest of the home.

View of the Glass House Kitchen from the rest of the house. The design makes it blend in seamlessly with the open concept of the modern home.

photo by: Michael Biondo

Another perspective of the kitchen at The Glass House, a National Trust Historic Site.

Architect Philip Johnson (1906-2005) designed 14 structures on the property now referred to as The Glass House, a National Trust Historic Site. The home is a lens which one can look through (literally) to see the surrounding landscape and see how Johnson’s work ushered the International Style into residential American architecture. The house has no walls, and instead uses furniture placement and storage areas to delineate spaces. The sleek kitchen does have storage space, so platters and mixing bowls for the next meal aren’t interrupting the expansive views of the surrounding 49 acres. Johnson resided in the house until his death, proving that a glass house and kitchen are, in fact, livable.

Made By Hand at The Soldner Center (Aspen, Colorado)

A light filled kitchen with a wooden table, and dark wooden cabinets at the Soldner Center in Aspen, Colorado.

photo by: The Soldner Center

The Soldner Center kitchen was designed to be open and inviting with views of pear and apple trees in view through the window.

Paul and Ginny Soldner, he a ceramist, she a painter, hand-built their Colorado home, now part of The Soldner Center. Their vision was to create a place using elements of the surrounding environment—rocks, wood, and concrete—and create architecture that would improve as it aged. The kitchen in the A-frame was designed to be an intimate and inviting space. Located just to the left of the front door, the kitchen features a refurbished wooden antique icebox that served as their liquor cabinet, hand-made cabinet knobs, and Raku fired ceramic wall tiles. A low ceiling and ground level windows framed the landscape, with burnt orange oriental poppies, pear, and apple trees beyond. Ginny (1924-1995) was known for creating dishes from cultures across the globe, reflecting her curiosity in the world. If Paul (1921-2011) was cooking, omelets with home-grown chives and homemade sourdough (baked in a round Folgers coffee can) were likely on the plate. Meals were served on handmade ceramic bowls, plates and cups created by their artist friends and colleagues.

An Investment in Technology at Brucemore (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

Three individuals Nial Diehen, Carolyn Shimek, and Sylvia Roche, employees of the Hall family standing in the 1960s kitchen at Brucemore.

photo by: Brucemore

Nial Diehen, Carolyn Shimek, and Sylvia Roche, employees of the Hall family, standing in the 1960s kitchen at Brucemore.

View of a refrigerator and counter space in a 1950s era kitchen in Iowa.

photo by: Brucemore

View of the 1950s Brucemore Kitchen with a few of the sink and refrigerator.

Located in the middle of the city of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Brucemore chronicles a century of innovation (1886-1981). This striking Queen Anne home welcomed everyone— industrialists and immigrants, philanthropists and farmers, and artisans and architects—under its roof. Touring Brucemore provides visitors with a guide to the technologies that three families invested in over the years. The kitchen today reflects the Hall era, the family who lived at Brucemore between 1937-1981, and the modest functional kitchen their cook oversaw. Historic photos show a 1927 built-in electric refrigerator. Residential refrigerators were uncommon until the 1930s, putting the Douglas family, who lived at Brucemore at the time, in an elite group.

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Margaret Littman is a Nashville-based journalist who tells the stories of people and places. Follow her work on socials @littmanwrites.

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