Real estate


A ‘pan-oramic’ look back at decades of kitchen renovations

Harry Haysom for The Boston Globe

Our wedding date was set for November, and on a steamy August morning, we passed papers on our first home. It was 1970, and hubs-to-be and I were just 21 years old.

I grew up in Dorchester’s St. Ann Parish and was bursting with pride over our new St. Brendan digs. In Dorchester, neighborhoods are still defined by parish, and in the ’60s, St. Brendan Parish was considered a bit tony. I’m not sure why, but it was. Forty-six years, four kitchens, and umpteen other renovations later, I’m happy to say we’re still here.

Our home was deeded in 1892, a few years after Minnie Clayton sold a swath of farmland to builders. The original owner’s descendants made improvements — like an indoor bathroom. When we first opened the front door, we saw a closed-off parlor, a dining room, and a kitchen with white metal Youngstown cabinets, an old-school pantry, and a well-worn linoleum floor. There wasn’t a closet in sight. Up a steep flight of stairs, we found three bedrooms and a bathroom with a claw-foot tub and pull-chain toilet.


Now it was our turn. Doors came out, walls came down, radiators got the heave-ho, as did those bathroom fixtures — little did we know they would be back in style. Then we created our new kitchen. I can see it as if were yesterday: walnut-laminate cabinets, a white Formica countertop, and the nothing-says-the-’70s-like-harvest-gold appliances. The walls were paneled halfway up and topped with yellow vinyl wallpaper. Here I hung my prized framed Marimekko fabric.

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Several years and three kids later, we decided to add a family room and a second bath and to treat ourselves to a coat closet. Construction was well underway one Saturday and we were so busy that none of us realized there was a fire raging in the attic. We surveyed the damage: Our black Naugahyde couch, bentwood rocker, and orange shag rug were ruined, but our home still stood. We rallied, and the family room came to fruition. Opening off the kitchen, it had a wood-burning stove, de rigueur for that energy-conscious era.

A decade later, we were ready to remodel the kitchen again. We chose white Formica cabinets trimmed in oak (boy, did those become ubiquitous in the ’80s), white appliances, and a blue-tile counter.

In 2005, we wanted a 21st-century kitchen. Another wall came down (we finally bid adieu to the old parlor), doubling the kitchen’s size. Now white wooden cabinets and subway tiles complement stainless-steel appliances. Black granite tops a peninsula that can accommodate the addition of five grandchildren to family gatherings.

There were joyful times in those kitchens. Babies applauded after they negotiated spoonfuls of oatmeal to their mouths, extended family overflowed for First Communion breakfasts and Christmas Eves. Harvey Wallbanger cakes were baked and turkeys roasted. There were taco nights, celebratory suppers, and lots of blown-out birthday candles. Over the years, weighty discussions were held at those tables, and if the walls could talk, they’d tell of laughter and tears and life decisions made.


Our tale of four kitchens with all those images and memories is precious to us.

Connie Walsh, a principal of a culinary travel company and a freelance writer, lives in Dorchester. Send comments to Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.