Posted by: christinelaennec | September 4, 2012

The “granny nook”

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 in our kitchen before the new linoleum was laid.

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:

Our Son and the Dafter at the computer in the Granny Nook, Thanksgiving 2011.

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.

Work in progress, where there was once a fireplace.

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.

The kitchen, as was. July 2012.

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.

Tiling inspired by Art Deco tiling in the Carron Restaurant, Stonehaven.

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:

The new (still old-fashioned) kitchen. August 2012.

Here’s another view, with a colour-coordinated Dafter:

The Dafter in the new kitchen, August 2012.

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.

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Responses

  1. your new kitchen is beautiful! i love the colors in it. i really enjoyed reading about the granny nook. i wholeheartedly agree that old houses should be respected and not modernized without a serious amount of consideration. your house is lovely. :) (nice picture of your wonderful daughter too!)

  2. I remember theses strange nooks in various flats I lived in around Aberdeen – my Inverness flatmate used to call them ‘bed recesses’ and I never quite believed her when she told me that in the old days they would contain a bed. I love the yellow of your kitchen room and I, like you, always feel that a kitchen isn’t a kitchen unless it contains a large table that you can all sit around to eat, do your homework at, play tense games of monopoly at and just be together. A kitchen table is as valuable to family life as a fireplace. Judy.

  3. Very interesting to hear about the granny nook. I love your new kitchen, so light and airy what agreat place for family dinners and chats.
    I did love your old tiles though…I adore the Art Deco period :)

  4. It all looks really lovely, before and after! :) Your new units are very nice, but you must be so glad the re-fit is over! I love the stories of the history of the houses, and I love your sunny, yellow walls. We were thinking we might do our kitchen yellow too. Thanks for sharing with us! xx

  5. I love the story of the ‘granny nook’! There was a similar tradition here in the States with having a ‘daybed’ in the kitchen or near the fireplace for those that were ill or for ‘granny’. When my Dear Father was a child, he had memories of spending time on the ‘daybed’ in the kitchen, once for weeks, as he was burned as a child when he knocked over a pot of boiling water from the stove (luckily with no lasting scars) and once when he had his appendix out. I myself have a daybed in my kitchen and used it for the little ones who were ill while I did household chores. Now it just graces our space as an extra seating area.

    Your kitchen remodel is very bright and cheery and looks like a very nice place for family activities and meals. I really love the colors, and the tile work. The old tile work was also very nice. Yellow and blue are two of my favorite color combos. Your large window is also a very nice feature to bring in lots of natural light and I really like your ‘cooker’. The heart of the kitchen.

    But the prettiest part of the kitchen has to be the Dafter! She looks lovely and so slender.

    I will bet that you are so happy that the work is all done and now you can relax in your pretty new kitchen! And Tilly must be very relieved to find her food dish in the proper place once again! xx

  6. Thanks for taking the time to tell us about the history of your home, Christine, …I love the idea of a granny nook and a kitchen with a fireplace and a table where folks can gather. I am using what used to be the original living room of the house as my room, so my bed is near the fireplace…my granny nook :) Happy autumn days to you and yours, from Gracie

  7. Nice kitchen! And love the color coordinated girl – colour coordinations are in general underestimated!

  8. My husband tells me that when he bought the farmhouse in 1976 it still contained the “box bed” in the kitchen!
    Your kitchen is lovely – worth waiting for!

  9. So interesting to see your granny nook after hearing about it. And the ‘glacial’ front room is such a feature of Scottish north east life. Such a fresh, bright kitchen – the heart of the home. Just like Susan Hill’s kitchen, with the table for chopping and mixing and reading and writing.

  10. Thanks for showing us your lovely new kitchen, and the previous model. To me, the kitchen says a lot about the people who use it, and I’ve liked learning more about you and your family.

  11. “We like thinking of how the room was used in the past, at the heart of the families who lived here long ago.” What a wonderful philosophy to have at the centre of your kitchen facelift. It looks great, by the way.

  12. All looks lovely, particularly how you have incorporated the old, tradition, and heart of the home with the more user friendly new.
    The Dafter looks amazing. Beautiful.

  13. Your new kitchen is beautiful, I really like the colors! :)
    I had never heard of the “granny nook” before, thanks for sharing!
    The Dafter looks so happy! :D

  14. I loved your writings on the Granny Nook. Having lived in Paisley for a short period of time in a walk up third story flat of the Victorian era., I am familiar with this, so interesting, Granny would have been snug and in the hub bub of things.

    I agree that with an older dwelling one should be sympathetic to how it once was. Not just going in tearing out walls etc. I think it’s good to live there for a while before making big decisions. I always feel light also is an important factor, what time of day does it reach each room of the house and adjust ones decorating and furniture placement accordingly.

    I loved the tile work you had done and your new kitchen looks bright and a lovely family gathering place.

    Christy

  15. I was born and brought up in Aberdeen and remember visiting my grannie for the weekend and sleeping with Grunnie in the box bed which had a curtain drawn over : ) It was really cosy in winter and next to a black leaded range which was fuelled by coal and gave up many a fine mealand heat but I hated the cleaning of it. Grannie was very particular and it had to be done to her high standards before we’d get to go with grandad for our reward
    ( usually a 1/4 of sweeties anf a Judy comic)

    There was a table in the middle of the room and two wee chairs by the fire. Visitors and adults ate first then the bairns. The front parlour was as someone else mentioned only used for important visitorsand pristine.

    The only time Grunnie allowed us in was to fetch her sewing basket or under supervision to learn to sew on her prized treadle sewing machines. i’m the only one in our family who must have caught the bug (Thank goodness for bernina though !!!

  16. Love the granny nook! And I’m so glad you kept it…sometimes all the little quirks are what give a home good character. Your updated kitchen looks great…as does the Dafter! So good to see her looking beautiful and smiling!

  17. Thank you all so very much for these wonderful stories and comments. Michael and I are very pleased that many of you like the yellow. We do too (the room faces north so is cold and dark in the wintertime) – but my father’s comment upon coming into the room for the first time was, “I’m presuming you didn’t choose this color?!” :-) Takes all kinds.

    And it’s nice to hear that you think our remodeling has been sympathetic towards the history of the flat.

    It’s fascinating to hear about people’s experiences with real Granny nooks, with box beds and “Grunnie”s in them. And Karen, as you say the daybed tradition in America is a familiar one. As for the glacial parlour, I wonder when that tradition ended? Never, in the case of my dear neighbour, who lived until 2003.

    Thanks also for your kind words about the Dafter. She is enjoying her tutoring, although isn’t able to do very much at one time. However, onwards we go! Mali, the Dafter was very pleased that you put a high value on colour-coordination too!

  18. I loved learning about the history of the granny nook Christine!
    Your’s looks like such a cosy spot. Your kitchen is so fresh and bright! Your Dafter has the most beautiful, smile :)
    “”The Magic Apple Tree” is one of my favourite books :)

    • Suzy, I’m so glad you liked learning about the granny nook. And thanks for the compliment to the Dafter. I’m not surprised you like The Magic Apple Tree. It’s like a hymn to nature and home-making, and community.

  19. That reminds me of the “dining Kitchen” in our old flat in Midstocket Road. In the photo with The Dafter, the door that’s open behind her (or the equivalent) let to the old galley kitchen which was, in fact the bedroom of our flat (as altered by previous owners). Ah, nostalgia. It was a very small one-bedroomed flat, though, and I can’t think of a place where the Granny Nook would have gone – but maybe that’s what the bathroom had previously been? It WAS in one of those buildings with a loo-closet on every half-landing, suggesting that the bathroom was a recent addition.

    Interesting stuff!

    • fifona – yes, exactly, the utility room / back extension is through that open door. It’s really weird to think that people had outdoor loos when these elegant flats were built. (subject of another post!). One of our bathrooms is on the half-landing, inside the flat!


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