Christmas past is a real presence in this family's Victorian kitchen.
By Cindy Tobin
Living in a century-old farmhouse, I can’t help but feel connected to its celebrations over the years. That’s especially true when our family and friends gather in our kitchen and dining room during the holidays.
We’re surrounded by family heirlooms, each with its own story. Take the antique King Oak wood-burning stove—that was a gift from my aunt. My grandmother made the rag rug next to it, from my grandfather’s old ties. The dining room table has been in the family for generations. When our son and daughter, Aaron and Elise, were growing up, it’s where they did their homework.
Seated there, we look out through a large bay window over to our barn and pasture. We raise mostly horses and hay here, though we’ve had lots of other animals, especially since I’m a 4-H leader, and Elise used to raise champion hogs and chickens. Husband Tom and I bought our small farm in 1989. Tom, who runs a family accounting practice, was a city boy. But I lived on a farm as a girl, and convinced him we should bring up our kids in the country.
We’d hoped to find a farm that came with a Victorian-era farmhouse. I was so excited when I first looked through this Queen Anne-style house that I immediately called Tom at work to say I’d found the home of our dreams. Ever practical, Tom asked what the second floor was like. I couldn’t tell him—I hadn’t yet seen it!
Over the years, we’ve worked to restore the home’s original beauty, although the kitchen and dining room really needed nothing more than some cosmetic work. I put up wallpaper and refinished the floors. Visitors often comment on the dining room’s stunning inlaid red-oak and maple flooring, as well as its lighted stained glass windows and tongue-and-groove oak wainscoting.
As befits a turn-of-the-century farmhouse, my dining room, kitchen and pantry are all separate. Quite a change from the “great room” concept popular in many homes today! In fact, my kitchen sink and dishwasher aren’t even -in the kitchen proper. They’re located in the adjoining pantry, along with plenty of cabinets and my modern washer and dryer—all out of view but still extremely handy.
Tom and I often hold reunions here–we’ve hosted as many as 55 people at once—and I love how having a separate pantry keeps my kitchen so tidy! Guests who wander in to chat as I’m fixing dinner never see dishes waiting to be washed.
Instead, they’ll see my grandmother’s Fiesta dinnerware, the antique-style wall telephone or oak china cabinets, original to the house, which open to both the kitchen and dining room. (Yes, my fridge, oven and microwave are here, too—but somehow, they become all but invisible among the antiques!)
The homey kitchen serves us well. I’ve always enjoyed cooking and baking with ingredients grown on our farm, like rhubarb pie or currant jam. At the holidays, we serve turkey that’s either from our farm or another nearby. Our kitchen becomes extra busy during my annual Christmas cookie bake. That’s a 23-year tradition among the girlfriends I grew up with, and includes a slumber party after we’re done baking.
Christmas décor just seems to fit in well here—maybe because the original owners moved in just a week before Christmas 1907. Or maybe it’s because the Victorian era was the time when decorating for Christmas really became popular. I decorate throughout the house, often using natural decorations in Victorian style. It takes me about a week, and includes at least one live tree cut from our farm, plus Santas and smaller trees throughout.
Two Christmases ago, we celebrated our home’s centennial year with a community tour. We were especially honored to have the 93-year-old granddaughter of the home’s original family as a guest. Tom and I were so tickled when she remarked how lovely it was to sit in the parlor—because she’d never been allowed in there as a child! So joke all you want about my living in the past. I can’t think of a happier or homier place, both for the holidays and every day!
Get a close-up look at the Tobins’ Victorian kitchen floor plan.
Victorian Kitchen Photography by Jack Long. Illustration by Bob Gaszak.