Updating a historical English heritage kitchen can be a challenging endeavor. Older kitchens in historic homes often have layouts and features that are no longer practical for modern living. However, there are creative design workarounds that allow these kitchens to be updated and upgraded while still preserving their original charm and heritage elements.

Assessing the Existing Layout and Features

When beginning a kitchen update in an older home, it’s important to thoroughly assess the existing layout and features to identify any problem areas as well as heritage elements worth preserving. Consider the following:

Size and Layout

  • What are the overall dimensions of the space? Is the kitchen tiny and cramped or more spacious? Identifying size constraints will impact the scope of the remodel.
  • What is the existing kitchen layout? Does it have an inefficient triangular workflow or a more organized galley layout?
  • Are there any viable opportunities to knock down walls and expand the footprint or will the remodel need to work within the existing space?


  • Take stock of all existing kitchen cabinets and storage space. Are the cabinets original to the home or later additions?
  • Note any cabinets or other vintage storage pieces, like a butter churn built into the wall, that you may want to preserve.
  • Does the kitchen lack sufficient storage space by modern standards? If so, adding storage will need to be a priority.

Appliances and Fixtures

  • Make note of all existing kitchen appliances and fixtures like the stove, refrigerator, sink, and so on. Are any worth preserving as heritage elements?
  • Assess their condition. Can any be salvaged and restored or do they need replacing?


  • Document the existing kitchen lighting. Vintage pendant lights or sconces often add character.
  • Determine if the lighting levels are sufficient or if the remodel needs to add more light fixtures.


  • Identify the existing kitchen flooring – materials like brick, stone, or wood may be original heritage elements to restore.
  • Assess condition – refinishing and repairing may be possible if the floor is structurally sound.

Windows and Doors

  • Note details of existing doors and windows including materials and operation. Retaining vintage doors and windows can provide authenticity.
  • Check functionality – outdated windows and doors may need upgrading while preserving their facade.

Respecting Heritage Elements

When remodeling a historic kitchen, respecting heritage elements is key. Character-defining features and finishes should be preserved whenever possible.

Identify Character Defining Features

Significant heritage kitchen features can include:

  • Age-old brick or stone walls
  • Original wood ceiling beams
  • A large stone fireplace or wood-burning stove
  • Built-in wall cabinets for dishware
  • A deep ceramic butler’s sink
  • Counter tops made from vintage materials like zinc or soapstone

Choose which of these heritage elements you aim to preserve in their original form, if possible.

Repair and Restore Rather Than Replace

In many cases, restoration is preferable to replacement. For example:

  • Refinish and repair worn hardwood floors rather than laying modern laminate.
  • Touch up paint rather than re-drywalling original plaster walls.
  • Clean and restore vintage working sash windows rather than installing new windows.

This maintains authenticity while still reviving worn finishes.

Reuse Vintage Materials

Look for opportunities to reuse original materials, for example:

  • Salvaging glass kitchen cabinets and using them in the remodel.
  • Repurposing wood floorboards as new wall cladding.
  • Refashioning a carved heritage mantel into shelving.

Blend Old and New Finishes

The remodeled kitchen does not have to be jarringly modern. Look for ways to blend original and new elements for a cohesive feel:

  • Install new kitchen island with same wood as existing cabinetry.
  • Pair sleek new counters with farmhouse-style sink.
  • Paint walls a historical color but use modern subway tile for backsplash.

Maximizing Space and Storage

Lack of space and insufficient storage are common kitchen issues in old homes. There are ways to work around these constraints while still respecting heritage.

Optimize Existing Layout

Look for ways to streamline and optimize the current layout:

  • Widen doorways and openings to improve workflow.
  • Reroute plumbing and electric to better accommodate appliances.
  • Use glass-front upper cabinets to allow more light to penetrate.

Borrow Space From Adjacent Rooms

Can any adjacent spaces like a pantry be incorporated to expand the footprint?

  • Knock down wall to integrate work area from mud room.
  • Steal a few feet by replacing dining room pass-through with counter space.

Conceal Appliances

Concealing bulky appliances helps them blend into a compact vintage kitchen:

  • Disguise fridge behind custom wood panels matching cabinetry.
  • Install washer/dryer unit in kitchen island with retractable doors.
  • Place microwave in enclosed upper cabinetry.

Add Storage Without Bulk

Creative storage solutions avoid an imposing, modern look:

  • Install vintage-style tin ceiling and add upper storage along the new soffit.
  • Place shallow pull-out drawers under existing large cabinets for extra space.
  • Make use of awkward nooks and crannies with custom-fit shelving.

Multipurpose Furniture

Small multifunctional furniture maximizes every inch:

  • An antique cabinet fitted with shelves above and drawer fridge below.
  • Farmhouse table with storage benches and leaves to expand when needed.
  • Kitchen island on locking casters for mobility.

Updating for Modern Functionality

While preserving heritage elements, the kitchen also needs updating for modern convenience. Changes should improve functionality while retaining the overall vintage vibe.

Enhance Lighting

Better lighting improves both aesthetics and function.

  • Install LED track lighting on beams for task lighting.
  • Add discreet modern recessed lights.
  • Update sconces and pendants with smart vintage-style fixtures.

Update Appliances

Appliances need to be modern, but choose style and finishes to blend with the heritage kitchen.

  • Select fridge, range, and dishwasher with retro styling in a charming color like butter yellow.
  • For smaller kitchens, install apartment-sized appliances.

Improve Ventilation

Proper ventilation is crucial for cooking in updated kitchens.

  • Add commercial-style range hood inserted in existing chimney.
  • Install downdraft ventilation range or countertop cooktop.
  • Place ventilating window fan in existing window opening.

Incorporate Smart Technology

Smart technology adds modern convenience unobtrusively:

  • Install voice assistant device for hands-free help in the kitchen.
  • Add outlets with built-in USB charging ports.
  • Choose smart switches, thermostat, and lighting.

Design Ideas to Steal for Your Heritage Kitchen

Get inspired by these gorgeous design ideas for renovating and updating a heritage kitchen.

Mix Old and New Cabinetry

Blend new shaker-style cabinets with restored glass-front cabinets. The mix of old and new gives character while maximizing storage.

Kitchen with old and new cabinetry

Rustic Brick Wall Accent

Expose original brick and stonework to embrace the heritage ambiance. Add open shelving and blackboard for a rustic-chic accent.

Kitchen with brick wall

Stone Flooring

Salvage original stone flooring, cleaning and sealing it to create a timeless slate tile look.

Kitchen with stone floor

Integrated Dish Pantry

Make use of awkward angled corners by having cabinetry custom-built to integrate a dish pantry. Keep heritage charm with glass-front cabinets.

Glass door dish pantry

Salvaged Materials Island

Construct a new kitchen island from reclaimed wood salvaged from the home. The eco-friendly design showcases the old materials in a fresh way.

Kitchen island from salvaged wood

Concealed Fridge

Hide refrigerator behind custom wood doors matching existing cabinetry for a seamless look. Add molding and panels to completely conceal.

Refrigerator concealed behind cabinet doors

Butlers Sink Focal Point

Preserve the heritage butler’s sink as a charming focal point. Flank with open shelving for dishes to embrace the vintage farmhouse vibe.

Kitchen with butler sink focal point

Built-In Chopping Block

Make new use of old materials! This vintage chopping block was built right into the kitchen island adding heritage character.

Built-in cutting board on kitchen island

Frequently Asked Questions About Updating Heritage Kitchens

Get answers to common questions about remodeling kitchens in heritage and historic homes.

How can I add more light to my dark, outdated kitchen?

  • Add windows – enlarge existing ones, add new ones, or add skylights.
  • Use high-gloss and light-colored surfaces to reflect light.
  • Add LED lighting like recessed cans, undercabinet strips, and pendant lights.
  • Replace dark cabinets with light, glass-front cabinets.

What are ways to add more storage without large built-ins?

  • Opt for drawer-style cabinets and pull-out shelves.
  • Add roll-out trays and slide-out bins to existing cabinets.
  • Use compact freestanding furniture like a baker’s rack.
  • Install pot racks, wall rails, and concealed shallow storage.

How do you creatively update appliances in a heritage kitchen?

  • Choose smaller “apartment-sized” appliances to fit the space.
  • Select appliances like refrigerators and dishwashers with vintage styling.
  • Incorporate appliances with finishes to match existing cabinetry.
  • Disguise appliances like microwaves by installing in enclosed cabinets.

What are low-cost ideas for upgrading my heritage kitchen?

  • Paint or refinish cabinets for visual impact without replacing.
  • Update hardware like handles, pulls, and knobs on cabinets and drawers.
  • Refresh worn counters by painting, staining, or adding tile overlay.
  • Use peel-and-stick flooring, tile, or backsplash for easy DIY upgrade.

Should I try to salvage or replace old kitchen flooring?

  • Assess condition of flooring – refinish hardwoods if structurally sound.
  • For damaged wood unable to be refinished, patch, or reface with new wood finish sheets.
  • Replace damaged stone flooring by carefully removing and relaying with new grout.
  • Cover existing floor with new layered right over old if unable to repair.


Older English heritage kitchens can be successfully updated and adapted while still retaining their unique vintage charm. Give careful consideration to identifying any valuable heritage features and aim for creative design solutions that allow you to restore and incorporate elements of the past. Look for ways to enhance storage, lighting, and appliances to improve functionality while still respecting the heritage aspects that lend the kitchen its special character. With the right approach, it is possible to complete kitchen renovations that leave you with the best of both worlds – a kitchen updated for modern living but still brimming with the charm, authenticity, and heritage of the home’s history.