58 years in the same 1958 kitchen: Judy’s mom Doreen’s kitchen, Calgary

midcentury kitchenI love old houses because they come ready-filled with a history of love. Today: Judy’s lovely story about the 1958 kitchen that her mother Doreen still uses today, after moving in when it was brand new.

Yes, 58 years in the same kitchen… which even after hearty duty serving up three squares a day to five children, remains in great condition … with the same pots and pans, same glitter laminate, same checkerboard tile… little changed from the day it was built. What a testament to quality — and to tender loving care. Judy’s key question — in return for sharing this story — is: Can we connect her with someone in Calgary, Alberta, who would be interested in visiting, documenting, and perhaps even agreeing to remove the kitchen and set it up somewhere so it can be visited? This is a time capsule story she would like to see endure.

1950s kitchenI asked Judy if she could tell us the story of the kitchen. She wrote:

We quickly outgrew the two bedroomed bungalow my father and his brother built in the northern outskirts of Calgary, and moved in 1958 to a new four-bedroomed ‘split-level’ in the city’s expanding southern suburbs. We soon became five children surrounded by countryside, biking everywhere, and always came home hungry.

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My mother’s kitchen was her domain – organised, clean, polished, and productive with home-made bread, tins of cookies, three meals a day, plus snacks like popcorn and fudge for seven of us. The ages from father to youngest child were spread over 52 years; this may explain why no changes were ever made, there was never a break in the cooking. At the age of 91, my mother still cooks for herself, as well as her middle son and grandson who look out for her.

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A 25 lb. turkey was slow-roasted for seven hours when an extended family of up to 14 gathered for Thanksgiving and Christmas. (We’d have to take turns for the roasted skin flap, which meant the prize came only every couple of years). For New Year, we would tuck into her homemade noodles and turkey broth.

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Her cupboards still hold to the same arrangements as in the beginning: tea, coffee and crackers above the gas stove, flour, sugar and other baking needs above the single square metre of workspace she had.

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The original, giant, Whirlpool fridge, working until recently, is now stored in the basement.

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The linoleum floor, regularly waxed is still in great condition.

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Formica work top, mahogany plywood cupboard doors with copper knobs and pull-down copper pendant lights are just as they were in the beginning; even the full set of heavy, aluminum, Wear Ever pans with copper lids and Bakelite handles.

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Wall-mounted knife holder and rotary can opener have been in place since the beginning. Tappan oven and gas stove top still work perfectly.

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Is it exceptional for a kitchen of this period to exist, still be in use, and be almost intact? I’d love to know. Also, I’d love to think that the kitchen might be preserved. Anyone buying the house after she’s gone will tear it out. Can anyone help? My main question is this:  Would anyone be interested in visiting, documenting, and perhaps even agreeing to remove the kitchen and set it up somewhere so it can be visited? I’m grateful to find a like-minded, knowledgeable and enthusiastic ear for this. It would mean a lot to have someone in Calgary look at it.

Judy, I do know someone in historical preservation in Calgary. I will be sure to email her this story, to see if she has any ideas for you. Meanwhile, I take a stab at one of your questions:

Q. Is it exceptional for a kitchen of this period to exist, still be in use, and be almost intact?

A: Yes. We do see them, but they are getting more and more rare. Your mom’s kitchen is particularly notable, I’d say, because it still has the laminate countertops and original flooring — these often get replaced over the years. I see that you have changed out the fridge and the dishwasher, possibly the faucet, too; but these are easier to replace with authentic vintage if that is a goal. Flooring and laminate: Not so much. In fact, there is no known source, worldwide, for glitter laminate right now. So this kitchen is a delight to see. It’s also so incredibly heartwarming — and again, rare, I’d say — to see cookware and decor still in place, still in use. Such a testament to enduring quality, care and thrift.

I will also say: Unchanged vintage kitchens and houses — time capsule houses — have become increasingly desirable over the past few years. Many readers here are actively seeking them out. We want the original glitter and floor tile and wood cabinets and appliances — all of it! So don’t give up hope that the next people who live in this house won’t love it as much as you do; it’s possible. That said, yes: Gut remodels happen. More often than not, that’s the harsh reality. So we will do what we can to help you — maybe a museum WILL be interested. We’ve seen it happen before.

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An incredible portrait of Judy, full name: Judy Simmonds. She tells us, “I’m a basket maker, watercress grower and we make cider and have two holiday cottages here overlooking the Yarty Valley in Devon in England. My mother, Doreen Willis, is from Victoria in British Columbia.” The photo is by Pauline Rook.

Thank you so much, Judy, for sharing this story with us. It’s just wonderful. xoxo

Be-Safe-graphic2.3

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Comments

  1. Addie says

    There is still hope. We renovated a 1962 3-bedroom bungalow in Calgary between 2013-2016 and left the original kitchen as it had beautiful mahogany plywood cupboards. They were still functional after 50+ years of use and 5 kids including our own two.

    We sold the house earlier this year and moved a custom built 1957 split level house in northern BC in need of TLC. Unfortunately a previous owner tore out some of the built-ins and replaced the original kitchen. Now we’re trying to figure out what the original kitchen looked like as the 80s cabinetry is nearing the end of its life.

    • pam kueber says

      Hi Addie, thank you for your nice comment. And sounds like you have a fun new project on your hands! Take lots of photos – perhaps we can feature your new/old kitchen on the blog, when it’s ready for prime time!

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