Primitive Kitchen Cabinets
As the name suggests, the primitive-style kitchen is not the place to
look for formal elegance and fancy embellishments; it hearkens back to
the 18th and 19th centuries, where busy farmers and hardworking
pioneers, with too many demands on their time and energy already, went
for the simple and sturdy, building their own furniture (often from
trees felled on the premises) with basic hand tools. But while
primitive cabinets were first built with utility and long service in
mind, their simple charm has won enduring popularity.
Today, those who prize the well-worn rustic look are fortunate when
they can get that instant heirloom quality from actual period pieces.
Luckily for the antique-impaired, a number of small cabinet shops
specialize in recreating the look and feel of centuries-old farmhouse
finds - often from recycled wood, especially old barn wood and
floorboards. In historic times, cabinets were usually made from
whatever wood was most plentiful locally; today, oak, pine and maple
are all popular choices.
While the style has elements in common with Shaker and American
Country, and can work well with either, it tends to be more simple and
rough-hewn. Doors may have a basic frame or consist of a single slab
of wood. Lines are usually straight; when curves come into play,
they’re rudimentary to the point of being blocky. Surfaces are often a
bit uneven and often distressed; rather than showing a machine-perfect
precision, edges often show the irregular cuts of old-time hand
Antique primitive pieces were sometimes left unfinished; often they
were whitewashed or painted with milk paint in strong reds, blues and
yellows. Today’s replicas mimic those finishes, frequently with
simulated wear that lets the wood show through the paint.
Among the most popular embellishments of primitive cabinets,
especially those dedicated to food storage (e.g. pie safes), are tin
or copper panels with punched ornamental perforations (which, in the
19th century, echoed similar panels adorning the ceilings). Drawer
pulls and door handles may be basic wooden knobs or rustic metal such
as wrought iron, again in simple and rough-hewn designs. Hinges are
often used as ornamental elements and may be in interesting shapes,
e.g. stars, rarely seen elsewhere. (Stars, metal and otherwise, are a
common theme in primitive kitchens.)
If you like the country feel and cherish the time-worn quality, the
primitive style may be for you - especially if you already have some
antique pieces you want to incorporate into your new “old”
kitchen. Your design professional can help you get the perfect blend
of 21st century convenience and the centuries-old charm of farmhouses
Some styles never get old, and the country kitchen is certainly one of them. Primitive cabinetry may have been a simple solution for turn-of-the-century farmers on the go, but today they bring a country feel and time-worn quality that many homeowners adore. Going for the rustic look? Here’s what you need to know.
The cost of installing primitive kitchen cabinetry depends on one question: are you installing actual antique cabinetry or the DIY variety? Obviously, the former will cost significantly more than the latter. If you plan on tackling the project yourself and distressing or refinishing your existing cabinetry, you could get away with only purchasing paint and sanding paper for less than $50.
For the antique-challenged, there are quite a few small cabinet shops that specialize in recreating the look and feel of centuries-old farmhouse finds—often from recycled wood, especially old barn wood and floorboards. Talk with a cabinet professional to get more accurate price quotes here.
The style allows for several different finishing touches, including basic wooden door knobs or rustic metal pulls.
Unfinished appearance means that this could be handled as a DIY project.
Primitive cabinets can give any kitchen a worn rustic look and feel.
Formal elegance and fancy embellishments are no-no’s for this type of kitchen.
Once you’ve completed the primitive look, it’s extremely hard (if not impossible) to bring cabinets back to their original finish.
In terms of resale, not every potential buyer would be interested in primitive kitchen cabinetry.
Primitive kitchen cabinetry was created with stability in mind, so the style itself is very durable. In addition, with an appearance uninterested in uniformity, there’s not much you could do to these cabinets that wouldn’t make them look more antique and rustic. The more aged, the more primitive.
Common Questions and Answers
What are the best paint colors for primitive kitchen cabinetry?
If you want to keep with the style of the old country kitchen, then it’s best to use bold primary colors, like red, blue, or yellow. However, they don’t have to be extremely bright— consider using them in muted shades.
HistoryPrimitive kitchens hearken back to the 18th and 19th centuries, where busy farmers and hardworking pioneers, with too many demands on their time and energy already, went for the simple and sturdy, building their own furniture (often from trees felled on the premises) with basic hand tools. But while primitive cabinets were first built with utility and long service in mind, their simple charm has won enduring popularity. In historic times, cabinets were usually made from whatever wood was most plentiful locally. Today, oak, pine and maple are all popular choices.
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