Colonial Kitchens

Sally Painter
Woman using colonial fireplace for cooking

Colonial kitchens can give your home a warmth and ambiance with a flair of nostalgia.

History of Colonial Kitchens

Most of the kitchens during the colonial period were separate buildings located in the back of the main house. The kitchen was usually built thirty to fifty feet away from the main house. The purpose of this was two-fold.

The kitchen generated a tremendous amount of heat that was undesirable during the warmer months. By placing the kitchen a separate building, the heat didn't spread to the rest of the house.

The other reason was for fire safety, since open fires were used to do most of the cooking. Kitchens often caught on fire and presented less danger to the main house when placed a safe distance from the home. Controlling house fires was a painstaking and difficult, if not impossible, job, so if a kitchen caught on fire, it would burn to the ground without taking the house with it, and another one could be built in its place.

Recreating an Authentic Kitchen

Whether or not you want an authentic colonial kitchen or desire to create a marriage between colonial and modern, you can have a unique kitchen design that you'll enjoy for many years.

Necessary Historical Features

There are some historical features you'll want to be sure to include in your design to give it an authentic look.

Fireplace and Hearth

A fireplace was a must for any colonial kitchen, since this is where the cooking was done. Unlike modern kitchen designs that incorporate a fireplace strictly for ambiance, colonial fireplaces were utilitarian.

Most of the fireplaces were wide and tall. Some were big enough for one or two people to actually work inside them. Brick was the preferred material, although some were made out of stone.

The hearth was level with the floor to allow for cooking ease. This was the modern colonial stove and where the people who worked in the kitchen spent all day preparing meals for the family. Most fireplaces also had large long hewn mantels that served to suspend many of the large cooking tools. Tankards, pitchers, crockery, serving trays, and plates were often propped on top of the mantel for easy access.

Cooking in the Fireplace

If you've ever visited Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia, you probably witnessed the actual cooking of a meal in a colonial kitchen. Dutch ovens with a grooved lid were the main cooking vessel. These pots were placed on the hearth floor on top of a bed of hot coals. The same glowing coals were then spread evenly onto the pot lids. Game, beef and pork were often cooked on a spit over the open fire. Kettles were suspended over the fire from a metal swinging arm.

Adding Elements to Your Kitchen Design

These are some of the many elements you can add to your kitchen depending on how authentic you wish to carry your interior design. You may choose to forgo the cooking aspects of the fireplace and choose a more modern design. You may decide to add a raised fireplace so you and your family can enjoy it while you dine.

Your Kitchen Ambiance

The main challenge of designing a colonial kitchen is to incorporate enough textures, colors and design aspects to create a cozy and charming feeling. There are several architectural and decorative elements you can use in your overall modern kitchen design.

Windows and Window Treatment

Colonial kitchens had small windows. You may want to add a row of transom windows above your cabinets to recreate the feel of small windows but with a modern appeal. Paned windows are a great element to add as are wooden shutters for window treatment. Paint the shutters white and hang some gingham curtains to complete a casual colonial feel.

Floors and Walls

Wood was used throughout the building of colonial homes and kitchens were no exception. When the homeowner could afford it, a kitchen was built out of brick for safety purposes. You may want to create a brick accent wall in your breakfast nook or the wall where you placed your fireplace. Brick floors were very popular, but many people could only afford pine plank floors. Wood ceiling beams were ideal for hanging and drying herbs and flowers.

Furnishings and Accessories

Except on formal occasions, the family often took their morning and mid-day meals in the kitchen around a large farm table that also served as the area for preparing the food for the meals. If the family always dined in the house, the workers, servants and slaves would come to the kitchen in shifts for their meals. A separate table was usually used for this type of household set-up.

When you think of colonial kitchens, pie safes may first come to mind. This piece of furniture enjoyed a resurgence of popularity during the mid-1970s. Elongated dough bowls or tables are another kitchen must and were used daily.

Your Kitchen Cabinets and Countertops

Cabinets especially cabinets with doors weren't always available, so open shelving was quite common and often used in combination with stand alone cabinets.

If you want to create an attractive cabinet style, consider using hardware made out of brushed or polished pewter, silver or brass. Countertops made from granite, soapstone or even marble will go well with wood cabinets finished either in a light pine, maple or a rich cherry stain.

Georgian and Federal architectural styles were prominent during the colonial period, so be sure to incorporate a few arches as well as dental molding.


A colonial kitchen design can help you create a gathering place for your family and give you lots of fond memories of time spent together enjoying good food.

Colonial Kitchens