Most of you already know we are passionate about historic preservation here at Keperling Preservation Services. And it is our goal to share that passion with others not only by physically preserving the built environment, but also by providing educational materials via blog posts, “coffee break” videos, email newsletters, and podcasts

 

To our surprise and delight, we were recently featured on a list of “11 Great Podcasts for Historic Preservation Fans” posted by Nicholas Som of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. We sincerely appreciate this “shout out” and hope that it encourages people to take the time to not only listen to our podcasts, but the other great podcasts featured as well. All of these podcasts provide access to a wide-variety of historic preservation information – we’ve been known to discuss anything from preserving unique local barns to paranormal encounters – and there’s a little something for everyone.

One of the most rewarding things about it is getting to connect with people in other niches of preservation who are just as passionate as we are. We hope these connections can connect our audience, too.

We’d like to thank you, for tuning in. 

“The past is not the property of historians; it is a public possession. It belongs to anyone who is aware of it, and it grows by being shared. It sustains the whole society, which always needs the identity that only the past can give.” – William J. Murtagh

You might have guessed by now, but we’re passionate about the preservation of our built history.

Old buildings aren’t just interesting to look at, they serve as the foundation of our culture – time capsules from the past that are just as worthwhile, curious, and interesting as the people who lived, consorted, governed, gathered, and otherwise inhabited those buildings.

Second only to our passion for those grand old buildings that grace our streets is our passion for sharing what we know about preserving the contributions their architecture makes to our sense of place.  As with many things in life, there’s a lot of misinformation out there and wading through the mud and muck can sometimes be overwhelming.

So we do it for you.

It’s our nature to stay informed about all kinds of things preservation related, and we’re more than happy to share.  Our Resource Center is full of educational (and sometimes quirky and entertaining) content to help you learn more about what preservation is (and what it isn’t), how it happens, who’s doing it and where, what techniques artisan craftsman use in the traditional trades, the guidelines for preserving a historic building, how to’s for those who like to tinker, and so much more.

Knowledge is Power, as they so often say.

The dissemination of information is vital to a healthy and thriving culture.  And it’s just as important for healthy and thriving historic buildings.  We believe that the more you know, the more you can do, and as far as we’re concerned there’s no such thing as too many people “doing” historical preservation – the more the better.

Please be sure to stop back often, we’re always adding more information.

Sam McKelvey and Alice French – executive director and director of education – of the Menokin Foundation in Warsaw, VA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss their preservation project, and the Foundation’s many services. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Sam and Alice’s respective backgrounds in history, preservation, and related fields, and how working at Menokin marries all of their interests in one place
  • The history of the property and surrounding lands first populated by the local Rappahannock people, as well as the Algonquin origins of the word “Menokin”
  • The history of the house itself – including its distinction as home built for declaration signer Francis Lightfoot Lee in 1769, and function as the center of a large tobacco plantation – and its unique journey from neglected home, to an actual ruin, to a unique preservation project that will maintain its current condition in perpetuity
  • The history of the Menokin Foundation and how the Glass House Project will allow continued exploration of and education about colonial building practices, unlike any other extant colonial structure or house museum
  • The ongoing evolution of inclusive narratives and storytelling at the site – of the indigenous Rappahannocks and the enslaved laborers – and the narratives’ ongoing development by bringing actual descendants into the conversation
  • Multi-armed approaches to preservation at the site beyond the Glass House Project, such as preservation trades workshops, kayaking tours, educational webinars, and on-site immersive experiences
  • Challenges and trends in preservation, including staying relevant as priorities and cultural landscapes irrevocably change, by evoking emotional connections to history through “dynamic preservation”

 

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Contact information – general inquiry or specific staff

Sam and Alice encourage visitor engagement in many ways. Most of the site is outdoors – 500 acres, in fact – and can be visited directly with safe social-distancing measures, and several options are listed here. You can also “visit” virtually here. In addition, they always welcome membership and donations

 

FALL MAINTENANCE FOR YOUR HISTORIC HOME Fall is here. This brings Halloween fun, Thanksgiving, fall abundance, and cooler weather. It also signals the transition to winter and harsh conditions for our homes. We have often repeated, maintenance is essential for a home, especially an old or historical one. Read on for your fall maintenance checklist. 

Autumn Leaves. Photo by Greg Shield on Unsplash.

 

Take a walk around your property and determine what needs to be addressed. Here’s a list of common fall maintenance tips to get you started:

  1. Make exterior repairs. 
    • Look for general damage to your roof, siding, and foundation – schedule repairs before winter
  2. Inspect your roof. If you have a steep roof or a multistory house, avoid injury by using binoculars to inspect your roof. Common signs of damage to your roof include:
    • Buckling, cracking, missing shingles – these should be replaced immediately
    • Rust spots on flashing – remove rust, and if metal is worn through, paint with metal primer and metal paint 
    • Large amounts of moss or lichen – this likely indicates your roof is decaying underneath, so call a pro roofer to evaluate ($100-$200). You can also prevent this decay by laying a wood shingle roof on lathe rather than sheathing (modern approach) as air can circulate and dry out the wood 
    • Cracked or loose boot(s) (rubber collars that fit around plumbing vent stacks) – call a pro roofer to evaluate (they will charge $150-$300 to replace a boot)
  3. Schedule chimney cleaning and fireplace/heating system maintenance. 
    • Blockages in the chimney – cleaning the chimney (and furnace and boiler) are important safety precautions before turning on your heat
    • Missing chimney cap – add one to prevent wildlife crawling down the chimney. You can find custom chimney caps at certain companies for non-standard sized chimneys
    • Damper not working – look up into fireplace flue if the damper is not opening and closing, to see if there is an obstruction (you should be able to see daylight at the top of your chimney)
    • Clean creosote buildup from your flue every other year – a professional chimney sweep will charge $300-$500
    • Missing or cracked bricks in firebox – request a professional fireplace and chimney inspection if you see any damage (professional inspections run between $160-$500)
  4. Clean your gutters and downspouts. If you are not comfortable using a ladder, be sure to hire someone who can help with this important task. 
    • Clogged gutters may allow water to pool which can damage your roof or siding – remove leaves and debris 
    • Flush gutters with water, inspect joints, and tighten brackets if necessary
  5. Direct water drainage away from your foundation. 
    • Soil that is too flat near the foundation of the home may soak and cause leaks or cracks – make sure soil slopes away from the house at least 6 vertical inches over 10 feet to prevent this
  6. Check the foundation and entire exterior for cracks and gaps. Both animals and natural weather forces can enter and destroy your home. Loss of heat can also increase your heating costs.
    • Cracks or unsealed areas – caulk around areas where masonry meets siding, pipes or wires enter the house, and around windows and doorframes. Do NOT use small cans of spray foam at wood contact areas – it will cause rot
  7. Conduct an energy audit. 
    • DIY – instructions can be found at energy.gov
    • Professional – trained auditors can assess your current energy efficiency and provide a list of recommended improvements like upgrading to Energy Start appliances, adding insulation to your attic or adding more weather-stripping ***The caveat is you should pay for their service – otherwise their “solution” will be what they are selling, including replacement doors and windows which we do not generally advocate for older homes. Also make sure they are familiar with historic buildings and their unique concerns
  8. Increase warmth in your house. 
    • After you’ve installed storm windows and doors (and removed all screens) adding weather-stripping around windows and doorframes can not only keep your house warmer during the winter months, but also cut energy costs
    • Drafty doors – place door sweeps at the base to keep the cold out and the heat in
  9. Shut off exterior faucets and store hoses inside. 
    • Shutting these off can protect pipes from freezing
    • Drain hoses before storing indoors
  10. Check walkways, railings, stairs, and driveways for winter safety. 
    1. Loose, slippery, or uneven surfaces – make sure to tighten loose railings, correct uneven walkways, and free drains of debris
  11. Check safety devices. 
    • Test smoke and carbon monoxide detectors – replace dead batteries
    • Check the home for radon (you can find radon monitors here) – with cooler weather, windows are shut more and radon can become trapped inside the home – hire a professional to address radon issues  
    • Check expiration dates on all fire extinguishers – replace if expired 

 

For further resources and reading:

  • Read our previous post – here – on the importance of maintaining a historical home
  • Read our previous post – here – on how maintenance IS preservation, and find a myriad of additional resources related to home maintenance in that post
  • Sign up for our free Maintenance IS Preservation Report here

Bruce Bomberger, Ph.D., archivist and librarian at the Lebanon County Historical Society in Lebanon (Lebanon County), PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the Lebanon County Historical Society’s resources and services. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Bruce’s varied background in many areas of history, from archaeology to former curator of Landis Valley Museum
  • The history of LCHS and historical societies in general – including their roots as fraternal organizations – and their varied roles in preservation of artifacts and buildings
  • Unique aspects of the building itself and its relevance to Lebanon County history – from it’s origins as a private home, to holding some of the county’s earliest court cases, to functioning as the lodge for the local Loyal Order of Moose
  • Special associations, including the society-owned Union Canal Tunnel, the oldest existing transportation tunnel in the United States
  • Services and events open to the community, including Sunday lecture series (currently on-hold due to COVID), tours, and genealogical and archival research
  • Challenges for LCHS and historical societies in general, including finite financial resources to sustain them, and limited space, as well as the ways which these issues are addressed 

 

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Contact Information – can be found at the bottom of this page

The society is open on a limited basis by appointment due to COVID (MASKS REQUIRED), for services such as genealogical and archival research, and tours – please email or call at the link listed above to schedule appointments in advance.

Consider supporting the society (or other historical societies) via donation, membership, ordering genealogical research services (which can be requested remotely), or taking a tour. 

If you cannot visit the society, consider visiting the Union Canal Tunnel via either the South or North Park, and view the exterior of the reconstructed Krall Barn, a rare Pennsylvania German log barn originally from Schaefferstown (Lebanon County), PA. You can also read more about Lebanon History via Bruce’s recent interview with Lebtown, here.

ADDING ON TO A HISTORIC HOME – You’ve found your historic or old home. And it’s nearly perfect…..BUT, maybe it does not have enough room for you. Or maybe you need to make adjustments to age in place. Maybe you want to add a room on your first floor, or even expand a tiny historical kitchen. Most of us want to protect our old homes’ historic fabric. So…HOW do we do this sympathetically in a way that is not distasteful, intrusive, destructive, or irreparable? Because additions can change the historic character irrevocably, consideration of an addition is one NOT to be taken lightly. 

Photo of a sympathetic addition on the rear of a 19th century home in eastern Lancaster County; work by Keperling Preservation Services.

 

WHAT ARE SYMPATHETIC ADDITIONS?

A sympathetic addition is a newly built addition to an old house or building that is harmonious with and corresponds to the original part of the home. These additions may be attached to the side, or include an extension from the roof. If following the general guidelines of the Secretary of the Interior for New Exterior Additions to Historic Buildings and NPS, the key is to preserve the historic character or fabric of the original building, particularly if that building is listed on the National Register. An easement would likely have stricter limitations and may even prevent an addition, particularly if the easement is written so that you must maintain the exterior as when the easement was granted. Although there is a shared feeling between old and new, NPS guidelines and standards indicate that the new addition should still be differentiated from the original. This differentiation may seem counterintuitive, but since additions fall under rehabilitation vs. restoration or preservation, and since NPS emphasizes protecting historical character, integrity and significance by making a visual distinction between old and new, there must be a difference so one can still identify what was newly added and what is original. 

 

IS A SYMPATHETIC ADDITION NECESSARY?

Reasons NOT to add on. Some reasons not to add on include cost – sometimes an addition is so cost prohibitive it would be cheaper to move altogether! If you are not willing to move, you must consider other alternatives. Also, if you anticipate selling in the future, or even just want updates to essentially give you a return on investment if you do not plan to sell, you must consider market forces and make sure the change is worth the cost. Another reason not to add on is zoning restrictions. If you’re project plan cannot be adjusted to meet these, the restrictions will make the decision for you. You may also be restricted by National Register Status and an easement, as noted earlier.

Reasons to add on. NPS recommends that sympathetic additions only be completed if one has already considered (and ruled out) other options, including altering non-significant interior spaces. Although many homes before central heating and cooling were built with small interior rooms for efficiency, today we often prefer larger spaces to accommodate our lifestyles, and also because modern heating and cooling allows us to. However, smaller rooms can not only be charming, cozy, and private, but they also often contain much of the historic fabric – moulding, fireplaces, plaster ornamentation, pocket doors, built-ins, etc. – and destroying these distinctive irreplaceable features for the sake of a modern “open concept” trend is not advisable (in fact, if you insist on that, you probably need to buy a new, modern house instead and leave the old house to someone who will protect the historic integrity). 

Even so, sometimes change is necessary. Maybe you have examined your interior spaces and realized there are not any non-significant ones. Or, if there are, even altering those will not suffice to meet your needs. In such cases, additions – even a small vestibule or other entry modification – may be required. Justifiable reasons for additions may include helping you age in place, meet code requirements (especially if the building is a business), or for general adaptive reuse, including expanding as you raise children and their needs change. It’s important to be able to enjoy the space you live in. 

 

PLANNING YOUR SYMPATHETIC ADDITION

Zoning and Codes. One of the first things you should do is reach out to your local municipalities to find out what zoning restrictions exist. For instance, generally you cannot build all the way to lot lines, and sometimes there are height limits on projects. Knowing the lay of the legal land can save you a lot of time and money by preventing you starting something that you legally cannot finish. A design professional and/or contractor well-versed in historic buildings can also help with this. 

Budget. As we’ve said before, planning ahead allows you time to save money for the project. Put money aside to save for a project as soon as you start seriously considering the project. Before consulting with professionals, make a list of your wants and needs, how you plan to use the space, and your ultimate goals so that you can prioritize what to pay for first. You should also have an estimate of the square footage. All of these will help contractors and other necessary specialists determine approximate cost. You should also determine which professionals and specialists you will need based on your lists.

Getting Help. Once you’ve determined that a sympathetic addition is appropriate, you can begin your plan. If it’s anything bigger than a dormer, you should definitely get the help of a professional contractor. If it is an intricate design, you should also consult with a design specialist or architect – most building permits for modifications require a design professional to essentially stamp/sign the drawings under the modern building code. 

Design. As always, the emphasis of any update should include being as harmonious and unobtrusive to the original design as possible (with the least possible loss of or damage to historic, character-defining materials). Specifications are listed below (and NPS has more information):

  • VISIBILITY
    • An addition should not be highly visible to the public, and is preferably placed at the rear of a building, or other “secondary elevation” (i.e., anything that is not part of the front façade and is not visible from the streetscape).
    • If the addition does not fit the above conditions – for instance, a side addition – it is best to recess it a bit from the main structure, possibly using a breezeway to connect it.
  • MATERIALS
    • An addition’s color and content should be in keeping with the historic part, but not match it exactly (as discussed earlier about differentiating to distinguish the addition from the original building). This often contentious and confusing point has been debated, and is really a matter of personal judgment (outside of situations that are restricted by National Register status or easements). We recommend keeping the addition similar enough to the original building so as not to detract from the historic building (a standard that is decidedly different than is seen in many European cases, as can be viewed here and here). 
  • SCALE
    • The addition’s size in relation to the original building should be smaller, with a lower roof and smaller overall footprint (an exception being a rear addition artfully designed to be unseen from the streetscape).
  • MASSING
    • Massing can be complicated to explain and understand, but it is essentially the perception of a building in shape (1 dimension perspective), form (3 dimensions), and size. Ingenious designs for additions may make them appear less significant than the original structure, while inside they may be superior in space and capacity. 
  • RHYTHM
    • Rhythm in architecture refers to repetitive use of visual elements to establish a pattern. If the original structure has a rhythm including windows and doors with a decidedly vertical feel, this rhythm should be repeated in the addition as well. 

 

For further resources and reading: 

  • NPS’s Preservation Brief on new exterior additions to historic buildings can be found here.
  • Our archives on sympathetic additions can be found here

Chris Vera, president of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society in Columbia (Lancaster County), PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss Columbia history, legends, and lore. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Chris’s background as a child growing up in Columbia, whose passion for local history developed from working for elderly neighbors – people who preserved local heritage through storytelling 
  • The Columbia Historic Preservation Society’s role as a center for local Columbia history
  • The Society’s own preservation and adaptive reuse story: transforming and reinventing itself from a circa mid-19th Century Lutheran Church to a historical society, and its brush with destruction due to a case of severe mold contamination, and one former staff member’s desire to tear it down rather than save it 
  • Unique aspects of Columbia historyits nearly becoming the capital of the United States, rich African-American and underground railroad history, the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge Burning, and its historical role as a beacon of industry and railroads
  • Local legends and lore – from cryptids like the Albatwitch (or “apple snitch”), to ghosts said to haunt the buildings and local trails and hills, and the many events celebrating these folk tales
  • Trends and challenges in history and preservation – funding being the number one challenge, followed by garnering interest in and support for these areas

 

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Contact Information – General contact info located at the bottom of this page

Chris encourages supporting local Columbia heritage by visiting the nearby natural and trail areas (start here), as well as learning more about the history of the region from the Columbia Historic Preservation Society and other interesting historical sites to visit. You can also discover more museums, activities, and yearly events, here

There are several opportunities to explore the legends, lore, and supernatural side of Columbia, including the 7th annual Albatwitch Festival on Saturday, October 17th, 2020 – including Albatwitch and Haunted trolley tours – as well as a “Fright Night at the Museum” Saturday, October 31st, 2020 

 

Bill Callahan, the Western, PA Community Preservation Coordinator for the Pennsylvania State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO is a bureau within the PA Historical and Museum Commission) in Pittsburgh, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the state organization’s myriad services. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Bill’s background, including how exposure to the negative impacts of the agricultural economy’s crash in the Midwest led to cooperative initiation of a main street program in his Illinois community – a position he credits with his interest in preservation, and the catalyst for his subsequent manifold experiences in historic preservation positions
  • His current position, which involves administration of several programs, including providing technical assistance regarding historic preservation to anyone who asks for it
  • The only way to protect historic resources, and the 2 methods by which a municipality can go about it
  • Grassroots tips, such as networking within local government and other community organizations, and the necessity of understanding one’s local planning processes     
  • A little known resource for private homeowners
  • The overlap of natural resource conservation and historic preservation
  • Positive trends such as increased awareness of the need for preservation

 

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Contact Information – General inquiry here, or Community preservation coordinators by region – including Bill – here

For community grassroots involvement, Bill also recommends interested citizens visit this general site in addition to consulting directly with him (or other regional community preservation coordinators). This site includes community preservation forms and guidelines as well. And Bill emphasizes the importance of citizen involvement with local planning and economic development offices.

Bill also encourages people to remember that sense of place is important to everyone – including saving buildings that make a place unique and hold memories – and this can be emphasized when working with others to prioritize local preservation. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 AGING IN PLACE IN A HISTORIC HOME – Aging in place generally comes with necessary change to your home, but this is even truer of situations involving a historic home. As with many adaptive reuse projects, one must determine the balance between maintaining historic fabric and making adaptations suitable for aging. 

Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash.

 

WHAT IS AGING IN PLACE? 

Aging in place refers to exactly that: aging in the place where you already live, at home. Before the advent of the modern skilled nursing facility, many people aged at home. But for those who were unable to care for themselves or did not have family, they often were relegated to the predecessors of skilled nursing facilities – almshouses, poor houses, and convalescent homes (you can read more about this history here, here, and here). Although modern facilities have improved upon these old systems significantly in recent years, the quality and price of these facilities run the gamut. As the 65 and over population steadily increases, more people are choosing to avoid low-cost poor quality sites and high-cost high quality sites in favor of staying at home. A Porch.com article notes some of the benefits of aging in place, including maintaining independence, staying near friends and community, increasing comfort, saving money, and even slowing the advancement of memory loss. We’d also like to add that if you’ve made the investment in a historical home, you may consider that investment another motivator for aging in place.

 

HOW TO AGE IN PLACE – IN AN OLD HOME

Timing. Time is of the essence – the sooner that you begin your planning for aging in place, the better. It is best to start the process while you are still physically and mentally functional (this young woman and her husband have already begun this process – along with their overall historic home renovation – by modifying the floorplan and layout on the first floor). Timing is also important for budgets, as it is best to plan things in phases as your budget allows. Finally, it’s also good to have a timeline in place for retrofits and renovations; prioritize a plan for which areas to address first based on safety needs and budget. You may want to start with the entrance, followed by the bathroom, and then the bedroom, as these areas will be used the most heavily in the long-term.

Budget. Budgeting is always an important factor in any project. Just like timing, it is important to begin as soon as able so things can be addressed over time, rather than having to pay all at once. For instance, making small changes over time can be less costly than a total renovation done all at once.

Safety. Safety is the top concern when planning updates to your home to age in place successfully. You can find general safety tips for old homes in our previous post, here

Retrofitting. The key is addressing age in place needs while also maintaining (read: DON’T DAMAGE) the historic fabric where possible. Here are links (here, here, and here) regarding general retrofits to homes, and a short post on aging in place in a historic home (here). These should supplement our material below specific to historic homes.

  • ENTRANCES
    • Any changes to make the house more accessible (ramps, etc.) should be made on a secondary façade (not the front of the house). They should be installed in the least intrusive manner to make removal easy and less damaging to the historic fabric. The goals is to balance aesthetics and accessibility.
  • BATHROOMS
    • ADA height toilets and grab bars can be installed without damaging the historic fabric.
    • Using levered faucet knobs rather than knobs make turning faucets off and on easier.
    • Any changes to the bathtub/shower configuration (especially if you have an original claw foot tub,  for example) should be made in an addition (if possible) – a first floor addition is a good idea/compromise.
  • BEDROOMS
    • You can repurpose a first floor room (if you haven’t already) into a bedroom, or put a sympathetic addition onto your first floor.
  • GENERAL
    • Door knobs can be switched to lever, and you can keep originals on-hand for future reinstall
    • Lighting is essential for safety, and many historic lighting companies have ADA lighting with brighter fixtures. Light switches can be switched to reproduction old style buttons, that are modern code compliant.
    • Smooth flooring – can usually be done without much intervention.
    • Cabinet heights can be adjusted to require less bending over.

 

For further resources and reading: 

  • ADA-compliant reproduction items can be found here, here, and here.
  • Information on retrofitting general historic structures, not just homes, can be found here

Dominique Hawkins, founder and managing principal of Preservation Design Partnership based in Philadelphia, PA, joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss flood mitigation in historic areas. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Dominique’s background in design, architecture, and historic preservation, including her early career transition from architecture for housing developments to the world of historic preservation, and her appreciation for the technology involved in saving old places
  • Preservation Design Partnership’s purpose for acting as a voice for clients in figuring out the most sympathetic way to achieve clients’ goals, while also meeting regulatory requirements and historic preservation needs 
  • Dominique’s reasons for working in flood mitigation, including working on projects directly impacted by Hurricane Katrina
  • How translating preservation design guidelines for clients prepared her for flood mitigation planning, by bridging the gap and interpreting the language of all involved parties – from preservationists, to FEMA, to floodplain managers, to clients
  • The methodology of flood mitigation problem-solving: determining flood needs first and tailoring approaches to each individual situation
  • The myriad of challenges – namely, the collective minimalization and (in some cases) total disregard for the severe impact of increased flooding on historic places – and the hard choices that are being made reactively rather than proactively by communities to address these

 

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For individuals, agencies, or communities interested in working with Preservation Design Partnership, read more about their services and notable projects, here

Dominique also advocates for individuals and communities to become aware, engaged, and proactive regarding flood mitigation for historic properties and communities, especially via meaningful conversations. To see examples or get involved, view a previous talk hosted by the New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center’s Climate Change Academy, here, and keep a look out for upcoming Fall workshops and talks, here

Communities and other organizations can also read a sample flood mitigation plan compiled in part by Preservation Design Partnership, here

UNIQUE HISTORICAL FEATURES SERIES – On this 4th Tuesday of the month, we focus on a historical feature that is often a room unto itself, but can also be as small as a closet or cupboard. Its popularity has fluctuated, and its name has changed many times over the centuries. It was once the space for domestic servants, but now is regarded as both comforting and elegant by modern homeowners. This month’s feature is: THE BUTLER’S PANTRY. 

Silver sauce boat, as might be seen and prepared in a butler’s pantry. Photo by Deleece Cook on Unsplash.

 

What is a butler’s pantry?

According to the Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, a butler’s pantry is:

“A service room between kitchen and dining room.” 

 

Pantries have existed in some form for quite some time. Pantries and their predecessors have been labeled or referred to with terms indicative of what they housed – etymonline.com notes the Latin (Medieval Latin “panateria – office or room of a servant who has charge of food” and Latin panis – bread” and “pa – to feed”) and French (Anglo-French “panetrie or paneterie – bread room”) origins of the word. Catherine Seiberling Pond also wrote a book specifically devoted to pantries (The Pantry—Its History and Modern Uses), and provides a wonderful overview of their history on her website.  Notably, the butler’s pantry emerged in the 19th Century England and America and saw the greatest popularity in the latter half of the century. This special pantry acted as a food prep and storage area for silver and china. In wealthier homes, it was the domain of butlers or other staff, hence it’s name. A separate pantry enjoyed popularity in many wealthy and middle-class homes for most of the 19th century, although new ideas and kitchen evolution appeared throughout. Catharine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe were the first to suggest combining the pantry with the kitchen in their instructional guide The American Woman’s Home from 1869, and around 1900 the Indiana-born Hoosier cabinet was advertised as a kitchen and pantry all-in-one. But, it was not until the 1920s when breakfast nooks and other design changes replaced separate pantries in many homes. Pond also reports that increased innovation in kitchen technology including refrigeration and other things rendered separate pantry spaces unnecessary. Finally, in the 1990s a renewed nostalgia for classic living instigated more separate pantry designs, and many people still desire them today.

Butler’s pantries were typically used by butlers or other household staff as a transition space between the kitchen and the dining area. This allowed kitchen smells to be separate from the dining area. Some contained warming ovens and iceboxes to keep foods at the ideal temperature between preparation and serving. There were also cabinets to store china, glasses, silverware, and linens, and often included locked cabinets to protect the most valuable items. Some included desks and other materials for the butler to manage things, and in Europe some butlers even slept in the pantry to prevent theft. Very lavish homes had the most state-of-the-art technology in their butler’s pantries, including bell or call systems to order specific food from the butler, with a servant call bell system connecting their rooms to the pantry. Pond also wrote an article with more on the history of pantries, as well as pantry herms for Old House Online, here. Here is more information on the history of pantries, especially during the Victorian era, and here is a fine example of a high-end historic butler’s pantry. Pantries, no matter how lavish or simple, are the epitome of organization, as conveyed by this quote by Mrs. Elizabeth Ellet in her guidebook The Practical Housekeeper (1857):

“Let there be a place for every article, and when not in use let every article be in its place.”

 

Examples of American Butler’s Pantries:

 

Butler’s pantry in Homewood, on the property of The Johns Hopkins University in Batlimore, MD, built in the Federal period in the Palladian architectural style between 1801 and 1803

 

 

 

 

The image above was taken by staff of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), in 1933. Image source: Library of Congress

 

Palatial butler’s pantry in The Breakers, one of the grand “cottages” in Newport, RI, built in the Italian Renaissance Revival architectural style between 1893 and 1895

 

 

 


The image above was taken by staff of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), in 1933. Image source: Library of Congress.

 

Butler’s pantry in The Perry Belmont House in Washington, D.C., built in the Beaux Arts architectural style, completed in 1909

 

 

 

 

The image above was taken by staff of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), in 1933. Image source: Library of Congress.

 

Butler’s pantry in a Company Officers’ Quarters (Type A) in Novato, CA, built as a project under The New Deal at Hamilton Army Air Field, in the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style, completed in the early 1930’s

 

 

 

The image above was taken by staff of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), in 1933. Image source: Library of Congress.

 

Butler’s Pantries Today

Where to see them. 

  • (Virtual) museum tours – Check out historical house museums – if you’re lucky enough to find an open museum right now, visit in-person. Otherwise, see if their website has a virtual tour. Check out some of the museums listed above with the historical photos to start. You should also visit the Pierce-duPont House at Longwood Gardens in-peron when able, or virtually view these magnificent butler’s pantries (here and here). 
  • Photo gallery – View butler’s pantry images on wikimedia commons and flickr

Where to get them (aka how to design or create one). 

  • Antique/Salvage Business – If your home is missing a butler’s pantry, consult resources in this article to create one if you have the space. Try to find salvaged or antique materials to be most accurate (and sustainable) – here is some inspiration. 
  • Design tips – If unsure of design, check out resources – especially historically-styled ones – here, here, and here.

 

For further resources and reading:

  • For the most thorough book about pantries in general – including butler’s pantries – check out Catherine Seiberling Pond’s book, here. Also connect with more of her pantry resources through her various blogs, here
  • Read more about the lives and roles of servants (and butler’s pantries) in great homes here, here, here, and here

 

Stay tuned each month for a new installment in this UNIQUE HISTORICAL FEATURES SERIES! See last month’s post on Boot Scrapers.

 

SHARE WITH US!

DO YOU HAVE AN ORIGINAL  OR MODERN BUTLER’S PANTRY IN YOUR HOME?

FEEL FREE TO SHARE BELOW!

 

 

Briana Grosicki, associate principal of PlaceEconomics based in Washington, D.C., joined the Practical Preservation Podcast to discuss the economic benefits of preservation. We covered multiple topics, including:

  • Briana’s background, including growing up regularly visiting local battlefields in Virginia, volunteering with her main street district as a teen, to working with Donovan Rypkema 
  • Briana’s additional roles as chairwoman for Preservation Action and board of director for the National Alliance of Preservation Commissions
  • PlaceEconomics’ specialized consultation services at the intersection of economics and historic preservation, including research and city-wide studies, and educational talks and workshops
  • Specific economic benefits of preservation, including that for every 100 preservation/rehabilitation projects there are 186 jobs created elsewhere in the community, vs. 135 new jobs created per every 100 typical construction projects
  • Dispelling typical myths about preservation, including that historic preservation is a major cause of unaffordable housing, when in reality historic districts are more likely to include mixed-income housing than neighborhoods with speculative development (i.e., flipped houses and airbnbs)
  • Challenges in the field of preservation, such as increasing preservation’s advantages for and accessibility to all people 

 

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For individuals interested in getting help with preservation in their community, Briana encourages they contact her or other staff at PlaceEconomics – they are always open to discussing if they are right for a client or community! You should also tell your local officials about PlaceEconomics’ services!

Briana also suggests that individuals who may be less likely to work with PlaceEconomics’ firm directly continue to work on preservation at a grassroots level – from government involvement with organizations such as Preservation Action, to simply maintaining their own historical buildings, investing in existing resources, and using local resources to fund the local economy.

Briana encourages everyone to consider involvement in Preservation Action’s virtual auction this year, scheduled for October 27th, at 7PM