Old homes are replete with charm and character, but they don’t need to be period pieces! Meet Ethan and Elizabeth Finkelstein of Cheap Old Houses. The designing duo, known for their wildly popular Instagram account and HGTV show, delve into the ins and outs of renovating old homes with a focus on thoroughly modern amenities. Learn how to nail a cohesive look with panel-ready models, a top choice in today’s luxury remodels that artfully conceal major appliances, making kitchen cabinetry look more like perfectly-placed furniture.
This episode of Ask the Appliance Experts is supported by SMEG. Discover SMEG Appliances, including AjMadison-exclusive products at ajmadison.com/brands/smeg-appliances
[00:00:00] Amy Chernoff: Welcome to the Appliance Experts, a new podcast from AJ Madison Pro that tackles the ins and outs of appliances, making an often confusing and really technical topic, approachable and dare we say, even fun. I’m Amy Chernoff, VP of Marketing here at AJ Madison.
[00:00:17] Jessica Petrino-Ball: And I’m Jessica Petrino-Ball Editorial Director at AJ Madison. We are the brands in-house experts, and we’re on tap to interview installers, builders, renovation pros, and other leaders in the field on all things appliances.
[00:00:33] Amy Chernoff: Jess I’m completely obsessed with old houses right now and old, I mean, like not of this century. I just have such an appreciation for the craftsmanship and the way that the homes were built, and there’s usually so many cool, unique features.
[00:00:52] Jessica Petrino-Ball: I am all about the features. Details like crown molding, original hardware-
[00:00:58] Amy Chernoff: Give me some pocket doors!
[00:00:59] Jessica Petrino-Ball: Love a good pocket door! You, you recently purchased an older home, right?
[00:01:04] Amy Chernoff: It’s ancient, 1847 farmhouse that’s had many, many additions to it, and the kitchen was actually an addition in the 1950s and it has not been renovated, that kitchen, it really, really needs an update.
[00:01:21] Amy Chernoff: I mean, the one thing that I always get stuck on, which is, you know, particular interest to me just being such an appliance geek, is, you want to, keep the integrity of the old house but at the same time, you wanna make sure you have modern conveniences in the kitchen, and I think sometimes that’s very, very difficult keeping, the style and the integrity of the home, but, yet modernizing it so it’s useful for 2022 and beyond. I’m determined to get some tips so that, I don’t end up in a really like kitschy place … so let’s get started!
[00:02:00] This is a big moment today. It is my fan girl dreams come true. We have with us today, Ethan and Elizabeth Finkelstein. Ethan and Elizabeth found their true calling when they started their cheap old house’s Instagram feed, which now has more than 2 million followers.
They started an eight episode HGTV series of the same name. The show follows the couple as they search for architecturally intact homes priced at less than $150,000. The couple is restoring a cheap, but beautiful old farmhouse. They snagged for $70,000. Welcome!
[00:02:40] Ethan Finkelstein: We love AJ Madison so thanks for having us on… and you guys have been amazing to us.
[00:02:46] Jessica Petrino-Ball: Thank you so much. we’re so excited to talk about older homes and adding kitchens to those spaces, especially because today’s kitchens bring a lot of modern amenities. Older homes they have a story, how [00:03:00] can we consider the history of a home and the story of a home and update a space to meet those modern needs and functionalities?
[00:03:07] Elizabeth Finkelstein: That is such a loaded question. And one of my favorite topics, I think, the interaction of kitchens and old houses is something we think about so often because kitchens and bathrooms are the most renovated rooms in every single house. So if you get to walk in a house that has its original kitchen, it’s really special.
[00:03:28] Elizabeth Finkelstein: And I think when we share that kind of house on Cheap Old Houses, people go especially wild for it. It’s definitely something I think about a lot. I see kitchens done well. I see kitchens done in a jarringly wrong way. I see kitchens that can marry the old and the new pretty well.
Amy Chernoff: I feel like the period of the home has a lot to do with it. It’s not just the aesthetic of the kitchen, it’s also the location of the kitchen in some cases and I think today it is very common to make the kitchen the center of the home and really the primary, entertaining space.
[00:04:00] Elizabeth Finkelstein: It’s interesting. We really have come very full circle in our idea of the kitchen, being the heart of the home. When you think about at least where I live in the Northeast, houses that were built around a central fireplace that had. It was a huge chimney right in the center of the house. And there was a fireplace on all four sides going into all different rooms to heat the house.
[00:04:18] Elizabeth Finkelstein: And people really had to gather in the kitchen in order to keep warm. And there was that giant fireplace that we cooked under and we kept warm under and It was so large, you could practically walk inside it. And then we went through periods of moving kitchens around houses, and now we’re really back to having the kitchen as the main gathering space in the house. So, it’s really interesting to think about how we very much come circle with that.
[00:04:42] Jessica Petrino-Ball: Do you find that today’s buyers often wanna move or entirely redesign historic kitchens or, you know, what are the pros and cons of moving or expanding in renovating, kitchens in a cheap, old home?
[00:04:59] Elizabeth Finkelstein: I think whatever [00:05:00] you do, you have to consider your house. It’s very hard to group all old houses into a single bucket. Houses all came from different eras. And the ethos around kitchens from particular times was different in different times. For instance, I just talked about very early American homes where everyone would gather in the kitchen, the family, the guests, anybody who had to keep warm. You think think about the Victorian era, where there was mass industrialization going on and people were scared of germs and people were very scared of all of the sort of things from the outside world that could creep into their home and considered the kitchens to be something… Where that could potentially be dirty or too hotand they really wanted to close them off from the rest of the house. oftentimes in Victorian houses, the kitchen will be in the very back of the house, closed off from the spaces where they would entertain people. Then we get into the era of the 1920s, thirties, and forties, where we’re in the bungalow era.
[00:05:58] Elizabeth Finkelstein: Where the kitchen would be back in [00:06:00] the center of the house. There might be a little breakfast nook enough where you would eat in the kitchen. There would be a pull down ironing board, so the mother could iron clothes while feeding her children food. And it was kind of back to being the center of family life.
[00:06:11] Elizabeth Finkelstein: Now we’re in a place where kitchens are really great show pieces and I think people more energy into thinking about the design of their kitchen than probably any other room in the entire house. I mean, when you think about. HGTV and other home design shows, they always do the kitchen.
[00:06:29] Elizabeth Finkelstein: Right? People are interested in the kitchen. Very, very interested in the kitchen and hundred years ago, that 100% not have been the case.
[00:06:36] Jessica Petrino-Ball: That’s super are there particular eras where home appliances, for example, are more celebrated than others? In today’s day and age, we’re seeing a lot of people covering up appliances with panels, for example. You know, are there certain period homes where appliances were more prominent and celebrated?
[00:06:56] Elizabeth Finkelstein: Absolutely. It’s all about new technologies, right? First of all, the idea [00:07:00] of a fitted kitchen with modern appliances really came into being in probably around the 1930s is when you start to see fitted kitchens with cabinets, that match going all the way across. Before that, kitchens were sort of cobbled together pieces of furniture and collections, and they evolved over time and you moved things around and they weren’t really fixed to the house in the same sense. Victorian kitchens often had beautiful large built-ins, but it wouldn’t have spanned the entire length of the kitchen necessarily, except in the Butler’s pantry, which is a whole nother thing we need to talk about because those need to come back.
[00:07:34] Elizabeth Finkelstein: But when we’re talking about the idea of modern appliances, yes. If you lived in the 1940s and you had you’re modern refrigerator and all of the things that made your kitchen feel modern, they were meant to be shown off and never would we have covered them up. So when you’re thinking today about doing a kitchen and you have an old house, house, you You need to think about the era of the house before you say, I want panel ready, [00:08:00] appliances, everywhere panel ready appliances would be very appropriate in houses that maybe wouldn’t have had dishwashers. But if you lived in the era, when dishwashers were first invented, you were showing off that dishwasher and there would be no covering it up.
[00:08:13] Elizabeth Finkelstein: So a lot of this is understanding the language of the architecture you live in.
Amy Chernoff: Kind of a melding though, you know, maybe the homeowner’s needs and how they wanna live along with the, integrity of the home that they purchased. Seems to me like it has to be a balance between those two things. It is a crime to tear out all of the old features and then build a new modern kitchen.
There really has to be a melding I would think of the two things like how do you live what do you need in your kitchen, versus what is the structure of the kitchen in a lot of cases, to your point, depending on the age of the home could be a blank slate It could be not a lot of cabinetry and, just an open space that you [00:09:00] have to, create a kitchen of the, not, I’m not gonna say the future, but of today.
[00:09:05] Elizabeth Finkelstein: Yeah. And just to give you a little permission here, I think a lot of people feel that when they’re in an old house, there’s one set of rules they have to follow, and if they get it wrong, they’ve done something terribly wrong. and unfortunately, I do feel that’s the kind of mentality that prevents a lot of people from feeling like they can take on an old house. So even in an old house let’s say you had a farmhouse from the late 1700’s, we don’t cook over a flame anymore, we’ve evolved from that, so authentically that family living in the house probably would’ve bought a modern fridge when they came on the market and updated their kitchen.
Then you have a kitchen that mixed materials it’s older remnants from the past with technologies in it, that came on the market and the family evolved with the times. You’re not supposed to necessarily make your kitchen look like it came out a catalog, were there to be [00:10:00] catalogs in 1770. But the beauty of kitchens, is that like all good old houses they evolve over time.
[00:10:05] Elizabeth Finkelstein: I think what you want to avoid, and we’ve all been there right, we’ve walked in a house that feels very 1930’s and you get in the kitchen and you’re like oh, this is very 2013 and if you do a 2022 kitchen, in 10 years it’s gonna to look like that. So, I would say don’t necessarily respond to the trends that’s are going on at the time right now, respond to the language of your house.
[00:10:38] Elizabeth Finkelstein: So, gathering space, but look at the details that make up the rest of your house. The original details, the type of wood used, the textures used, the kinds of finishes in the hardware. Bring in salvage harbor if you have to from that period on stock cabinetry think about the proportions and the materials and the details used in the rest of your house And if you bring that into your [00:11:00] kitchen you can have fun with a layout and make it feel functional while still feeling a part of your house And it won’t give you that jarring break that just 10 years will just read dated.
[00:11:13] Ethan Finkelstein: I actually think that that would, you I think we all know on the real estate market, you’re looking at a house and you’re like, oh, that’s from 1990.
[00:11:21] Ethan Finkelstein: And you’re like, that needs to be flipped. That needs to be fixed. That needs be, you know, and the real estate agent will tell you as such and I think if you use design sensitivity when you’re redoing a kitchen, towards the era of your house you are basically creating a classic look that will actually I believe increase the value if you do something that in 10 or 15 years needs to be flipped, just because it looks like 2022, and we’ll all know what those trends are at this moment, you know, that we’re hitting.
[00:11:54] Ethan Finkelstein: You know, I think that brings the value actually down and I think even from a design ethos in [00:12:00] your home.
[00:12:01] Ethan Finkelstein: if you’re coming from a, an older, like in an older house and you’re walking from to living room to kitchen, you wanna make that blend feel consistent.
[00:12:11] Ethan Finkelstein: I think so many people wanna, know, break down the wall, know, and open it up. And I think that actually creates more design problems because if you have then a modern living room, then you have your modern kitchen.
[00:12:22] Ethan Finkelstein: Then you’re creating more modernity into something where if you took time and you kind of studied the way that these kitchens look, is almost easier on your design budget because you’re not having to redo everything.
Elizabeth Finkelstein: Ethan and I were actually talking morning a little bit about just in preparation for this about sort of our ideas of kitchens and one of my favorite things in the kitchen, in the house I grew up in which was an 1850s Greek revival cheap old house that my parents restored throughout my childhood My favorite thing in that kitchen was the sofa. We had a sofa there and we would sit and we’d gather in the kitchen and there was room in that kitchen [00:13:00] for furniture. I love the idea of not putting so many built-ins all over your kitchen. Fixed islands certainly have their place in larger spaces but, I love the idea of maybe putting a table there instead that you can use as an island and then when the space needs to adapt or you have people over you can move it, you can bring chairs in you can bring a sofa in and the space can kind of evolve. That’s one of the things that I think is smart to do in an older home, you’re not necessarily putting something in that’s fixed that can’t be changed unless you throw it out. You’re bringing pieces in that can be changed and shifted around while having built in appliances and a functioning kitchen around it.
Jessica Petrino-Ball: When it comes to sourcing furniture, versus built-ins, versus cabinets, what are some of the key differences there and from, from an aesthetic standpoint, you know is there a functionality difference, between them?
Jessica Petrino-Ball: Should appliances be covered up to look more like furniture? I feel like that is probably one of the larger trends in period homes today is we want, instead of everything looking super industrial we’re trying to cover things up and make them all blend in to make the kitchen into that new living room.
[00:14:06] Amy Chernoff: To panel or not to panel. That is the question!
[00:14:09] Elizabeth Finkelstein: Well it really falls back on the kind of house you have, I think that that kind of kitchen would look of place in a 1950s home where they were putting turquoises wall ovens in and they were showing off the fun of their appliances. If you want the kind of kitchen that feels very collected which would be very appropriate in an early American home homes before we had really You know modern functioning appliances and before salesmen were coming around door to door prey on housewives and selling them you know the the the steel kitchen cabinets going straight across the kitchen we had collections of furniture that were cobbled together. I think everyone’s favorite and I think there’s still so much nostalgia around this today. Everyone’s favorite kitchen piece is the Hoosiers cabinet. Really right before we started having fully fitted kitchens, we had these items called Hoosiers. They were called Hoosiers because they’re developed in Indiana they were sort of a one stop shop station They would be parked in your house, they had a counter top, they had a flower sifter, they had a scale. They had all of the compartments for all the things that you would need in the kitchen they were sort of like the preamble
[00:15:19] Elizabeth Finkelstein: to then doing these kind of really functional cabinets really built all over the kitchen so they were sort of the bridge I guess from the furniture kitchen into the idea of a fitted kitchen.
[00:15:32] Elizabeth Finkelstein: Furniture pieces are really fun to think about in kitchens I mean you can retro fit almost anything to be a kitchen piece you can, you could have a standalone sink with legs standing on its own.
You could drop a sink into maybe an old dry sink another piece of furniture You could to a salvage shop or have a cabinet maker or something make You know mock built-ins or just standalone pantries or hutches or some sort of kitchen cabinet you can make that kind of kitchen really happen I mean these are I think very typical in country homes.You also would see them early Victorian kitchens really had this kind of look too of really being kind of like separate pieces for sure that’s a really fun and different approach and it’s not what I see all over Instagram right now I do see the same kitchen all over Instagram right now, and it’s a beautiful kitchen just wonder how it’ll look in 10 years.
[00:16:29] Ethan Finkelstein: And everything is paneled it’s yeah, when we, when we look back at history, it’s cobbled pieces early, early that are tables and functional furniture.
[00:16:39] Ethan Finkelstein: Then in the fifties it becomes. We’re showing off our technology, like showing off our big screen TVs we are now. And then now, I think the stove is the main, the range is the main piece you
[00:16:51] Ethan Finkelstein: know, I think it, everything kind just washes off back with paneled everything, hopefully we’re entering an era little bit more color [00:17:00] and fun and, you know usefulness I think, I think the trend of going furniture and making it the center room, I don’t think is gonna go away and so
[00:17:12] Ethan Finkelstein: figuring out ways to kind of historically bring that in and, and just working with the house.
Jessica Petrino-Ball: we’re seeing a lot of trends the home appliance world, gearing towards customization, and giving people freedom to build your own stove. In whatever color and handle design you want. Customization today is really inching more towards the functionality of the products too.
[00:17:37] Jessica Petrino-Ball: Like having a built-in grill or griddle or air fryer, Suvee… we’re, we’re seeing a lot more modalities to kind of eliminate some of that countertop clutter as well. To your point, I’m really, kind of hoping that the 2022 stock becomes a little bit more interesting, I’m tired of the sameness, the same neutrals with neutral countertops I like a little bit of [00:18:00] color.
[00:18:00] Ethan Finkelstein: Well, I think we’re all really, really tired of the white and gray kitchen. and everyone was accepting of that for so many years. And now to your point, I think the customization is the pushback of seeing that for so many years. It’s like, give me something new. And I think to your point of the 2022, it’s like, I think the customization is gonna be great, but in that specifically, and, and the 2022 stamp can be made on modern or, places that are newer, but when you’re talking about an older home and you’re talking about the value of your home, considering the design ethos of your home, and then how do you bring in elements and how do you bring out the layout that would at least nod to the history?
[00:18:43] Ethan Finkelstein: I think will always be, a value add, when you’re selling the house even if it’s not full on historically completely accurate and period.
[00:18:52] Amy Chernoff: I think that makes a lot of sense and, to Jess’s point about customization, there’s more and more opportunities to [00:19:00] customize, your kitchen, not only to a specific style or aesthetic, but to really make it yours so it doesn’t look like your neighbor’s kitchen or your sister’s kitchen.
I’m kind of wondering, like, I feel like the whole panel um, for dishwashers and refrigerators… To me, it, it kind of came out of, people wanting to use their kitchens as an entertaining space. Right. It’s like the clearing of the countertops and the hiding of the appliances with the exception of the range.
[00:19:35] Amy Chernoff: Which may make its own statement. It really does make it, a functional space for entertaining that, aesthetically would be, like your living room or dining room or wherever you prefer to entertain. I also think the the advent of not only color the handle style, the configuration or the functionality of the appliance itself can be [00:20:00] customized. Samsung, bespoke. They launched a line of appliances that the finish on the appliance itself can be customized. There’s a variety of colors, that you can choose, but they also launched recently the ability to, print on demand for the surface of your refrigerator, for example.
[00:20:22] Amy Chernoff: So it could be a pattern or a color. Or a photo of your family vacation if you wanted to be the case. And I, I think that’s probably an extreme look at personalization in the kitchen. Putting a photo permanently bonded to the surface of your refrigerator, but I think it does lend itself well.
[00:20:42] Amy Chernoff: Um, there are a few other manufacturers that also can, bond during the manufacturing process, a pattern or a specific color to the appliances. I think it’s an interesting way to express your style. The functionality of the appliance. [00:21:00] remains the same, but you have that personal piece that you can add to your kitchen, which I think is, is really interesting.
Jessica Petrino-Ball: Elizabeth, you mentioned, a focus on cleanliness back in the Victorian era, its come back full circle because in this post COVID.
[00:21:17] Jessica Petrino-Ball: society, you know, we’re, we’re really kind of focusing on which textures and finishes clean up well, appliances that are fingerprint resistant, and the modalities of the products themselves having sanitized cycles to keep our families safe.
[00:21:32] Elizabeth Finkelstein: Yeah we all talk about white kitchens as being so modern. The most modern kitchens in the Victorian era were purely white. You walk in some of ’em and they’re head to toe even the ceiling, subway tile and you see this, I’m a fan of the Guiled age you Okay a big surprise but and I’m a fan of it for the sets you see some of the scenes in that are shot in houses that I believe are probably primarily um Guiled [00:22:00] beach mansions in Newport, Rhode Island there’s a at least one kitchen in there that’s just head to toe in white subway tile and white subway Tile has certainly as we all know made a huge trend to come back, but that came out of what’s called the sanitary movement which really came out of this period was a fear of germs, and it’s also why so many Victorian kitchens and bathrooms had exposed plumbing. You you walk into them and you see beautiful old kind of pipes kind of everywhere, cause they thought that you could clean them easier if you could see them they were cleaner. You don’t wanna bury things away they can get dirty. Um and so this this sanitary really came out so strongly in design from that period and yeah it’s funny I think we’re looking to the past in a lot of things. In today in modern kitchens I think one of the other things that is having a moment which excites me is hardware, I I think hardware went overlooked for so long, but I see people putting beautiful brass matchbox latches on their cabinets and [00:23:00] really customizing their cabinetry through really really beautiful little details like that in the hardware and hardware is such a part of old houses it’s so great.
[00:23:08] Jessica Petrino-Ball: Absolutely, a large component of your work is, know, preservation and craftsmanship and attention to those details, how does that focus inform the kind of appliances that you help clients specify and how do you choose appliances?
[00:23:26] Elizabeth Finkelstein: There’s that perfect balance meaning quality and aesthetic when it comes to historical homes. Spend good money on something that’s going to last because we all know at the end of the day you’re gonna spend just as much if you have to replace it then you’re spending double. Um I would say aim high, uh something like a range will be the centerpiece of your kitchen.
[00:23:46] Elizabeth Finkelstein: um
[00:23:47] Ethan Finkelstein: Our feed and show is called cheap old houses, but we do think that you should put really expensive, quality things in them.
[00:23:55] Elizabeth Finkelstein: Because we are not we’re not advocating to fill up our landfills anymore I mean a big part of what we do is also the idea of sustainability and working with what you have, so I think quality is always first and foremost for me.
[00:24:08] Elizabeth Finkelstein: I think if you can get appliances that responds that have a look that responds to the style of your house we all know and love ??? but there are kitchens you know that have different kinds of retro, a kitchen in a Victorian house, a kitchen in an 1830s house, a mid-century modern house, these would all require kind of different kinds of historically inspired appliances. If you can’t get that, there aren’t that many makers that make retro looking appliances so if you have to go with something modern there are other ways in your kitchen that you can speak to the architecture of the rest of your house and like I said before, I think it’s okay if your kitchen looks a little bit like an evolution of the house I think that that’s very natural. People often think that when they design their house, you know they buy a house from 1896 and then they have to put like 1896 furniture in it and all the colors have to match and the furniture has to match and I think like [00:25:00] even the person who moved into that house in 1896 would’ve brought with them family heirlooms from 1850 and 1820 and the original furniture in that house also would’ve been a hodgepodge and a mixture because people back in the day couldn’t get things as easily as we can. Things were passed down and when they were broken they got repaired so their possessions were mixed eras. I think it’s okay to think about a historical house as a little bit of an evolution. I guess what I would advise against is doing your entire kitchen as today but if you had to put in some modern appliances for the quality and the fact that they just function and maybe you’re a person who spends all of your time in the kitchen and you really wanna have a really really wonderful range then that’s fantastic and there are other ways you can work with the rest of the details in the kitchen
[00:25:45] Elizabeth Finkelstein: that respond more to rest your house.
Amy Chernoff: Well, I wanna thank both of you for joining us today. It’s been an absolute pleasure talking about old houses and really looking following [00:26:00] along!
[00:26:00] Elizabeth Finkelstein: We are so grateful to have to have partnered with you so much over the years. And, continue to help make these historical homes shine with their appliances and we’re just ever to, to have you in our pocket. So very much appreciated as well.
[00:26:15] Jessica Petrino-Ball: And now for our Ask the Appliance expert takeaways.
[00:26:20] Jessica Petrino-Ball: One, old homes are meant to evolve over time, just like the people residing in them.
[00:26:25] Jessica Petrino-Ball: Two, every old home has a unique story that should be honored. When remodeling, make sure to do some research and incorporate period details to reduce dissonance. Something as simple as adding hardware or adding an antique furniture piece to the space can tie in old and new for a more cohesive design.
[00:26:45] Jessica Petrino-Ball: Three, historical trends like central gathering spaces and early American homes, or customization with color appliances in the fifties come full circle and may have relevance today
[00:26:57] Jessica Petrino-Ball: and four. Not all historical [00:27:00] errors are the same, although panel ready appliances are a hot trend right now, doesn’t mean that covering appliances make sense for every period home. and five for the most up to date trends in information, please follow us on social at AJ Madison.
[00:27:16] Jessica Petrino-Ball: Thanks so much for listening. Make sure you follow the show so you never miss an episode. AJ Madison is part of the SURROUND podcast network. Check out our show notes and discover other architecture and design shows at surroundpodcasts.com.
[00:27:32] Jessica Petrino-Ball: That’s podcasts with an s!
[00:27:34] Jessica Petrino-Ball: Catch us next time for a conversation with one of my favorite people, Appliance expert, recipe developer, Chef, and Martha Stewart’s Chopped Grand Champion, Saba Wahid Duffy.