This model of an 18th century kitchen in New England should appeal to people who like historic kitchens, and to people who like doll’s houses. There are lots of “authentic” things in it, and care was taken with historical details. The room is interesting and charming even though it may not be 100% realistic, but see what you think before reading my opinion.
Fireplace and mantelpiece
The fine fireplace has plenty of period detail: an oven set into the soot-stained brickwork (behind the doll-woman), andirons to hold the logs in the fireplace, a chimney crane to the left for hanging cooking pots over the fire. But where are the cooking pots? One brass pan with a long handle for open hearth cooking, but no kettle, no griddle, no spit – not much to make meals for what looks like a reasonably prosperous household. And setting the table so close to the fire – too hot, too dirty, too inconvenient in real life, but it’s the right kind of table and contributes to the overall scene.Fireplace area in the Early American Kitchen. Knoxville Museum of Art
On and around the mantelpiece are ornaments and domestic bits and pieces. The sailing ship is accompanied by Toby jugs and candlesticks: probably pewter like the tankard, plates and other things in the room. The gun and powder horn are nearby. A bed warmer hangs by the fire, as they did, ready to be filled with embers while also looking fine. Hard to imagine the family would hang a twig besom alongside, nearly hiding the brass heirloom. Even though a broom would have been used for sweeping away ash round the hearth, it surely belongs to some inferior corner. Anyway, it’s good to see this one here, reminding us what 18th century Americans used.
A dresser displays plates, pitchers, and another Toby jug. The seats are not upholstered, but two have traditional draught protection with their high backs and sidepieces: a shape that inspired the more comfortable wing chairs gradually coming into use. With their longlasting design, the stools could have come from Elizabethan England or been made brand new by a local carpenter. A candlestand adds portable, adjustable lighting for close craftwork in a room that is already equipped with candles on walls and mantelshelf. The spinning wheel for flax would have been in frequent use in many households, making linen thread for weaving cloth. The miniature furniture here was made by professional cabinetmakers. Originally it would have been pine or maple.
Hanging near the door is a pierced tin lantern, ready for anyone going out into the dark. The glass balls in netting remind me of fisherman’s floats and, the museum suggests, echo the “witch balls” that people hung in doorways or windows for protection against dark forces entering the house. What are the strings of little dark things hanging next to the broom? Probably food being preserved by drying – apples, perhaps? What do you think?
WindowsSpinning wheel for flax in New England kitchen. Knoxville Museum of Art
I admit to knowing nothing about how New Englanders used indoor plants in the 18th century, but I can’t help wondering if the pretty curtains and flowers are typical of hard-working kitchens of that era. Even though this room is the kind of kitchen that doubled up as a family living room, to me the window area seems more like pretty parlour than kitchen.
Is it possible to date this kitchen? My guess is that Mrs. Thorne, the woman who masterminded this and many other wonderful model rooms, probably had a date in the late 1770s or 1780s in mind. The clothing suits this period well enough, as do the furnishings, and the model ship has a (post-independence) US flag. Without the flag, it could be somewhat earlier, perhaps.
Even with “real” historic kitchens, we aren’t necessarily seeing things exactly as they were. In this carefully-staged one, the period seems pretty consistent, but we’re probably looking at everything through a lens that makes the room more attractive than the original reality.
If you like to ID old kitchen items, try the things in a 16th century English kitchen, 1920s ranch kitchen, or a German kitchen around 1930. Also see this list of what was in a Scottish farm kitchen (and house) in 1789.