“You get to work in such cool places.”


A friend recently saw a picture of one of my kitchen jobs and remarked “You get to work in such cool places.” It’s true. I do, some of the time — though let’s acknowledge that one person’s cool is another person’s yawn (or worse).

In the process of collecting images for the book I’m writing for Lost Art Press, I recently received photos of a kitchen I did in Washington D.C. that certainly qualifies as cool in my view, and its coolness has everything to do with the client’s interest in her home’s history. You can read about the job and see more pictures here.

But I imagine many readers would be just as interested in how I came to get such a job in the first place. I don’t live some charmed existence where cool gigs just drop out of the sky into my lap. I’ve spent years cultivating my niche in the kitchen and furniture worlds.

In this case the client, Lauri Hafvenstein, attended a talk I gave on designing period kitchens at a trade show and conference in the D.C. area in 2009. For years I’d seen notices about the Traditional Building Show (formerly called the Restoration and Renovation Conference) in Old-House Interiors and Old-House Journal, which I’ve subscribed to since the mid-1990s. About 20 years ago I decided to apply as a presenter.

I can’t speak about how the event operates today because I haven’t taken part in several years, but in the past, most speakers were not paid to present their work, nor were our travel and accommodation expenses covered. You wrote a proposal and submitted it, knowing that if you were accepted as a speaker you would make the trip on your own dime. Why bother? you ask. This kind of event can be a great way to make professional connections with people in your field. That’s why I presented at three or four of these events over the years.

It can be hard to gauge the return on such investment if you don’t get jobs directly from them. Lauri’s job, the most hardcore period kitchen on which I’ve worked, is the single one I can attribute directly to any of my presentations.* And even if I hadn’t developed other friendships and professional connections over the years through my participation in these events, this kitchen would have made the writing, the travel expenses, and the shop time lost while out of town worthwhile.

— Nancy Hiller, author of Making Things Work 

*Full disclosure: If I recall correctly, she had also purchased and read my book The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History, which made her notice my name in the conference schedule.

About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to “You get to work in such cool places.”

  1. tpobrienjr says:

    That kitchen brings back memories of my Grandfather’s home in Crewe, VA. It was built about that same time (1915 or so), and the kitchen had a nice pantry, a coal-burning stove, and a Frigidaire. A table sat in the middle of the room and provided a place for breakfast and informal family gatherings. He was a railroad engineer and seemed to subsist during the workday on Smithfield ham biscuits and coffee. I think the flooring was linoleum covered. Thanks for showing the project’s beautiful results.


    • nrhiller says:

      Your grandfather’s home sounds like a fantastic place for a young person to have spent time. I wish I could see it, with the coal-burning stove and old Frigidaire. That’s really funny about the ham biscuits (or was it ham and biscuits? I am clueless, for which I apologize) and coffee.


  2. You get to create such cool places.


  3. sryoder says:

    We live in a ca. 1920 craftsman home in Bisbee, AZ, which we are more or less renovating. There are a bunch of that style and age of home in Bisbee and many, like ours, are under 1000 sf. What I have noticed in all of them is that the kitchens just were not built to accommodate today’s comparatively gargantuan refrigerators. Inevitably they stick out into the work space, or worse, stick out into a doorway. Do you run into this in your vintage kitchen remodels much?


  4. Tony Zaffuto says:

    Beautiful workmanship! I just added your Hoosier kitchen book to my Amazon cart.


  5. She most certainly picked the right person for the job – Well done! Although I never saw an original house from that period from the US on the inside – actually I did, but it was gutted down to the subfloors and lead paint – I bet you nailed it historically too. It really looks the part. It would take me a little getting used to, to work in that kitchen though, not having a continuous counter top from the sink and such, but no. It wouldn’t fit. It’s just right. Thin overlap on the drawers, none on the doors, hardware and everything.


Comments are closed.