Thursday, 20 October 2016

Cannibalising Nottingham

One of my absolute bug-bears is people stripping out bathrooms and kitchens in historic buildings, and refitting these with modern units, yet taking great pains to conserve/preserve/restore the other rooms. Why should the heritage of bathrooms and kitchens be of any lesser value? The end result of this cumulative process, which is particularly prevalent now, is that very few period bathrooms will remain. 

Anyhow, when it came to refitting the rather bare kitchen wing at Balintore Castle, where most items had been stripped out decades ago, the approach was going to be rather different. Modern units were of course out of the question. After discussions with my carpenters it became clear that instead of going 100% bespoke, it was going to be more economic to cannibalise antique or vintage units. The other benefits are getting better quality wood and an instant period feel. Some people may consider the end result a "fake", but to my mind it is about creating something of good quality that compliments the building and is "period credible". That is to say, a casual observer might think that the cannibalised units were original to the building.

Of course, Victorians did not have fitted worktops of the modern form, but I have decided to install 3: one in the kitchen; another in the utility room (once the dairy larder) and yet another in the scullery. But how to source the under-counter units? For months and months, I was looking at vintage shop units, antique drawer units, and even large Victorian dressers. These proved either too expensive or too small. The kitchen wall is 24' long and to put units along the full length requires a large amount of matching antique timber. Not an easy quest!

When I was in the depths of despair, I spotted 22 salvaged cabinet doors from the Nottingham Natural History Museum. These are pretty massive: 3' 10" (H) x 2' 4" (W). These are far too tall for kitchen cabinet doors as a standard work surface is just 3' high. However, could the top horizontal panel be cut off and used as a drawer front? Could the bottom two vertical panels be used as a kitchen cabinet door? I messaged the seller for the panels sizes, and while not ideal, these seemed just within the appropriate limits to cannibalise as described.

museum cabinet doors

So on my last drive from England to Scotland, I swung past Nottingham and loaded the back of my pick-up with the goodies from the museum.

door pick-up in Nottingham

In fact there were many more doors than I needed. :-) However, the surfeit provided an opportunity to tie together stylistically the various rooms in the kitchen wing. I had been considering some wall cabinets in the utility room, so why not just make them from the same batch of wood? 

The biggest "risk" was whether the doors could be sawn into two without splintering or damage, and indeed whether the aesthetics would be lost. Gregor, my carpenter, cut off two putative drawer fronts and we arranged them on the floor, in the planned set-up, against a putative kitchen cabinet door. The effect (below) looked not too bad, some trimming, in-filling and jiggery-pokery with the sizing would be required but it was basically a go-er.

experimenting with cutting up doors

The first unit built, finished today, is the wall cabinet. This uses a number of full length museum doors and so is a good test bed as considerably fewer variables are involved. To our amazement, despite the impressive carpentry, which I suspect is from 1926, we discovered the museum doors were slightly different sizes and not even square and true. In short, they had been cut-to-fit. Likewise, Gregor had to cut them to fit once again for their new home.

We improvised with modern solid brass cup handles. Hopefully, these are "period credible". The next task is to stain and varnish the new timber to match the old.

wall cupboards in castle's utility room - completed today!

To conclude this post are the future plans for the remaining cabinet doors.

Here is the design for the kitchen (with cabinet door for reference). The work surface will fit into the three window reveals, shown in plan view, at the top.

Here is the design for the scullery. Again the work surface will fit into the window reveal.

Finally, here is the design for the left-hand wall in the utility room. This room is essentially going to become a mini-kitchen. Squeezing everything in proved quite a challenge.