Recreating the Arts & Crafts Kitchen Updating Period Design
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Over a 40-year period, the Arts & Crafts kitchen evolved far beyond its spare, utilitarian, beginnings in the Victorian Age.
By the end of the era, it had become an efficient meal preparation and cleanup center with cold and dry storage, distinct preparation areas, running water, electricity, and even sanitary waste disposal. General Electric had already invented and was selling the kitchen sink disposer that was later to become a market leader as the "Dispos-all".
Still not quite the modern kitchen of today but very close.
Arts & Crafts Kitchens in Period Advertising
Kitchens that appear in period advertising are usually more inspirational than actual but advertising does give us a good idea of what American homeowners of the time thought were ideal kitchens.
These illustrations run the gamut from primitive early Arts & Crafts kitchens to streamlined Art Deco styles of late in the period. Note the bright color schemes in contrast to the more somber hues used elsewhere in the house and the near absence of stained wood cabinets. Stained cabinets in kitchens were rare in the Arts & Crafts period which preferred the more hygienic painted finishes.
For many more vintage advertising illustrations and expert information on vintage kitchens and baths, visit Antique Home Style.
The contemporary Arts & Crafts kitchen is only a distant relative of the kitchens of the Arts & Crafts period. In fact, today's Arts & Crafts kitchen is more a modern kitchen in the Arts & Crafts style.
What kitchen designers have done is take the design elements of the Arts & Crafts house and combine them with modern kitchen features to produce a hybrid that looks and feels like it could have been at home in an Arts & Crafts house if dishwashers, microwaves, and modern engineered materials had been available in the first third of the 20th century.
The often generous footprint of the Arts & Crafts kitchen makes it easier to modernize the kitchen without adding on.
Arts & Crafts kitchens were usually fairly large because as well as cooking and washing up, they were often the place where laundry was done.
As the sink and washboard gave way to the wringer washer once electricity was available, the laundry was often moved to a porch or the basement.
That move left room for a nice pantry or a more expansive kitchen.
In the early 1900s, hygiene and sanitation were essential elements of kitchen design, inherited from kitchens of the prior, Victorian era in which hygiene had long been a major, if not overwhelming, design theme.
Above all else, any kitchen feature needed to be easily cleaned and unlikely to harbor germs.
Ceramic tile was a favored material. A tile wainscot was a common feature — often extending up the wall to as high as 56" and even all the way to the ceiling. Tile was hygienic and easy to keep clean.
The walls above the tile were painted in durable, washable enamel paint. Wallpaper in kitchens was not sanitary, and, therefore, less often used.
For more decoration, stencils were used to paint designs on the walls. Stencils are still available from suppliers such as Designer Stencils. They are easy to apply (with a little practice), and can be a fun weekend project for the whole family.
Although rarely seen in a period kitchen, wallpaper, too, is once again a practical option. It has improved since the early 20th century and, treated with a plastic coating, it is washable and completely suitable for kitchens.
Unlike the rest of the house, usually painted in somber earth tones, the most common colors for both tile and paint in kitchens were bright and lively.
Illustrations from the period (See Arts & Crafts Kitchens in Period Advertising above.) show that many of the color schemes we commonly associate with post-war modernism were already well established in the Arts & Crafts kitchen palette: aqua, turquoise, peach, lemon yellow and nearly every shade of pink were used with cheerful abandon.
Colors were frequently banded.
One color to about midway up the windows, another color up to the top of the window, and a third color in the frieze above the window.
Often the color bands were separated by horizontal moldings. Where a tile wainscot was used, the tile was often bordered in a contrasting color. peach and apple green or peach with turquoise were popular combinations as were yellow and bright blue.
The paint of the time was still oil-based but "ready-mixed" in cans, not the locally made paint of prior years.
Traditional paint is composed of a hiding pigment, most often white lead, which gave the paint its opacity, a color pigment that gave the paint its color, and a liquid binder. Paint "dries" when most of the liquid evaporates leaving behind the solid parts of the binder mixed with the pigment.
The usual binder, boiled linseed oil, was first produced commercially in 1856. It was usually mixed with turpentine to make it easier to spread and quicker to dry.
Ready-mixed paints did not rely on whatever materials happened to be available locally for pigment but used commercial pigments which not only provided a greater range of color but also more consistency in color from batch to batch.
D.R. Averill of Ohio patented the first ready-mixed paint in 1867.
Shortly thereafter Harry Sherwin, Alanson Osborn, and Edward Williams formed Sherwin, Williams & Co. in Cleveland Ohio to market prepared paint. As early as 1875 the company was selling its brand of paint throughout the Midwest.
By 1880 there were hundreds of paint companies, most with local or regional markets.
Prepared paint of the period had a very short shelf life. It could not be shipped very far or stored for very long.
That problem was solved by John Lucas & Co. of Philadelphia, It was the first paint manufacturer to ship ready-mix paints in sealed cans so the paint would not dry before it was sold.
The first cans did not have a removable lid. They were opened with a can opener, and once opened, could not be re-sealed. Any unused paint had to be either thrown away or transferred to an air-tight container.
The first truly national paint manufacturer was probably the Benjamin Moore Company, established in 1883. Its Moresco® paint, introduced in 1892, was one of the earliest national commercial successes.
It was a dry paint mix to which water was added to make a spreadable coating. Because it was dry, it had a long shelf life but it also needed considerable preparation before it could be used.
Sherwin-Williams kept to its traditional liquid paint but countered Moore's innovation in 1877 with the first screw-top, resealable paint can. then, in 1880, it introduced a prepared paint in which the pigments stayed suspended in the binder for an extended period of time, reducing the need for pre-application mixing.
Thus began the rivalry between the two companies that has lasted well over a century.
The Three Faces of Oak
How oak is sawn affects its appearance and price.
By today's standards, the paint of the period was not very good paint.
It was not fade-resistant or "colorfast".
The sun often bleached walls in part of a room so they were a distinctly different color from un-bleached walls in the rest of the room. Fading was readily identifiable when hanging pictures were removed to show the darker "shadow" of unbleached paint.
Nor, for the most part, was the paint particularly water-resistant, hence the usual practice of a tile wainscot on the bottom half of kitchen walls.
Nonetheless, while not always simple enough for a novice to use, ready-mixed paints did make paint more reliable, and over time, less expensive.
The term "ready-mixed" did not mean that the paints were actually ready to use, it meant that all of the ingredients were in the can but they had to be blended, and that meant lots and lots of manual stirring.
Pigments tended to collect as a nearly solid clump at the bottom of the can. The older the paint, the more cohesive the clump that had to be broken up and evenly distributed throughout the linseed oil binder before the paint could be used – a mixing and stirring process that often took an hour or more and was an apprentice painter's primary job.
The paint was also very flammable, and many a house was burned down by paint-soaked rags that spontaneously burst into flame in a fire accelerated by the not-yet-dry paint on its walls and ceilings.
To help bathroom and kitchen paints better resist damage from water and grease, some painters applied a coat of wax to the painted wall.
The wax made the wall "washable" to a degree and helped the paint last longer by replacing the oils slowly being lost by the linseed binder as it continued to cure, reducing the need to re-paint. Wax was usually re-applied yearly during Spring cleaning.
Original Arts & Crafts kitchens were workrooms where cooking and cleaning up was done. They were not "public" rooms that guests entered, so they were very utilitarian.
While the practice today favors stained fine wood kitchen cabinets, the cabinets of the actual period were usually pine, painted in light, "sanitary" colors. White was by far the most popular — not usually a bright "hospital" white but a slightly "off-white".
Variations of white included cream, eggshell, and ivory. Pastels were introduced toward the end of the period and continued into the mid-century, giving post-war kitchens their iconic look.
The elegant, fine wood cabinets you see today are a modern interpretation that did not originate in the kitchen but in the more public living and dining rooms of the period.
Fine hardwood was a feature of built-in living room and dining room furniture and fireplace mantels. However, since kitchens now have become public rooms, upgraded cabinet wood is an appropriate interpretation.
But, whether painted pine or carefully finished hardwoods, Arts & Crafts cabinet styles are distinctive. The cabinets typically feature a flat 1- or 2-panel door with a square, unadorned frame. Edge profiling typical of the Victorian era is almost completely absent except in very early kitchens.
Raised panel and flush cabinet doors are inconsistent with the period, as are arched panel doors. Glass-panel doors are, however, appropriate, especially with art or stained glass. Many Prairie-style cabinet doors and drawers were designed by architects and are more elaborate but still rather plain.
(For examples of Arts & Crafts cabinet doors and drawer fronts, see Cabinet Door Styles.)
Generally, each part of the country used wood that was common to its locality. Use of local materials was a key tenet of the Arts & Crafts philosophy.
Oak was the most frequent wood of choice in the Midwest, usually red oak, either rift-cut or quartersawn.
Today, major cabinet manufacturers often use less costly flat-sawn oak in their reproduction Craftsman cabinets to save costs. It is not actually authentic to the period.
Rift or quartersawn elm and chestnut are also authentic choices. Elm and chestnut are still rare due to blight but are making a comeback as a commercial wood.
Ash, a ring-porous wood with dramatic grain patterns, was also popular in the middle of the country. Ash trees now have their own problems with the Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive beetle from Asia, that is killing most ash trees. Which for the moment means that ash wood is plentiful, particularly from local boutique sawyers.
It won't last, however. In a few years, ash will be about as rare as old-growth walnut, and equally expensive. So, if you are contemplating ash for your cabinets, now is the time.
Cherrywood was not usually found in Arts & Crafts houses in the Midwest but was fairly common in the East. Redwood was used in California where it was abundant, and cypress and close-grain southern pine in Florida and the Southeast.
On the west coat, including Western Canada, straight-grain Douglas Fir was the staple of fine cabinetry.
It was widely used to build period kitchen cabinets because it was cheap at the time, not so any longer. But, it makes a beautiful cabinet and is a basic wood in Japanese cabinetmaking. (One of the reasons the wood is not cheap is that most of it is exported to Japan.)
Some famous architects used more exotic woods. Cuban mahogany, for example, was the material of choice for most Greene & Greene cabinetry and furnishings in California.
Unfortunately Cuban mahogany is now commercially extinct from overcutting, as is its successor, Honduran mahogany.
The "mahogany" available today is usually not a true mahogany but a wood with a somewhat similar appearance.
Whatever the wood, it should be well-figured, high-quality wood. The color and grain of the wood were considered all the decoration needed in Arts & Crafts cabinetry.
Light-colored woods, such as maple or birch with a muted grain figure, were used only if painted.
Early countertops were often linoleum or what was then often called "oilcloth". Linoleum works well as flooring but it doesn't suffer the kind of abuse a countertop gets and has to be replaced frequently. It is not a good choice for today's kitchen.
Wood countertops were common, especially where any cutting was done. In one of the most famous of Craftsman houses, the Ultimate Bungalows designed by Greene & Greene, kitchen countertops were usually all wood except around sinks and other water sources.
Wood is actually a good countertop material.
It was at one time thought to be unhygienic but more recent research has shown that it contains natural chemical defenses against bacteria and other microbes and is less likely to harbor germs than stone and even most engineered materials.
But, wood does require regular maintenance to keep its good looks.
High-pressure laminate countertops were invented in the early 20th century by Formica. Laminates were the luxury countertop of the 1920s — a notion that is a little hard to believe today — but true.
It was used on the Queen Mary ocean liner as a wall covering and in high-end Art Deco retail establishments as the very premium countertop material of the era.
It was expensive — too expensive for most homeowners — but still found its way into some late Arts & Crafts homes, often with wood banding on the edges.
It did not come into its own as a countertop material, however, until after the Arts & Crafts era during the post-war building boom when it was featured in almost all new kitchens.
All laminate manufacturers make patterns suited for Arts & Crafts kitchens. The best choices are patternless. Only a few patterned laminates existed at the time, as evidenced by the Formica chart at left.
The trick to laminates that look at home in an Arts & Crafts kitchen is to reduce the thickness of the countertop to ⅞" or 1" rather than today's standard 1½".
The current 1½" countertop thickness did not become the standard until after 1945 when shop-produced laminate tops became common.
The site-fabricated tops of the Arts & Crafts period were likely to be any thickness from ½" to 2" but ⅞" seems to have been the most common simply because it was the actual thickness of the 1" nominal lumber at the time.
Zinc was a common countertop treatment during Victorian times and was carried over into the Arts & Crafts era.
Zinc countertops are still available from any number of fabicaters. Anyone who custom-makes copper countertops probably also works in zinc. The fabrication characteristics of the materials are roughly similar.
Zinc is nearly impervious to organic acids (acetic and fatty acids) associated with food.
It will grow darker with use over time but aficionados of the material believe that the patina associated with age and use contributes to the charm and warmth of the metal. We absolutely agree.
One disadvantage of zinc is that it can leave black zinc oxide marks on fabrics, including your clothing if you are not careful. They come out in the wash but it is still an annoyance. Another is that zinc is expensive.
Monel has been replaced in the modern kitchen with stainless steel which has many of the same characteristics, but at a lower cost. A satin finish (not brushed) stainless countertop would be an acceptable substitute for Monel.
Still, nothing quite beats the real thing.
Stone is also a countertop surface suitable for a period kitchen. It is probably the oldest work surface, dating back to prehistoric times.
Soapstone and slate have been quarried for at least 250 years in New England and have been used for both dry and wet sinks since Colonial times.
The look of soapstone is timeless and historically accurate for almost any period of American architecture. It is warmer, denser, and heavier than granite. It is not, however, nearly as hard.
The primary ingredient in soapstone is talc, the softest mineral around. It can be scratched with a fingernail but rarely are scratches more than superficial and can be removed with an application of mineral oil. More severe scratches disappear with fine sandpaper or even a scouring pad.
On the other hand, most soapstone aficionados just let the scratches be. They add to the patina of the material.
Soapstone is extremely durable, nonporous, and unaffected by chemicals or acids like lemon juice or vinegar. In fact, it is so impervious to just about everything that it is used as countertops in chemical laboratories.
Slate darkens over time through oxidation and the veining in the material becomes more prominent with age. If you don't want to wait for natural aging, the material can be darkened with oil or special waxes.
Fine-grained slate from the Northeast United States is dense and nonporous and has been used as a working surface material since early in the nation's history.
Slate sinks were fairly common In the Arts & Crafts period and could be purchased through plumbing catalogs such as those published by HaJoCa since 1858.
Soatstone's many hues and patterns: gray, purple, green, and soft red make it suitable for many decors and tastes. Its one disadvantage is that it tends to chip at its edges, so care must be taken with heavy pans.
Marble, common as a pantry countertop in the 19th century, is making a comeback despite its relative fragility.
Marble was used more often in bathrooms and butler's pantries than in kitchens. It requires a lot of upkeep and is susceptible to damage by even mild acids like lemon juice and vinegar.
it is not recommended for active kitchens. If we use it at all we reserve it for baking stations. A marble surface is ideal for keeping dough from sticking.
A much better choice is an engineered marble look-aloke.
Almost all engineered stone manufacturers offer a false marble that is indistinguishable from the real thing and is the better choice for kitchens. You get a marble look without the marble maintenance.
Ceramic Tile Countertops
Ceramic tile was common for floors in the Arts & Crafts period and was used with good effect as a countertop material, mostly in upscale kitchens. As a countertop material, it is very very hygienic, which was important to homemakers of the period.
Glazed ceramic tile is impervious to stains, very heat-resistant, and extremely durable. You can set the hottest pan directly on the surface without worry.
The earlier drawback to tile on countertops was the old cement grout. It stained, cracked, and even dislodged with use. Today, however, there are better grout options. The new urethane grouts look like cement grout but do not stain and remain somewhat flexible so they do not crack or dislodge.
With these new carefree urethane grouts, tile is among the most maintenance-free countertop materials — requiring much less attention than any natural stone, and less expensive — often much less expensive — than other high-end countertop options.
It is also the material that permits the most creativity. There are thousands of patterns and colors of ceramic tile, so mix, match, and experiment until you get a look you love.
The final benefit of tile is its ease of repair. If you burn or crack a stone countertop, you have to replace the entire countertop. If you crack (you cannot burn) a tile countertop, you replace just that one damaged tile. (You did stash a few extras in the garage, yes?)
In the early Arts & Crafts period tables were the preferred work surface, a holdover from Victorian kitchens.
Even after fitted cabinets became more common and raised countertops suitable for standing work more ubiquitous, tables remained in most kitchens as work and dining surfaces.
These often would have been fitted with an enamel-on-steel working surface manufactured by companies such as Kuehne Kraft and Vitreous Steel Products Co.
The working surfaces of Hoosier cabinets were also often enamel-on-steel.
The process of enameling steel was similar to that used to give cast iron tubs their vitreous enamel finish.
Finely ground glass powder was sprinkled on a steel tabletop that had been heated to 1,700°. The glass melted and adhered to the steel at the molecular level.
The surface was very sanitary and reasonably durable except that it tends to chip at the corners. Pristine examples (without chips) are difficult to find, and auction prices are numbing for exceptional pieces.
Unfortunately, as far as we know, enamel-on-steel tabletops are not available today. (But, if you know of a source, please contact us or leave a comment below.)
They fell out of favor in the 1940s and '50s, replaced by Formica-topped tables which were much less prone to damage and still easy to clean.
For a more complete list of kitchen countertop materials and the advantages and disadvantages of each, see New & Traditional Countertop Choices.
The hygiene movement encouraged homeowners to use sanitary surfaces in their homes. Flooring was of particular focus.
Christine Frederick, a pioneer home economist of the Arts & Crafts period summed up flooring choices for the "modern" kitchen this way…
"The floor covering of a kitchen should allow complete and easy washing, the surface should not be covered with any porous material which will absorb or stain with grease. Linoleum, tile and a new cork material very restful to the feet are the best coverings; wood is too porous and turns dark and ugly with washing…"Christine Frederic, The New House Keeping New York, Doubleday, Page & Co., 1913
Most artificial flooring materials are not appropriate for Arts & Crafts kitchens but most natural and traditional materials work well.
In the immediate post-Victorian period, wood floors were common in kitchens, sometimes shellacked and waxed, sometimes not. Shellac — which is dissolved by alcohol and turns white when wet — was not a very satisfactory finish but it was what was available. The shellac protected the floor and wax protected the shellac. The wax had to be renewed frequently.
By the 1920s paint companies had begun offering floor varnishes and paints that were more durable. Paints in such hues as orange, brown, gray and maroon were often used to brighten a kitchen and disguise or minimize earlier damage to the kitchen floor.
The sanitation movement, at its height during the Arts & Crafts period, virtually dictated that kitchen floors be kept hygienic — which meant weekly cleaning and monthly waxing in many homes — a labor-intensive process when waxes had to be polished by hand. There were no low-maintenance floors during the Arts & Crafts period.
Yearly re-painting or re-varnishing as part of general Spring Cleaning was encouraged by paint companies — although it was very inconvenient since it usually took more than a week for the paint or varnish to dry and the odor of the high VOC paint and varnish of the time could be suffocating.
Painted floors are usually not durable enough for the rough and tumble of a modern kitchen, although we have done some. Fortunately, modern paints last longer than those available during the Arts & Crafts period, so yearly repainting is no longer required. Painting is appropriate where the original flooring is in good shape but stained and discolored to the extent that the wood cannot be restored — pretty much the same reason homeowners painted kitchen floors in the first place. Figure on repainting every three to five years — more often in high-traffic areas. Fortunately, today's floor paint dries overnight, and low VOC formulations have virtually eliminated odor.
Hardwood is a good choice for today's kitchen since modern finishes give excellent protection against wear and water damage.
It was rarely used in the Arts & Crafts period because pine was abundant and hardwood expensive for what was then considered a utility room.
If used, it was almost always narrow strip wood. Wide plank flooring was unusual, although sometimes seen in reproduced Arts & Crafts kitchens. The large first-growth trees necessary to produce wide-plank flooring were already disappearing from American forests in the early 1900s making wide planks expensive and hard to come by.
The floor was rarely stained, although it might be fumed to add color and bring out the grain.
Most of the dark staining we see in old pre-war floors, however, is the result of embedded dirt and darkened varnish.
The wood was typically oak but also elm, chestnut, or maple. Maple was particularly popular for kitchens since its closed pore structure prevented stains from penetrating.
The economy flooring in the Midwest was often red oak in 1-1/2" strips just 3/8" thick. We have always been impressed with how well this material has held up over nearly a century. Dimensioned flooring in this size is still available from our local woodcutters and commercially from Canada.
One of the more interesting discoveries we have made over the years is that there is sometimes a pristine wood strip floor under the many layers of linoleum and vinyl in an Arts & Crafts kitchen.
We think it is an accident of history. Most of the period houses built in the 1920s seem to have had oak kitchen floors, which were almost immediately covered in linoleum — the "miracle" material of the day.
What the covering has done is keep the oak in pristine condition, without the wear common to other parts of the house.
A few hours of work removing the asphalt tile adhesive and some sanding and refinishing results in a floor that looks brand new, even though it is nearly 100 years old.
Unfortunately, the practice seems to have stopped in the 1930s.
Stone & Ceramic Tile
Stone tile and ceramic tile are good choices for an Arts & Crafts kitchen. Stone fits the Arts & Crafts' preference for natural materials.
White and brightly colored floor glazed tile that was frequently used in post-war modern kitchens was less frequently used in Arts & Crafts kitchens, more in bathrooms.
But, it was used and its use became more common toward the end of the era when what we think of as Post-War modern kitchens were already being featured in period magazines in bright and pastel colors.
Stone tile includes marble, slate, and limestone. Slate was the most popular. Marble was less commonly used in kitchens but often a feature of upscale bathrooms.
Marble and limestone are are both calcites and vulnerable to even mild acids like orange juice. They are also relative soft stones and vulnerable to scratching.
Granite, the hardest stone used today, was rare in the Arts & Crafts period since it was difficult to work with the tools available at the time. Some stones commonly used for countertops, such as soapstone, are too soft for use on a floor.
The disadvantage of natural stone and unglazed ceramic tile is that they need a surprising amount of regular maintenance.
Stone and unglazed tile need to be kept clean and dry, and it needs to be resealed regularly. Manufacturers usually recommend that it be resealed annually but it may be necessary more often in high-traffic areas — as often as every three months in a busy kitchen.
Our first choice for a stone look is usually low-maintenance glazed tile made to look like stone, especially the slates and limestone. The next is a mosaic floor, again using glazed tile.
For a complete guide to choosing the right ceramic tile for your kitchen floor, see Porcelain vs. Ceramic Tile: Is There a Difference?
True linoleum is also an authentic and excellent choice for kitchen flooring. Genuine linoleum was the original sheet flooring material, first patented by Englishman Frederick Walton in 1863.
Although some people still call all sheet flooring "linoleum," the real thing is quite different from petroleum-based sheet vinyl floors that are the modern replacement for linoleum.
Its name derives from its main ingredient, linseed oil. (In Latin, linum is the word for linseed and oleum means oil.) The oil is boiled, mixed with melted resins, and combined with powdered cork, wood flour, ground limestone, and other natural materials. Mineral pigments provide the color.
This mixture is formed into a durable sheet by applying heat and pressure. Throughout most of the Arts & Crafts period, linoleum would have been the first choice for an upscale "modern" kitchen. Vinyl sheet flooring can simulate linoleum but it is difficult to reproduce the original linoleum texture and finish in vinyl, so substitutes are not always entirely convincing.
Linoleum manufacturers recommend frequent damp mopping and and periodic polishing to keep the material's like-new appearance. Use a polish formulated for linoleum. Most manufacturers have specific polish recommendation.
The Arts & Crafts Society offers a slideshow of linoleum patterns common in the 1930s. While most of these are no longer made, the show gives you a good idea of what your great-grandmother thought was trendy and modern.
Today's linoleum usually has much less dramatic patterns and more neutral colors.
Christine Frederick's recommendation that a cork kitchen floor is one of the "best coverings" should not be ignored.
While many people believe cork to be a relatively fragile material and may be surprised to see cork listed as one of the original Art & Crafts flooring materials, cork used in flooring is very robust and has a long history as a resilient flooring going back to the early Victorian period. It reached its zenith in the U.S. in 1927 when 2.9 million square feet of cork floors were sold.
Cork is very durable. The cork floor in the lobby of the Department of Commerce building in Washington, D.C., installed in 1930, is still in use today, as is the cork floor specified by Frank Lloyd Wright for his "Fallingwater" house in Pennsylvania in 1935.
Cork was not only the first but is in many ways the best resilient flooring for a kitchen.
Due to its unique cellular structure (about 2.4 million air-filled cells per cubic inch), cork is a very resilient floor. It has a little "give" and feels soft to the foot. Yet it is extremely tough and durable.
Modern finishes give cork a high level of protection from dirt and chemicals, and cork is naturally waterproof. Its cellular structure prevents it from absorbing water, which is why it was the original material for fishing bobbers and life vests.
With proper care, cork floors last 100+ years, and if damaged, can be easily repaired, although most cork aficionados don't bother — a little scratch or gouge just adds to the patina.
Cork is also the "greenest" flooring available. It is completely sustainable and renewable. Cork is the bark of the Cork Oak tree. The tree, grown predominately in Southern Europe and North Africa, has a lifespan ranging from 150-200 years.
The bark is harvested using methods that have remained virtually unchanged since the uses of cork were first discovered. Once the tree has reached maturity (typically 25 years), the first harvest is removed from the tree.
The process is repeated at intervals of nine years (the minimum interval required by law), at no time affecting the health of the tree. During each harvest, no more than 50% of the bark is removed, allowing the tree to protect itself using its natural defenses.
Most cork flooring is produced from the waste resulting from making wine corks. It is ground into small granules. The granules are baked under pressure in molds at varying temperatures producing shade variations in the finished tile product. A dye may also be applied but most of the color you see in cork is just the result of baking.
The cork slab is then cut into tiles, smoothed, and finished with several applications of polyurethane or some other flexible but durable coating. The coating adds to the natural resistance of the cork to dirt and stains. Damp mopping with a mild detergent is all that is required to maintain a cork floor. Cork does not stain easily nor require cleaning with harsh chemicals.
For a complete account of flooring suitable for kitchens and baths with ratings, see Flooring Options for Kitchens & Baths.
Most Arts & Crafts kitchens were inadequately lit. A few ceiling fixtures were thought to be adequate. They aren't.
A kitchen needs two types of lighting, ambient or overall illumination and task lighting that throws even, shadowless light on work surfaces. Arts & Crafts kitchens may have had adequate ambient lighting, but little thought was given to task lighting until the 1960s when undercabinet task lighting was introduced.
We are not getting into the details of adequate kitchen lighting here. The subject is covered in a separate article" Efficient & Effective Kitchen Lighting.
If you are interested in the nuts and bolts of good lighting, it's the place to start. You will learn more than you ever wanted to know about lighting
Here we are going to look at just the types of fixtures suitable in Arts & Crafts kitchens for both overall lighting and task illumination.
A huge number of sellers offer ceiling lights suitable for Arts & Crafts kitchens at every price point from the hand-made lamps sold by Arroyo Craftsman to discount lighting sold by the big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes.
Top-line vendors like Rejuvenation (our favorite houseparts company) offer the greatest variety and choice. Rejuvenation is our go-to source for most reproduction lighting products, not to mention hardware, mirrors, and sundry items for the home.
Recessed, or "can" lights are used in most modern kitchens to provide unobtrusive ambient light. They did not exist before 1945 and are not at all suitable for an Arts & Crafts kitchen.
The usual, and probably the best, choice is pendant lamps strung from the ceiling on chains or posts.
They can be ganged together to provide as much light as is needed in a particular area and can be concentrated over work areas such as islands to provide needed task lighting.
To provide task lighting, hang lights on the bottoms of upper cabinets to illuminate the countertop below. The lamps necessary to produce this lighting did not exist during the Arts & Crafts period, so whatever is used should be hidden.
The best choice are strips of low-voltage LED lamps. Not only are these the least expensive lamps to operate but they are so small they can be easily hidden beneath the upper cabinet, invisible to all except those specifically looking for them.
They are so cheap to operate that it is feasible to leave them on as night lights for the benefit of midnight snack seekers.
Their drawback is that despite a precipitous decline in the price of LED lamps, they are still relatively expensive — about four times the cost of any other option. However, they pay for themselves in about five years through energy savings.
An option with a lower initial cost are small T-5 fluorescent undercabinet lamps. Make sure, however, that you get the instant-on version. It's a little more expensive but not nearly as annoying as the standard lamps that take a few seconds to illuminate after a lot of flickering and false starts.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Sink
- Kohler Cast Iron Cleaner
- Green Works® All-Purpose Cleaner
- Fantastik® Antibacterial Heavy Duty Cleaner
- Formula 409® Antibacterial All-Purpose Cleaner
- Rinse thoroughly and use a soft cloth to wipe the sink dry after each use.
- Clean the sink periodically using one of the products listed above.
- For stubborn stains, use a paste of baking soda or Barkeepers Friend and water to remove the stain. Avoid scouring powders such as Ajax or Bon Ami. If scouring is needed and baking soda does not do it, use Soft Scrub® Gel with Bleach.
- Do not use steel wool, wire brushes, or abrasive sponge pads.
Arts & Crafts Kitchen Sinks
Hundreds of decisions go into renovating a vintage kitchen. The hardest to make concern the refrigerator, range, and sink. The length of the decision process seems to be directly related to the number of options available.
For sinks, the options are nearly unlimited: Single bowl, double bowl (even triple bowl), stainless steel, enamel-on-iron, composite, stone, copper, zinc, wall-mount, pedestal, drop-in, undermount, tile-in, or integrated.
Fortunately, if reproducing an Arts & Crafts kitchen the options are drastically curtailed. Most modern sink materials either did not exist or were not used for sinks during the Arts & Crafts period. These include stainless steel and all composite materials, which eliminates most of the sinks in today's marketplace.
During the Arts & Crafts period, enamel-on-iron or "cast iron" sinks were king. Stone was used in the early part of the period but rarely, and we have occasionally found a copper or zinc sink, often a holdover from the Victorian era.
Enamel-On-Iron (Cast Iron)
Vitreous enamel was a miracle material of the Arts & Crafts period used to coat the iron used to make sinks and bathtubs.
Enameled cast iron did not leak and, coated with a thick layer of enamel, rarely rusted. It was very hard to damage and was virtually maintenance-free. Kohler still makes cast iron sinks guaranteed not to chip for the life of the sink.
They are the lowest maintenance of all of the available sink options. Stainless steel shows fingerprints, copper tarnishes, zinc blackens, composites stain, and stone needs to be sealed regularly — vitreous cast iron needs a wipe with a wet cloth or sponge to keep its luster for decades.
What ruins cast iron sinks is the over-vigorous cleaning. Scouring powder wears away the enamel and leaves microscopic scratches to collect dirt and grime, giving the sink the characteristic yellowish stains of old enamel sinks.
If you are put off by your grandmother's old yellowed Kohler or American Standard cast-iron sink, remember, she did not know to avoid scouring powder, and probably used it every single day for fifty years. It's amazing that any enamel still exists.
An old, worn sink can often be resurrected as long as it is not actually rusting.
We use a process similar to buffing paint on vintage automobiles with a polishing compound (not the waxy kind) to remove scratches and all signs of yellowing until we reach pristine enamel.
The enamel on these old sinks is tough stuff, so thick that they can be buffed out several times to restore their like=-new appearance.
Most early sinks were mounted to the wall and stabilized with legs. Many had integrated drain boards and were up to 72" wide. After 1920 as built-in cabinets became more universal, sinks were set into the cabinet — so-called drop-in or self-rimming sinks.
The disadvantage of drop-in sinks is that they are higher than the countertop making it difficult to sweep debris directly into the sink without having to maneuver over the sink edge.
Undermount sinks solved the problem but undermount sinks did not exist at the time. Tile-in sinks did, however.
These are sinks designed to merge with the ceramic tile commonly used as countertop surfaces during the Arts & Crafts period so that the transition between tile and sink is smooth and level.
Tile-in sinks are getting rare, however. Kohler now makes just three models of the dozens it used to make, and in just two colors, white and almond, of the dozens of colors it offered a few years ago. Kohler is one of the last of the U.S. sink companies to make tile-in cast-iron models.
We do not endorse products. That having been clarified, however, we can reveal that in 40 years of installing sinks, we have never — not one time — had a call back on a Kohler sink. Not once, not ever.
Zinc was a popular material for sinks during the late Victorian era, and carried over into the Arts & Crafts period (and even into modern times as a material for utility and laundry sinks before plastic became the utility sink of choice).
Modern sinks made of zinc are still available from suppliers such as Rustica House, some of which are suitable for an Arts & Crafts kitchen.
Zinc is a soft, easily worked metal that solders well and can be bent to almost any shape, making it an ideal material for sinks and countertops. It has an attractive gray patina and can be polished to a fair shine but requires a lot of maintenance to retain that shine.
Zinc loves to oxidize. It spends all of its time trying to return to its natural, stable state, zinc oxide, a dark gray or even black material that zinc owners love or learn to love over time.
The disadvantage of the oxide is that it rubs off and leaves dark marks on dishes, towels, and elbows.
As a sink material, it grew less and less popular as enamel cast iron sinks became less expensive and more common. They were rarely seen in new housing after 1920 and had all but disappeared by 1940.
Copper was, and still is, the upscale material for custom sinks. Copper is abundant and easy to work, so it was a popular material among period artisans for decorative ornamentation of all kinds including hand-hammered lamps, candlesticks, decorative tile, and sconces.
It was also a preferred material for architectural use in downspouts, half-round gutters, and flashing. In kitchens, it was used primarily to make sinks and to a much lesser extent, faucets.
Copper sinks are still available including pre-made sinks from China and India. The quality of these sinks varies widely, however, and include sinks that leak and do not drain properly, so buying a copper sink over the internet can be a risky proposition.
The wise buyer makes sure that the seller is reputable and has a return policy that permits no-risk returns of defective products.
More consistent quality is available from North American-based craftsmen who will make custom sinks to order. Our preferred provider is Rachiele™ Custom Sinks.
Dino Rachiele is a careful craftsman who pays attention to detail.
Copper oxidizes to a brown or brownish-green color. If that's your preferred aesthetic, then the material is low maintenance. Just a wipe once in a while with a damp sponge or cloth is all the maintenance it needs.
If bright, shiny copper is your choice, then the material is high maintenance. Keeping it bright and shiny will be a never-ending daily or near-daily chore.
Arts & Crafts Kitchen Faucets
Arts & Crafts kitchen faucets were very utilitarian. Running water in the kitchen was relatively new, a very recent innovation. Even at the end of the Arts & Crafts period, not every household had it and those that did were glad to have it, giving little thought to the shape, style, or finish of the faucet that provided it.
If it produced water, it was just fine.
Many of the major faucet companies that are household names today did not exist during the Arts & Crafts period.
made most of the faucets sold in North America.
Unlike Moen and Delta, none of these companies still manufactures faucets in the U.S.
American Standard, Kohler, and Pfister manufacture in Mexico and China. Crane Plumbing, now a part of American Standard, is out of the faucet business altogether.
Lesser known brands operating during the period, including Apex, Concinnity, Pub-co, and Republic, are out of business entirely. Their faucets occassionally apper on auction sites like eBay.
However, before you bid on a vintage faucet, keep in mind that vintage faucets use a vitage valve system that needs regular maintenance and parts to fix a broken vintage faucet are nearly impossible to find.
All were two-handle faucets, left for hot, right for cold. The single-handle faucet, invented by Al Moen, did not go into production until 1947.
Faucets were usually wall-mounted — if not actually into the wall then into the backsplash integrated into most period sinks.
The two important technical innovations in kitchen faucets during the period were chrome as a faucet finish and the kitchen spray.
Faucets were originally just brass without an applied finish.
Brass, of course, tarnishes and requires constant maintenance to keep its like-new look.
Since original kitchens were utility areas, not open to the public, a badly tarnished brass faucet was not much of a concern. But, in our modern reproduction kitchen, it would be. If a brass faucet is preferred, we recommend PVD brass, a durable finish that does not tarnish (because it is not actually brass but looks like brass.)
To reduce maintenance, faucets were soon coated in nickel. But nickel, too, has its disadvantages. It is soft and fairly easily worn away, exposing the bare brass underneath.
Chrome was much harder and could withstand rougher use and even abuse without showing signs of wear.
Early in the 20th century, however, it was very expensive. It was only in the 1930s that the price of the metal dropped enough to be practical as a faucet finish.
Nickel as a faucet finish never went away, however. Today's nickel is marginally harder than the plating of the 1930s and more durable. PVD nickel is almost indestructible.
Certain of today's popular faucet finishes did not exist. Oil-rubbed bronze (neither oiled nor rubbed) is an example. No such finish existed in the first half of the 20th century. In fact, it is largely a creature of the 1990s.
Painted finishes like black, likewise, did not exist. Anything that looks like a painted finish was probably ceramic. Kohler made a few ceramic faucets until a few years ago, and we think they go back to the 1930s.
More Faucet Finishes
To learn more about the types of faucet finishes, how they are applied, and their durability, visit Faucet Basics -Part 5: Faucet Finishes
The Faucet Spray
The second innovation in kitchen faucets was the spray.
No one appears to know exactly when this useful device was invented or by whom.
Elie Prodromou (Nicholas) Aghnides, a Greek-born engineer, is credited with the invention of the faucet aerator in 1943, but the kitchen spray seems to already have been available.
Both Kohler and American Standard sinks started showing an extra mounting hole for a spray by 1935, something they certainly would not have done if side sprays did not already exist at the time.
We speculate that it simply migrated from commercial restaurant faucets where sprays seem to have always existed in one form or another.
Early sprays were primitive, simply spraying water when a lever was depressed. They stayed primitive until the 1970s when Al Moen developed a spray that could switch from spray to stream and back again at the flick of a switch. It made filling big pots a lot easier.
Today, these are called "side sprays" to distinguish them from the sprays built into pulldown and pullout kitchen faucets. Most are plastic and cheap-looking, but a few vintage styles are on the market. The "Artisan" series from comes immediately to mind.
As the era progressed, a little design finesse began creeping into bathroom faucets but it never seemed to reach the kitchen. Even after the World War, the post-war housing boom saw new washerless faucet technology from the likes of Moen and later Delta that made single-handle faucets possible but pretty much the same old style.
It was not until designer European faucets began making serious inroads in the U.S. market in the 1980s that American companies started giving thought to more stylish design, and even then it took a decade or more for the realization to take hold.
Today there are scads of well-designed, stylish faucets in styles suitable for Arts & Crafts period kitchens. While these are often not truly authentic, they are period-compatible and can be convincingly used in a reproduction kitchen.
We particularly like Art Deco designs. They are authentic, appearing in the very last years of the Arts & Crafts era as it blended into mid-century modern.
Art Nouveau designs also work well. Art Nouveau was the French version of Arts & Crafts which flourished roughly during the same period.
Otherwise, there is certainly nothing wrong with a two-handle low-arc bright chrome faucet with side spray just like the one in your grandmother's kitchen. It's authentic, functional, durable, essy to maintain, and inexpensive — less than $70 from several different suppliers. Possibly the best faucet bargain around.
More Useful Reading
For as much as you reasonably will ever need to know about faucets, see Faucet Basics.
For reviews and ratings of over 260 faucet companies, go to Faucet Reviews and Ratings.
For more on post-war-retro mid-century architecture, interiors, kitchens, and baths go to Post-war Housing Styles Cape Cod, Colonial, and Ranch.
The toughest part of reproducing an Arts & Crafts kitchen is the appliances. Electric appliances from the period are available here and there, and many in working order. But, as a rule, they just don't work as well as modern electric appliances and are not suited to modern kitchens for safety as well as practical reasons.
Nor are they very efficient. A small five cubic foot GE Monitor refrigerator is so inefficient that it takes more electricity to operate than a modern 36" side-by-side refrigerator with four times the capacity (and an ice maker).
Since, in the end, a kitchen is a workroom where the tasks of preparing and serving food are done, we don't want any notions of rigid authenticity to interfere with the process.
So, how to incorporate modern appliances into an Arts & Crafts kitchen without destroying the magic of a vintage look and feel. There are ways, which boil down to four basic approaches.
Original Period Appliances
The first is using an actual period appliance.
While most period appliances are unsuited to a modern kitchen, some pre-war appliances can be used in their original form or modernized with new innards to keep the look of the period with the convenience of modern functionality.
Gas ranges fit nicely into this category. The technology of using natural gas to produce heat has not changed much in 100 years. All it takes is a supply of gas and a burner.
GE Invented the Dishwasher. Or was it Westinghouse?
Sorry, wrong on both counts. The first modern
Dish Washing Machine that used water pressure rather than scrubbers to clean dishes was invented by Josephine Cochran, the daughter and granddaughter of mechanical engineers, and issued patent 355,139 in 1886.
Her first customers were institutional kitchens but by 1911 she was selling a smaller, domestic version as the Crescent Electric Dish Washer.
In 1926 her company was purchased by Hobart which produced the dishwashers under the Kitchen Aid brand until being acquired in turn by Whirlpool in 1986.
Cochran was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006, a recognition more than a century overdue.
The modern burner is not very different from the burners used 100 years ago. The big improvement is that modern burners are sealed so that any spills stay on top of the stove instead of migrating inside.
The other significant change is the safety and reliability of ignition.
Today we use electric ignition. Our grandparents used kitchen matches or a pilot light — not nearly as safe or convenient. However, it is not a difficult process to add modern electric ignition and sealed burners to a period stove.
It's a little more complicated to modify an old range to use electricity but again it is possible. We much prefer, however, to stick with gas. Gas cooks better (which is why almost all professional chef stoves are gas) and is more authentic to the period.
The second alternative is to find a modern appliance that looks like it could have been around in the 1920s and 30s. There are such things but they're not made by GE, LG, or Amana; or, in fact, any other appliance maker you have ever heard of.
They are made by small companies like Big Chill, Smeg, Heartland, Unique Appliances (Retro Collection), and Elmira Stove Works.
Some reproductions are totally convincing. Others less so.
Modern ranges and wall ovens with 1920s styling are virtually indistinguishable from the original and fit right into an Arts & Crafts kitchen.
The differences are apparent only when the appliance is in use and the modern electronic controls and ventilation systems are exposed.
Other appliances like dishwasher panels and microwaves are less successful. Nothing makes a microwave look like it belongs in an Arts & Crafts kitchen. The best solution for a microwave is to hide it in a cabinet.
Similarly, a retro dishwasher panel looks like… Well, we're not really sure what it looks like but it does not look like it should be there. We suggest using reproductions for ranges and ovens and leaving dishwashers and microwaves to be handled another way.
Hiding, Disguising, and Relocating Appliances
Which brings us to our third approach: hiding.
Hiding works well for dishwashers. A panel that looks like the rest of the cabinet doors can be made which is very good at concealing the fact that the "cabinet" is actually a modern dishwasher. Generally, dishwashers must be designed to accommodate wood panels for this approach to work well.
Hiding also works for microwaves, which can be built into a cabinet and concealed behind a cabinet door when not in use.
Refrigerators are more difficult to hide. But, there are options.
- Convert an early 20th-century tall icebox into a modern refrigerator. There are companies that do these conversions, including Vintage Appliances and Restoration in Tuscon, Arizona.
- They find a suitable old icebox, strip it, refinish it, add a compressor and fan, and line the inside with stainless steel. When they're done a modern frost-free refrigerator emerges that looks like it was built in 1905. (See Footnote  for a list of companies in the U.S. by state that convert old appliances.)
- Wrap a modern refrigerator to make it look like a 1920s icebox. When the process was first thought up 20 years ago, the results were fairly crude.
- Today it's a very different story. You have to look closely at a wrapped refrigerator to realize it is actually a modern appliance cleverly disguised. Artisans that will make custom panels for concealing your refrigerator include Randy Miller of RMWraps in Moutain Home, Idaho.
- Build a refrigerator into a cabinet. Every major appliance manufacturer makes refrigerators designed to accept decorative panels that coordinate with the cabinetry. These are usually shallow, twenty-four-inch "cabinet depth" models that have considerably less capacity than a standard 30" deep refrigerator.
- Another option is to have panels made for a standard refrigerator that help disguise the bulk of the appliance. These are not as convincing as a fully-wrapped refrigerator but are a lot less expensive.
- Move the refrigerator to another room. We often install them in pantries adjacent to the kitchen, or in a small closet built just for the refrigerator which is hidden behind the closet door.
- This arrangement is a little inconvenient because you have to constantly open the closet door to open the refrigerator door. In fact, it is so inconvenient that most people just leave the closet door open, which sort of defeats the purpose of having the door in the first place.
Using Modern Appliances
The final appliance option is to simply use modern appliances. Ok, it's not strictly to period but, so what?
A home kitchen is not a museum. It needs first and foremost to be fully functional. Style comes in at a distant second. If it takes modern appliances to get to full functionality on your remodeling budget, so be it.
If any of your family, friends, or neighbors are offended by your lack of pure historical authenticity, ban them from your kitchen. There, problem solved — and without great expense.
One big advantage of staying with strictly modern appliances is that they are a lot cheaper.
Many of the retro-look appliances available on the market cost two or even three times the price of a non-retro-look equivalent appliance. So, sacrificing a little authenticity for a leaner budget is, for many homeowners, a sterling idea.
Small appliances can be more easily integrated into your heritage Arts & Crafts kitchen, simply because there are scads of modern appliances designed to look vintage.
The iconic Sunbeam Toastmaster automatic toaster is long gone from the marketplace but has been reproduced in more or less authentic styling by a number of different companies. The same is true of the old Sunbeam MixMaster.
Some small appliances have not changed in appearance in 100 years, and the modern version is still right at home in an Arts & Crafts kitchen.
The most recognizable of these is probably the iconic Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer. It has looked almost exactly the same since the 1920s and fits right into any kitchen of almost any period. However, stick with white. The new rainbow of colors is a relatively recent feature.
Coffeemakers are a little bit of a problem. These things seem to be almost uniformly starkly modern, stainless and glass contraptions. But, the one thing you don't want to do is buy a percolator, vintage or otherwise. These things make a truly terrible coffee.
Kenwood has gotten into the business of making retro-look appliances, and one of its more successful efforts is its coffeemakers and espresso machines.
The Kenwood Mix line of retro appliances includes a coffeemaker that looks like what a coffeemaker could have looked like if there had been automatic coffeemakers 80 years ago.
For espresso and cappuccino fans, there is the Kenwood Cafe Retro espresso machine. Both in stainless and ten retro colors.
The Arts & Crafts Bath
In the early part of the Arts & Crafts era, the bath was merely a continuation of the Victorian bathroom with its stand-alone claw-foot tub and wall-mounted lavatory sink. This was often a very monochromatic room — with a subway tile wainscot, white floor tile and. . . . (Continues)
- Sherwin-Williams Company of Cleveland, Ohio operates more than 2,500 stores in the U.S. As Consumer Brands Group, it distributes paints, coatings, and related products, under the brand names of Anthony Angelillo, Bestt Liebco, Cabot, Dupli-Color, Duron, Dutch Boy, Frazee, Geocel, Guangdong Huarun Paints, H&C, HGTV Home, Kool Seal, Krylon, MAB, Martin-Senour, Mautz, Minwax, Pratt & Lambert, Purdy, Ronseal, Thompson's WaterSeal, Uniflex, Valspar, Wattyl, and White Lightning.
- Benjamin Moore & Co. is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the Omaha-based investment group managed by Warren Buffett. Benjamin Moore stores are locally owned, while Sherwin Williams stores are corporate-owned.
- John Lucas Co., founded by John Lucas and his father-in-law, Joseph Foster, in 1852, was acquired by Sherwin-Williams in 1930. The paint continued to be manufactured until 1978 when the Lucas Paint Works in Gibbsboro, New Jersey was closed, ending a 127-year tradition of innovative paints and coatings.
List of companies that restore and convert old appliances:Antique Appliances Clayton, GA (706) 782-3132Antique Gas Stoves Los Angeles, CA (909) 484-2222Antique Stove Heaven Los Angeles, CA (323) 298-5581Antique Stove Hospital Little Compton, RI (401) 635-4896Antique Stove Restoration of Dallas Dallas, TX (972) 525-0537Antique Stoves Tekonsha, MI (517) 767-3606Apple Stoves Oakland, CA (510) 420-6096Belgrove Appliance Yonkers, NY (914) 664-5231Buckeye Appliance Stockton, CA (209) 464-9643Bryant Stove & Music Barnstable, MA (508) 362-9913Canadian Antique Stoves Kaslo, BC (250) 353-9648Carolinas Antique Appliances Los Angeles, CA (323) 780-2810Dream Stoves Valley Springs, CA (209) 754-4100Erickson's Antique Stoves Littleton, MA (978) 857-8014Good Time Stove Co. Goshen, MA (413) 268-3677Homestead Stoves Centralia, WA (360) 736-5188Mill Creek Antiques Paxico, KS (785) 636-5520RMR Company San Diego, CA (619) 231-2808Sarah's Antique Stoves Bradford, VT (802) 922-6676Savon Appliance Refinishing Burbank, CA (818) 843-484Vintage Appliances & Restoration Tucson, AZ (520) 326-6849Weiss Antique Stoves Laramie, WY (307) 760-4969
Do you know a restorer that should be added to this directory? Get in touch.