In researching Victorian architecture, I came across a phrase recently that lends a lot of clarity to the puzzle of our floor plan: “double parlor”. Obsessed with appearances and guarded in private lives, it was common in approximately the period between 1876-1915 to have a more formal front parlor for receiving visitors and a more intimate back parlor where family gathered, often separated with pocket doors. Our home, built in 1870-71, slightly predates the popularity of this trend, but built by a developer in a progressive neighborhood, I get the sense that our home boasted modern amenities for its time, similar to the stark modular townhomes rapidly spreading across the city now.
This would mean that the room-without-a-purpose that we’re turning into the kitchen would actually have been the formal dining room, which situates the old kitchen in better context at the back of the house, and would confirm that this room is original to the house. This feels very likely to me, but the supporting evidence is unclear. The space looks like an addition— the room did, in fact, try to make a break for it at some point—but the remains of a large cook’s hearth were found in the floor and the walls. A plan submitted to the city’s L&I (Licenses & Inspections) in 1965 lists this back room as a “shed,” but it has a full basement. Was this a way to describe the utilitarian function of the kitchen, or perhaps the simplicity of the architecture itself? I’m not sure at this point.
Our kitchen renovation admittedly rearranges this floor plan. The living room (which we are calling the library, a nod to the hundreds of books we will eventually shelve there) is large enough for two separate seating areas. And the adjacent, less formal “back parlor” would not work for the way we live. What we wanted instead, and will use all the time, is a kitchen open to the dining and living areas, and a room at the back of the house that merges indoor and outdoor entertaining areas.
To get a sense of the space, I drew out a comparison between the old floor plan and our post-renovation floor plan. In the after, I labeled only the things that would change. You can see that the only significant structural work is to open the wall between the kitchen and the dining room, although we will be putting in a large bank of windows at the back of the house.
In the meantime, the work continues on. It’s a bit in the interminable stage where you start to feel like you’re living in a Dexter soundstage. This is probably intensified by the fact that there are currently no working lights since the rooms are being rewired, and it’s dark when we get home, so we poke around in the dark with flashlights to see the current day’s progress. It’s a little creepy. Also, my sinuses are ready to make a break for it, straight out of the front of my face. Plaster dust is an insidious mtfr.
It never for one second does not feel worth it, though.
I also want to briefly mention that it feels a little hollow to me right now to write about home renovations in light of current events, but it is both not the intention of my blog, and there are many women exceedingly more articulate than I am putting out incredibly incisive analysis (to start, check out Crunk Feminist Collective, and also, Teen Vogue has been killing it recently). In the meantime, marching and documenting is the least that I can do, and you can follow me on Instagram if you want more of that (@theprojectory).