The colonial architectural style brings to mind images of stately manor homes with symmetrical facades, multi-pane windows, and columns. While the exterior may be the most recognizable element, the interiors of colonial style homes are equally distinctive. The colonial kitchen is often considered the heart of the home. With their rustic wooden beams, built-in brick ovens, and open hearths, colonial kitchens evoke a feeling of warmth and comfort.
In this article, we will explore the history, common design elements, and decorating tips for achieving an authentic colonial kitchen aesthetic. Discover how you can incorporate touches of classic colonial style into a modern cooking space.
A Brief History of the Colonial American Kitchen
Kitchens during the American colonial period of the 17th and 18th centuries were far different than the spacious, high-tech cooking spaces we enjoy today. Early colonial kitchens were primitive but practical, focused on function and food preparation over form and aesthetics.
The typical colonial kitchen was in a separate building or an addition attached to the rear or side of the main house. This kitchen house helped minimize the threat of fire and reduce cooking smells and noises that could permeate the home. Kitchens were considered dirty, smelly workspaces and were thus kept apart from the main living areas.
Colonial kitchens were dominated by large walk-in fireplaces made of stone or brick. The built-in cooking fireplace was essential for baking, stewing, and roasting. Iron cranes and pot hooks allowed pots and kettles to be swung into the fire for cooking. Early colonial kitchens had no stove and little specialized cooking equipment.
Work surfaces were limited as well. Wooden prep tables provided minimal space for chopping, cutting, and food assembly. Pantries for dry food storage were built into the walls of some kitchens. The floors were often dirt or stone with scatterings of straw to help soak up spills.
By the later colonial era, kitchens began to have more built-in cabinetry for increased storage. Multi-purpose work tables evolved with racks for hanging pots and pans. The rooms remained sparse but functional and focused on food preparation over comfort or aesthetics.
Common Colonial Kitchen Design Elements
While updated for modern households, many classic colonial kitchen design elements can still be incorporated to achieve a traditional look and feel:
Fireplaces and Ovens
The large walk-in fireplace was the centerpiece of the colonial kitchen, so incorporating a fireplace or oven creates an instant colonial vibe. Stone and brick are ideal fireplace materials. For more of a cooking/baking function, install a brick oven or even just an oven front with a colonial-style brick facade.
Exposed wooden beams across the ceiling mimic structural elements commonly found in colonial homes. Hand-hewn looking beams add warmth and a rustic ambiance to a kitchen. For a more polished look, whitewashed wood beams complement the clean lines of cabinets.
Kitchen cabinets with a colonial or farmhouse style featuring extra detailing provide both storage and style. Built-in cupboards with glass-front doors to display dishware help achieve a timeworn, authentic look. Open shelving offers extra space for frequently used cooking items.
Brick, stone, and wood were heavily utilized in colonial homes and translate beautifully to today’s kitchens. Brick walls or backsplashes provide texture and a sense of history. Butcher block countertops and wooden floors and ceilings enhance the natural, organic look.
Colonial homes emphasized symmetry, so placing windows and skylights evenly provides balance. Multi-pane windows with black shutters are a classic touch. For a light and airy kitchen, use plenty of windows, transom windows, or open shelving.
Incorporate colonial-era furnishings like a baker’s table or dry sink, spinning wheel, or even a fireplace crane converted into a pot rack. Handmade pottery, woven baskets, and antique-looking lighting also help set the scene.
Sinks and Pumps
Incorporate an apron-front farmhouse sink or a dry sink commonly used for food prep in colonial kitchens. For a rustic colonial accent, add an outdoor-style water pump next to the sink.
Tips for Decorating a Colonial Kitchen
Beyond the structural design, certain decorative touches can infuse a kitchen with old-fashioned colonial charm:
Traditional colonial color schemes relied on neutral hues like cream, tan, or white contrasted with black and earthy red, green, or blue tones. Paint or glaze walls and cabinets in subdued colors inspired by nature.
Wooden floors evoke a sense of history. Wide plank floors have a more rustic, hand-hewn appearance. Stone or brick floors or tile in a checkerboard pattern provide colonial texture underfoot.
Textiles and Upholstery
Incorporate homespun-style fabrics like burlap, muslin, or gingham, or opt for rich woven tapestries. Curtains should be made of heavy, dense fabrics like canvas, linen, or wool.
Wrought iron or tin chandeliers, sconces, and lanterns work well in colonial-style kitchens. For a primitive look, incorporate candlestick or oil lamp lighting.
Opt for visible hinges, knobs, and handles in an aged iron, pewter, or bronze for a period-perfect look.
Weave in subtle colonial accents like ceramic canisters, a bread box, drying herbs, or vegetables in a hanging basket. Incorporate plates, bowls, and utensils that look handmade and aged.
Colonial Kitchen FAQs
What are some typical features of a colonial kitchen?
Typical features include large stone fireplaces, vaulted brick ceilings, built-in brick ovens, exposed wooden ceiling beams, built-in shelving and cabinetry, multi-paned glass windows, wood or brick floors, and sparse furnishings like wooden prep tables.
What colors suit a colonial kitchen?
Traditional colonial color schemes use neutral hues like cream, tan, white, or wood tones contrasted with blacks, greens, reds, or blues inspired by nature. Soft pastels also evoke a historic colonial feel.
What type of sink works best in a colonial kitchen?
A classic apron-front farmhouse sink suits a colonial aesthetic. For a more primitive look, incorporate a dry sink which can provide additional counter space when not holding water.
What are good colonial kitchen flooring options?
Wide plank wood floors are an authentic choice, as are stone, brick, or tile laid in a checkerboard pattern. Flagstone or terracotta tiles also suit colonial rustic interiors.
Should I have open shelving in my colonial kitchen?
Open shelving provides a great way to incorporate extra display storage in a colonial kitchen while enhancing the rustic design aesthetics. Glass-front cabinets also showcase dishes in a period-appropriate way.
What design elements can I incorporate on a budget?
Some budget-friendly ways to get a colonial look include adding wrought iron fixtures, visible hardware like black hinges/knobs, multi-paned window treatments, and touches of checkerboard tile. Handmade pottery and woven baskets also evoke colonial charm.
Bringing Colonial Character into a Modern Kitchen
The colonial kitchen style transports you back to an earlier era when cooking was a humble, hearth-based activity. While challenging to recreate a truly authentic colonial cooking space today, you can still infuse colonial-inspired elements into your current kitchen.
Focus first on structural changes like installing a brick oven or exposed ceiling beams. Upgrade cabinetry to built-in style with glass fronts to complete the look. Then weave in thoughtful colonial-era accents through your lighting, hardware, textiles, floors and colors. Be inspired by the past while still creating a kitchen that meets your modern cooking needs. With its timeworn warmth and charm, the colonial kitchen style is well worth the effort.
Colonial style kitchens have an enduring and nostalgic appeal, evoking images of large farmhouse hearths and homespun furnishings. Beyond the striking aesthetics, colonial kitchen design also reflects the values of simplicity, functionality, and craftsmanship. By thoughtfully incorporating period details like brick ovens, built-in cabinetry, and natural materials, you can achieve the charm of colonial America with your modern cooking space. Let your creative spirit lead the way in designing a beautiful and welcoming new colonial kitchen.