Joe and Kate called us with a very specific design need. They were updating the kitchen in their beautiful, historic home in downtown Upper Marlboro, MD. The kitchen was added to the rest of the house in the 1990’s. Kate described the existing kitchen as “so very heinous”- that she didn’t even bother to take any “before” pictures. Anybody who has renovated an early 90’s kitchen can probably sympathize.
Over 183 years old, their house is best known in the town and county as the Bunnell-Anderson House, named for the two families who lived there the longest. The original part of the house was constructed circa 1830, although it is possible that the home’s central block incorporates a structure that dates back to 1817. Two additions were added by the Bunnells in 1850 and 1885, and the home stayed in the Bunnell family until the 1940s. The Bunnells who added the 19th century rooms were carpenters and were responsible for the construction of several other notable homes in Upper Marlboro (the town was first settled in 1695, so it has a significant number of historic houses and buildings). The final addition to the home included the kitchen and sunroom to the rear of the home, and was built by the previous owners in the 1990s.
Kate and Joe wanted their kitchen renovation to be in harmony with the history of the home, but they also wanted a space with the brightness and functionality of a contemporary kitchen. One of their first choices for countertops was soapstone. The soft, warm feel of soapstone combined with it’s subdued, minimal look means this natural stone fits as well in a traditional farmhouse kitchen as it does in the sleek, contemporary design aesthetic of an modern urban space. In fact, soapstone was often used in traditional American farmhouses in the 18th and 19th centuries. Soapstone would help them stay true to the age of the home while incorporating more contemporary touches such as the simple white cabinets and stainless steel appliances.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the durability and heat resistance of soapstone made it a popular choice for sinks, stoves, and exterior trim. In the 19th century was particularly popular for fireplaces and wood stoves because it holds heat and radiates it long after the fire is out. Many of these soapstone creations are still being used in historic homes today, a testament to the longevity of this architectural gem. Soapstone fell out of favor in the 20th century, but in the last decade kitchen lovers have been rediscovering its natural beauty, durability,and energy efficient heat retention. After all, it’s been used as a cooking surface as far back as early Native American civilizations!
After several meetings with Lori, the owner and lead designer here at Granite Grannies, Joe and Kate decided to use White Carrara Marble on the backsplash. They wanted a unique look for the backsplash, but didn’t want to upstage the quiet elegance of the soapstone and wood floors with a busy tile. White Carrara Marble tile is not uncommon, but rarely do you see a slab of White Carrara Marble as the backsplash paired with more durable stone on the decks (the horizontal surfaces).
White Carrara Marble has quite a history of it’s own. It is quarried in Carrara, Italy, and has been a favorite since Ancient Roman times. In fact, the Pantheon and Trajan’s Column in Rome are both made of Carrara Marble. It’s claim to fame during the Rennaisance period, among other uses, was as Michelangelo’s preferred stone and the one he used to carve his David.
A few other details to notice in Joe and Kate’s kitchen:
- They had a beautiful butcher block top made for the island leaving them with a eclectic, yet understated combination of marble, soapstone, and wood.
- Behind the island you will notice a fantastic set of antique drawers that used to house a Dewey Decimal system in a library (fun fact: the Dewey Decimal Classification was created about the same time as this house).
- The open shelves, glass front cabinets, and charming use of open spaces in the kitchen to store bottles, dishes, and cans adds a pop of primary colors. This wonderful decorating touch contrasts the rest of the subtle decor, but can be easily and inexpensively changed out when they want a new look down the road.
Learn more about natural stone and kitchen design: