Islander finds an unfitted kitchen is the perfect fit
When Galveston resident Helen Stroud moved into her 1886 Lost Bayou Historic District home three years ago, she knew one thing for certain — the kitchen needed an overhaul.
“I was going for that South Louisiana old-kitchen feel — an unfitted kitchen —to match the period look of the house,” Stroud said.
The term “unfitted” — meaning freestanding or independent — is an English term that contrasts with the term “fitted kitchen” — a kitchen created with continuous bands of cabinetry and countertops.
Stroud and husband, Dan, own other properties in Galveston and The Woodlands, but Stroud spends most of her time on the island, where she also owns Olivine, a downtown boutique specializing in home décor.
“When we bought this place, the kitchen was brand new,” Stroud said. “It had a granite island, built-in cabinets and a bar. It just wasn’t my taste. Since I’m from Shreveport, Louisiana, I thought how much fun it would be to make this feel more like the house my grandmother lived in, built in the early 1930s. I knew I wanted that look.”
Armed with photos of what her 1886 house looked like in the early 1900s, she got together with interior designer Dennis McNabb and friend Chris Smith as well as Scott Hanson of Antique Warehouse, and set the plan in motion. They decided to take everything out, not only in the kitchen, but in the adjoining family room, and start with a clean slate.
“That family room, originally a dining room, had a big fireplace so we removed that as well,” she said. “We converted the big archway between the two rooms into a rectilinear opening with molding. My friend Susan Fox also got involved, so it took a team.”
Although the floor-to-ceiling kitchen windows are original, some new framing was added to the top half, with most of the bottom half hidden by the free-standing cabinets. The walls — Edgecomb Gray by Benjamin Moore — are a combination of plaster and the bead board. The re-stained wood floors are original to the house.
The most impressive item of the unfitted kitchen is the 1938 Chambers gas stove, originally part of the William Moody III home on Avenue T. Yet, subsequent owners of the house didn’t like it, so it had been sitting in the garage. The original stove hood was found as well and installed.
The five-burner stove with deep well, griddle broiler, two ovens and attached shelf was brought up to speed and not only looks amazing, it cooks like a charm, Stroud said.
Hanson built a functional table to the left of the stove from period wood. It holds a collection of silver pitchers and teapots. Across the room is a Big Chill refrigerator, with retro design, chrome trim and pivoting handles.
A striking feature is the 10-foot cabinet with glass doors designed by McNabb and Smith. Most of the items on display belonged to Helen’s grandmother and Dan’s grandparents, including colored glassware by Fostoria, rose point wine glasses by Cambridge and platters by Blue Willow and Staffordshire.
“We drink everything out of the good glasses,” she said.
Hanson provided the farm sink as well as the cabinet underneath that was taken out of another island period home. McNabb built the shelf above the sink, which displays an assortment of family collectibles. Copper patina countertops add rustic charm.
Stroud’s favorite part of the kitchen is the large farm table that sits in the center of the room with a mix of chairs, some belonging to her great-grandmother and the rest from other family members, she said.
“My grandmother in Shreveport had this type of pine table in her kitchen in the 1930s,” she said. “It’s so much better to have this as the focal point instead of an intrusive island. We can all sit down, have dinner and be together.”
The light fixture above the table was purchased new. Dan Stroud took it out to the backyard and dipped the shiny brass in an aging solution to give it a patina appearance.
A mini-grandfather wall clock, belonging to Helen Stroud’s maternal grandparents, hangs on a wall next to mid-century serving cart from Antique Warehouse.
The custom-made, linen curtains, held by tiny brass rods, are positioned to allow for an abundance of light to flood the room.
Stroud loves to cook and has a collection of cookbooks, including her favorite, “Cane River Cuisine” published in Natchitoches, Louisiana in 1974. Others include “Talk About Good,” published by the Lafayette Junior League in 1967, and “Cooking up a Storm,” recipes from The Times-Picayune of New Orleans, published in 2008.
Growing up with seven siblings, Stroud has five grown children, and many relatives who have all played an important part in her life, she said. Her 88-year-old aunt, Josephine Carmody, is Stroud’s inspiration, not only because of her youthful demeanor but because she shares Stroud’s love of cooking.
“My heritage is alive in this space,” Stroud said. “Everyone is here in spirit; I can feel them.”
Best pots and pans: Le Creuset
Can’t live without: Lots of black and cayenne pepper
Addition to almost any dish: Better Than Bouillon — chicken base
Tip from Chef Paul Prudhomme: If a recipe calls for water, use chicken broth instead
Best kitchen therapy: Polishing silver
RED BEANS AND RICE, SOUTH LOUISIANA STYLE
1 pound red kidney beans
1 ham bone or ham hocks
2 medium onions, chopped
½ cup chopped bell pepper
2-3 bay leaves
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 pound smoked sausage, sliced
Red pepper to taste
Dash of Tabasco sauce
Salt to taste
WASH and pick over beans. Cover with cold water and soak overnight.
COVER beans with 2 to 3 inches of water, using the water they were soaked in. Add ham bone, onions, bell pepper, bay leaves, garlic, cumin powder, red pepper and Tabasco. Cook slowly 3 to 4 hours, adding water as needed while cooking.
ADD salt after beans are tender; they’ll make a thick gravy. About 20 minutes before beans are through cooking, add sausage. Serve with cooked rice of your choice and hot French bread.