My first kitchen was American Country. I hardly know where to start when commenting about this style of kitchen decor, as an emotional response is quite evident as I type the words. Step back in time with me to my early married days and a little barn house set on a hillside. The kitchen was upstairs with a view of sagebrush covered hillsides through two very large windows. A dormer was the perfect size for a large, round dining room table and chairs made from pine. A painted brown bookcase sat nearby, filled with cookbooks, wooden objects, candles, and dried flower arrangements. Rag scatter rugs in blue accented a mustard-yellow floor. A collection of miniature baskets were arranged neatly along the top of the cabinets next to ceiling, adding color and a quaint sense of beauty. The curtains were my pride and joy --- creamy muslin trimmed in rows of a ruffled brown print that took hours to hem and gather. They were tied back with coordinating fabric. Everything was brown and blue except for the touches of cream and white that were the palette for the earthy colors. Wrought-iron trivets carefully selected from a family trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania graced the walls. And in those days, chickens were evident in many kitchens, and they were definitely a focal point in mine --- either as ceramic chickens, wooden eggs in a chicken-wire box, or as a copper-wire hen bought in Mexico and filled with threads of brown raffia to look like straw. Old bottles tied with simple ribbon and filled with dried grasses and wheat were set in floor corners. Cobalt blue dishes and white ironware were slowly collected and added to decor at a pace that newlyweds can afford. Woven rug chair pads bought in Pennsylvania Amish country were a colorful blue and accented the dark pine chairs. As time, and new places to live evolved, the country kitchen gave way to a traditional look, but I still miss that country look and look back on those years with great fondness.
Here are some of the unique features that make an American Country kitchen as outlined in Pat Ross's book, Kitchens.
American folk art establishes the characteristic look of this style. A hooked rug hanging on a wall, a whimsical whirligig placed on a wall, a sponge ware bowl filled with wooden apples in red or green, or a wooden slice of watermelon set atop a counter all help create this look.
Braided throw rugs work well to cushion weary feet for those long hours of chopping, mixing, or doing dishes at the sink. They are colorful, durable, and shake clean easily.
Wrought-iron trivets, either vintage originals or reproductions, can make an artistic statement when hung on a wall. To show off a handsome collection, hang large pieces of pegboard, paint them the color of the wall, and attach trivets with peg hooks. They're easy to remove and place in service. Single trivets can be hung by a long nail.
Wreaths made of softly colored everlastings find a home in the American country kitchen. Straw flowers, babies breath, or grapevine wreath trimmed with a pretty plaid ribbon all add to the country look.
A row of sponge ware bowls is always fresh and appealing.
Fish decoys painted in soft colors make great art for the country kitchen. Hang them in a row or make them swim across the wall.
Dried herbs can be tied onto a hanging or standing rack along with dish towels made of homespun fabric. For party occasions in the kitchen, tie a small bunch of dried herbs on the back of each chair.
Place a colorful old penny rug in the center of the kitchen table with an old-fashioned lazy Susan on top.
Cooking utensils are easy to get to when they're stored in a decorative stoneware jug on the counter.
Find the perfect oak rocker for your kitchen, and set it by a sunny window. [In our kitchen, a wooden cradle trimmed in calico blue was set beside one of the large windows for baby Brandon. It was the perfect place for him to sleep or sun while mother worked on supper or a canning project].
Fill a wooden bucket with dried flowers and place on the floor.
Fake fruits and vegetables made from wood, marble, ceramics, wax, or paper mache make lovely permanent arrangements.
Folk art objects and American country antiques related to the kitchen can be placed on a shelf or window ledge. Carved dolls, wooden barnyard animals, old medicine bottles, decorative butter molds, or antique utensils all make great additions to the American country kitchen.
A floor cloth stenciled in a quilt or theorem painting design is both attractive and sensible in the American country kitchen.
Use old checkerboards to make graphic wall art.
Swag a country-check fabric across the tops of your kitchen windows.
Consider a brass candle chandelier in the kitchen. The romantic candle glow in the evening will transform your family dining area.
Primitive country benches are as at home in the kitchen as they are in the rest of the house. A bench not only offers family and friends a place to drop their things and sit for a while, but also provides additional storage space underneath.
Cookbooks by the dozen become decorative objects in themselves. Stack them in a line, on a shelf, on a baker's rack, or use several over sized books as a pedestal upon which to set a lamp.
American baskets are light, attractive, and always ready when arranged on top of kitchen cabinets or in the lower portion of open shelving.
Drill small holes in antique knives, forks, and spoons --- the odd bits of flatware found at tag sales and flea markets, rarely tow of them the same --- to match up with the existing screw holes in your drawers or doors. Then remove the existing hardware and replace with your whimsical new pulls. Most silversmiths suggest looking for flatware that is sturdy so as to prevent the bending or loosening of handles. Wooden spoons provide a rustic variation on this clever idea.
Begin looking for old graters and sieves at flea markets. Then hang them from your pot rack to add interest to the new things.
Unusual and fanciful hanging lamps can be made from a tin colander --- old, new, standard size, or chef's size. Select from several graphic punched designs (stars are fun), then run an electrical cord through a hole drilled in the top. Electrify it using an adapter kit found at most hardware stores.
Painted watering cans are great for watering pots of herbs and ivy --- and look great as a part of the decor.
Old quilts and textiles make great accents in this style of kitchen. A worn quilt makes a pretty tablecloth or centerpiece.
It's reassuring to keep a small light turned on in the kitchen after dark. Small table lamps with soft pink bulbs of fifty to eighty watts provide a cozy atmosphere as well as supplemental light on gloomy days.
Mirrors do a great job in expanding a small kitchen. A pine mirror on a wall behind the kitchen table or a long piece of mirror cut to fit the space under the kitchen cabinets doubles the look of space. A grouping of whimsically framed small mirrors becomes a bright and artistic arrangement on a dark wall.
Make a gallery of children's artwork for the wall or fridge.
Start a collection of cookware, utensils, linens or other items for the kitchen. Old salt and pepper shakers, for example, come in every imaginable motif from pink flamingos to wishing wells. They're bright, useful, novel, fun to display, and even more fun to find.
Most of all, have fun and make your kitchen an expression of you and who you are!
Photo: Elm Street Antiques