Couple lovingly restores kitchen of island period home
A few years ago, Janet Leggett starting talking to her husband, Dr. Philip Leggett, about buying a house in Galveston. He wasn’t keen on the idea because they had a perfectly nice home in Houston. But Janet gently persuaded him to at least look at one she’d heard about from a friend.
Built in 1885, the house was basically a tear-down, yet Janet saw potential, she said. She was enamored with the layout and even though the kitchen was quite small — 10-foot-by-13-foot — she knew the openness of the adjoining rooms would add a bit of spaciousness, she said.
“I walked in the front door and fell in love with what I saw, even though the windows were boarded up, Sheetrock ripped out and everything was a mess,” she said.
Today, this period home has been lovingly restored and the kitchen updated with new cabinets, windows, light fixtures and appliances.
“My Houston kitchen is so much larger than this one, but I love the fact that everything here is within reach,” she said. “I prefer a kitchen table over an island, and without a built-in pantry, I was able to improvise by using an antique armoire. The full-length mirror on the door adds light and a spatial illusion.”
All floors in the house are original but were re-stained a warm brown to contrast with the stark white painted walls.
A part of what appears to have been a bricked chimney remains next to a kitchen window, and Leggett isn’t quite sure what it represents, she said. But it adds character and makes for a good conversation piece, she said.
The kitchen table, made of oak with a parquet design, rests on a double-pedestal base. Two large leaves on each end pull out to accommodate extra guests.
“You’d be surprised how many we can fit around the table, just by pulling out the leaves and adding more chairs,” she said. “We bring in as many as we can and have a good time. After dinner, we play games, drink wine and mostly just hang out here.”
A cast-iron scale atop the table holds an abundance of fruit.
“I’ve always had a scale in my kitchen,” she said. “It’s tradition.”
Another traditional item is the chalkboard on the wall.
“A chalkboard in a kitchen is a must for me,” she said. “When I started dating my husband, his mom had one in her kitchen, so I started the trend. When our children were growing up, I always had a kitchen chalkboard where we’d write different inspirational sayings, so I knew I just had to have one here.”
Most of the kitchen items came from auctions, antique malls and resale shops, including the ceramic canisters, wicker baskets and a vintage wire shopping cart.
A collection of cookbooks is full of recipes that Leggett cherishes, especially the Houston Junior League cookbook from 1968.
“I use that one almost exclusively, but I also like my Louisiana cookbooks, because I like to cook Creole-style, using a lot of red pepper flakes and garlic,” said Leggett, who lived in New Orleans when her husband was in his medical residency. “If I like a recipe in a cookbook, I write words beside it like, ‘great,’ ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’ next to it.”
Treasures inside the cabinets include Myott Staffordshire dinnerware with matching teapot in The Brook Green pattern, crystal glassware with etched floral designs, and mid-century sherbet dishes with glass inserts and metallic bases.
“I love those sherbet dishes, even though they are stored high up on the tallest shelf,” she said. “It’s worth climbing the ladder to get them down.”
The smallness of the kitchen is barely noticeable because the family room and dining room are both open-concept. A comfortable sofa with gold and blue stripes, and matching chairs covered in mint green complement the all-white kitchen. The dining room — the original living room — is furnished with a distressed wooden table, brocade-covered chairs and a painting that belonged to Leggett’s in-laws.
Galveston holds a special place in Leggett’s heart, so having a second home on the island is very meaningful to her, she said.
“When I was a child, my family would come down for a day at the beach,” she said. “We’d go crabbing, and my grandmother loved to tell stories about the Balinese Room. I also lived here when my husband was in medical school, and I got my going away dress at Eiband’s department store before we got married.”
With her dream-come-true island home, Leggett couldn’t be happier, she said.
“This kitchen is unique and reflects who I am,” she said. “By finding different things at different places, it all came together.”
Best gadget: Heirloom handheld potato masher
Can’t do without: Crawfish pot
Memorable serving piece: Thanksgiving platter that belonged to her great-grandmother
Husband’s favorite dish: Meatloaf with rice, pineapple and Ro-Tel tomatoes.
Janet’s go-to dish: Trout Amandine
6 trout fillets
1 cup milk
1⁄2 cup flour
1⁄3 cup butter
1⁄2 cup slivered almonds
Salt and pepper
Finely chopped parsley
Dip fillets in milk and roll in flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper. Brown fish on both sides in butter. Arrange fish on serving platter and keep warm.
Sauté almonds in butter, then pour browned almonds and butter over fish. Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.