One of the things that is important to us is to have our house recognize the past, to have a “new old house.” We are not trying to be purists who research and replicate everything in the house, we are looking for a warmth and coziness and a familiarity brought by things that have been around for a while. One of the characteristics of an old house of modest proportions is the lean-to kitchen.
A lean-to is defined by a sloped, single roof line that attaches to something on its high end. Lean-tos might be built against a tree or against a house. Although not so common now, they are an inexpensive way to expand space. In the Americas in the 18th and 19th centuries, when a kitchen was added to a house that did not have one–perhaps one where the cooking took place outside–it often was added in a lean-to. The lean-to kitchen also had the advantage of not being fully part of the structure and sharing a different roof line. If fire broke out in the kitchen it might be more easily contained since it only attached to the house on one side.
In my research on the term lean-to it seems to have emerged in the middle 1400’s in the late Middle English. It is a verb phrase used as a noun. We have a lean-to. The walls will lean to (verb) the house and we will have a kitchen in a lean-to (noun). We decided to tack on a lean-to for the same reasons everyone does. You need a little more space than you have money for the space. In our case we tacked on a 6 ft by 21 ft lean-to so we had more space in the kitchen and the utility room.
Our lean-to attaches at the intersection of the main and loft floors. The pitch of the lean-to roof is less steep (4 in 12) than the pitch of the main roof (8 in 12). This allows for more head room in the kitchen. It also allows more light into the kitchen as the eves do not overshadow the windows so steeply.
In my research on lean-tos I found out that the sloped roof of a saltbox grew out of the merging of a lean-to with an end gable house. The Andover Historic Preservation website is very interesting. I adapted the image below from an image on their site. If you look at the part of the house inside the box you can see an end-gable house. If you look at the sloped roof of the saltbox you can easily see how a lean-to became a “part of.”
Our house is a basic gable-end house. I did not blend the end gable style with the lean-to to make a salt-box. I kept my end gable and my lean-to separate. I think it has more elegant proportions.
As we have worked with the money from our insurance settlement, we have had the opportunity to choose what we spend it on. Because we chose to spend a large amount of our budget on the land where we are we had to make choices about how the house unfolds. We decided that building a house with “good bones” and working on it as we go along was the right thing to do. For now, we won’t have money for a formal kitchen. I have worked out how to build kitchen base cabinets from entertainment center console bases. I will build open shelves for our upper cabinets. Perhaps I will put some doors on them if I can figure out how to make them well.
One of the great losses for me when the fire came were my tools (A Needle is Not A Needle). I have now gathered about me tools. I don’t have as many as I had but I have a moderate-size rolling tool case and the beloved 5 gallon bucket with the tool holder hanging over the sides. What I don’t have now is a place to build things or to put the things that I build. I feel this more acutely now because we are past the stage of planning the house. We are framed to the third floor and the lean-to gets framed tomorrow. I feel like after waiting so long I ought to be able to build something, to paint something, to have something emerge from my vision and my hands.
My kitchen is going to the that. The console bases that will be the cabinets are shallower than a standard cabinet, 16 inches compared to 24 inches. They are shorter than a standard cabinet, 30 inches compared to 36 inches. The shallower part is no big deal to us since we don’t have all that much stuff to put into the cabinets. Those missing inches only mean that we don’t have to crawl around on the floor digging into the dark blackness of a kitchen cabinet as we look for that pan. The height problem I solved neatly. In a furniture restorer company’s sale bin I found $49.95 ogive furniture feet for $3.99. Viola! Improved style and an extra 4″ height. By the time I put the counter top on the console bases we will have the perfect 36 inch high counter.
After doing my historical color research, I selected a rich blue, the blue in the middle of the iris where it fades from lavender to purple. I have some furniture finish that I can adapt to make the paint look old. A little top coat and we have cabinets.
We want our “new-old house” to be a warm and engaging place. We don’t care if the house is not fully furnished or if some of the rooms are not quite finished. We will love our lean-to kitchen with its funny cabinets. In reality, their homeliness speaks to our hearts. I am not sure if I will ever want to replace my kitchen cabinets.