I mentioned earlier that we had our kitchen redone last month. Very surprisingly to me, some readers have said they’re interested in seeing the results. But I thought I would show you another aspect of our Aberdeen kitchen (and then the new part). Our kitchen was once a family sitting room in our Victorian flat. It’s a large room, which used to have a fireplace. Off of the kitchen is our utility room – it used to be a galley kitchen, such as you will still find in many houses in Aberdeen. By the time we bought our flat, the former sitting room had been made what they call here a “dining kitchen” – i.e. a kitchen big enough that you can also fit a table into it. This is not an automatic feature of houses in Britain, but it was one of the things we felt we had to have, as we spend so much of our family life in the kitchen, not only cooking and eating, but doing homework, paperwork, planning, computering, and so forth.
The fireplace was blocked off before we came here, but one Victorian feature of the room remains: the “granny nook”:
The “granny nook” is so called because there would often be a bed here for the granny of the house. Close to the fireplace, it would have been one of the warmest places to sleep in a time before central heating. In our kitchen, the granny nook houses the fridge, the computer where I am writing to you, and a bookshelf of cookbooks. Here it is at Thanksgiving last November, with the Dafter and Our Son watching a video online:
I remember my friend and neighbour Mary Morrison (who was the basis for the fictional Mrs. Milne) telling me about her own house (flat) in Aberdeen. She was born in that flat in 1908, and lived there all her life. Her flat also had a sitting room such as our kitchen would once have been. With a small galley kitchen off to one side, her sitting room had a fireplace and a granny nook. Once her grandparents had died, her older brother slept in the granny nook. This room was where all the family congregated at the end of the day. It was where they chatted and listened to the wireless and had cups of tea with friends and neighbours who dropped by. The parlour, on the other hand, remained spotless, glacially cold, and uninhabited. (The flowers her nephew sent every Christmas lasted well into the New Year in that room!) The parlour was used when the minister visited, or when there was a family wedding or a funeral. The heart of the home was their sitting room, and an important part of the sitting room was the granny nook.
This wall is where the fireplace in our kitchen once was. There is still a hearth under the linoleum. The flat on the other side of the wall retains its fireplace, with beautiful Art Nouveau tiling. (The houses were built in 1884.) In our kitchen, this wall is where our dresser usually is – hence the strap that holds it fast to the wall.
Many houses in Aberdeen have remodelled and obliterated their “granny nooks”. Some of the houses on our street have used the space, and the hall closet which adjoins it, to make a bathroom. Our flat has two bathrooms, both of which are about as small as they could possibly be. Some people have suggested to us that in order to improve our flat, we should make a bigger bathroom and get rid of the granny nook. But having big bathrooms isn’t one of our priorities. And I agree with Susan Hill in The Magic Apple Tree who says that when you own an old house, you have to respect it. You shouldn’t just go tearing down walls for the sake of “modernisation”. We like having a granny nook. We like thinking of how the room was used in the past, at the heart of the families who lived here long ago.
And now, at risk of embarrassing ourselves, let me show you recent changes. Here is the kitchen in July 2012. Ten years ago when we moved in, we could only afford to paint the cupboards (already 30+ years old back then). We tore out a greasy cooker hood and never got around to replacing it. We put in new countertops, bought a new stove (cooker) and we retiled, ourselves.
I had found some handmade tiles in Stonehaven, and we had always liked the Art Deco tiling in the Carron restaurant there. So we designed a kind of Art Deco pattern with clear glass tiles, rented a tile cutter for a day, arranged for a babysitter for the young Dafter, and did our tiling. We always really enjoyed those tiles.
However, the cupboards and drawers were really on their last legs, so we had them and the sink replaced. The tiles, regretfully, had to go as well. But we really like the new kitchen:
Here’s another view, with a colour-coordinated Dafter:
The new tiles are pleasing to us, the table is back, the dresser is once more secured to the wall, Tilly’s bowls are no longer in splendid isolation, and the granny nook is back in action once again.