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.

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

  1. Veronica Coldiron says:

    Glitter laminate is obtainable. There’s a method to it. I have pics if you’d like to see them. 🙂

  2. Whitney says:

    I have a 50s era kitchen with linoleum floor and I can’t find any good answers through google as to what products to wax the floor with. Any chance this nice lady would share what she uses?

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      Hi Whitney, alas, Doreen has now passed, so we cannot ask her.

      I am not sure where to point you. What you call “linoleum” may be something else, like a vinyl composition tile and depending, there may have been different recommended polishes back in the day. Be aware also that old floors may contain vintage hazards so on issues like this I suggest talking to a professional to assess what you actually have so that you can make informed decisions. For more info see our Be Safe / Renovate Safe page https://retrorenovation.com/renovate-safe/

      Sorry it took me a while to answer this!

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