Restoring a Built-in Ironing Board

ironingboard1 copy

If the original inhabitants of our old house found themselves teleported to the present, I imagine the first question they’d ask is why people go out in public wearing (me included) what to 1920s sensibilities would seem like baggy and wrinkled pajamas. The presence of a built-in ironing board in our kitchen indicates the centrality of ironing and a commitment to well pressed shirts and dresses back in the 1920s. If I were an archeologist, I’d be tempted to call these 1920s folks an “iron age” people.

But then this happened:

Apparently, in the 1960s there was just too much strenuous “action” to bother with ironing. Around this time or at some later date, the previous inhabitants of our house converted the ironing board into an awkward spice rack. I guess all the “action” required seasoning.

Restoring the ironing board was one of the first things I did when we moved into this house back in 1998. I just looked at some pictures of built-in ironing boards in an old copy of the Sears Home Catalog, cut out a piece of MDF and covered it in ironing board material. I attached a dowel to the back of the board that slides in a track in the lower portion of the cabinet. But somehow the commitment to iron-worthy fashion did not follow.

On my bucket list is a much overdue attempt to dress better. Our neighborhood produces eccentrics such as the late Silver Lake Walker and Five Dollar Guy so I could dress like a 1920s monopoly man and nobody would notice. Just another aging hipster! But I need not push this fashion thoughtstyling into self parody. Perhaps some moderate ironing and a commitment to looking just a bit better would suffice.

Do you use an ironing board? How often?

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  1. I use an iron regularly, mostly for sewing. But I’ve always found the built-in ironing boards to be awkward and never where I’d want one. I’ve been looking at ours thinking of a spice rack (guess that wasn’t an original thought), but as it’s about item # 3490 on the to-do list, it’ll likely never happen.

  2. I have a sewing room with an ironing board set up at all times. I use it mostly when I’m sewing, once in a while I will iron things, pillow cases,napkins,I sew with cotton mostly so those things need a pressing.
    I seldom iron clothes, we wear them wrinkles and all.
    I think a built in ironing board would be handy, especially in you live in a small house

  3. I’ll second the “only for sewing projects” use of our iron. Dh (thankfully, for me), opts to get his dress shirts laundered/starched/pressed at the (green) cleaners, which is, essentially, the only real ironing need we would have outside of that. Everything else that’s a bit wrinkled gets a water spritz, some pulling and tugging on the cloth to smooth it out, then hang back up to dry.

    I did grow up with ironing things (my mom, apparently, even ironed my cloth dipes because they were hung to dry and it softened them up – I can’t imagine!) Sheets? We only have one set for our bed, so as soon as they are dry, they go right back on the bed. I long ago nixed any clothes that require dry cleaning or regular pressing. The best preventative aside from that has just been making sure stuff doesn’t sit in the washer too long after the cycle is done, and if it’s hang-to-dry, then hanging it up while paying close attention to smoothing out torqued collars and button bands and such while it’s still nice and damp.

    All of that being said, I actually would love a built-in ironing board, as the rare use of our other one means that it often gathers dust and is inconvenient to retrieve from the depths of our closet.

  4. In the rootsimple model the bottom door is hinged at the bottom and does double duty as the ironing board support.

    Why does the cabinet pictured in the Sears, Roebuck and Co ad have two doors? Is there some advantageous reason to iron with the top door closed? Did Sears and Roebuck foresee fallback spice-rack usage?

    • I think I know why the Sears model has two bottom doors. It’s so that you can make a more narrow bottom support for the board–one that is not the same size as the ironing board itself. Ours is kind of awkward–the support board always seems to get in the way when you’re trying to iron something.

    • I agree that a support that was narrower than the ironing board would be more convenient. In the Sears and Roebuck version you could have a narrow support and still only have one door. I wonder – if you ordered that cabinet with the serving table option was the serving table in addition to the ironing board or in place of the ironing board? The text describes a “folding serving table” and if you look closely at the tiny serving table illustration you can see that the table has two little wings and is drawn wider than the cabinet. The text describes the serving table as 22″ wide. But the cabinet was only 14″. Now I’m intrigued. Clearly it’s some sort of transformer. If I had a serving table in the cabinet I could understand extending the serving table and then closing the top door to hide the (presumably) ugly cabinet interior. But that bottom door would still have to be open and would be at least a little awkward to reach over/around. And that also suggests that your ironing board cabinet is in the dining room. Why were Iron Age people ironing in the dining room? Or, conversely, why would you need a serving table in the laundry room? What do you do if you’ve put food out but realize you need to iron your shirt? I don’t understand these Iron Age people, what were they thinking! Perhaps you could document a home improvement project to upgrade your built-in with a 23×5 sleeve board.

    • The serving table picture appears to me to show the bottom door open all the way flat against the wall (different hinge, I guess), which would keep it out of the way during use. I propose that those Iron Age folks lived in places with much less space than is typical today, which is why they were ironing in the kitchen (or serving in the laundry room!). When my parents were first married in the 1960s, they had a tiny apartment with a fold-up Murphy bed, from which (when open) you could reach into the fridge to get yourself a beer. There was also some issue with remembering to close the bathroom door before you seated yourself, since your knees would be in the way otherwise. If they had an ironing board, I’ll bet it was a fold-up one.
      –Heather in CA

    • Yep, there were more people crowded into smaller spaces (with less junk). My mom used to sleep in the kitchen when she was little. And I’ve heard that Murphy beds are making a kind of comeback.

  5. I have an iron in the workshop. It’s useful for iron-on veneer. I can’t think what else it could be used for.

  6. Almost all of our ‘clothing’ is ironed. I hang dry most things and our HE washer gets so much water out they dry quickly, albeit kind of wrinkled. I do not iron our under clothing, unlike the Oma where we rented when we lived in Germany! Also have never ironed sheets or pillowcases. Do have to admit that my ultimate luxury would be clean, ironed, sheets on my bed everyday. I loved the photos of your red walls and white trim. Very similar to what we have done in our vintage house.

  7. I’ll echo the ironing-when-sewing theme. Pressing seams while sewing ensures a fine finished garment.

    When I have time, I like to iron our pillowcases. It makes them look so nice and crisp. We don’t wear too much ironing-necessary clothing, but I actually enjoy ironing.

  8. I’m so glad to see how this works! I too iron only for sewing (jeans and T-shirts don’t need ironing, eh?) but several years ago found a built-in ironing board that was ripped out of an old house.
    It just seemed so cool, thick and heavy, solid wood. Now I see how to build a cupboard to install it.
    I won’t use it for ironing but it will make great extra counter space for our original 1915 kitchen, which has none. Fold it away when not needed!
    Your kitchen is very nice, I love it.

  9. I started making all my own clothes so I use an iron a lot. A built in board would be amazing. I love how the one in the Sears catalogue has a sleeve board!

  10. Hi, I really enjoy your site! I suppose that I’m old-fashioned or just enjoy creating more work for myself but I iron at least once a week. I’m an RN and my scrubs very much resemble wrinkled and slept-in pajamas if I don’t iron them. I also think it looks disheveled and unprofessional to wear wrinkled clothing although I’ve done it on numerous occasions when I was too busy to iron. Please bear in mind that I grew up with a grandmother who ironed EVERYTHING including all of her bed lines and a father who folded DIRTY clothes before putting them in the hamper. I currently iron 1-3 times a week depending on work and events I’m attending. I’ve had and used numerous different types of ironing boards throughout the decades and prefer a full-sized one that can be flattened for storage in my utility closet. The built-ins were too tight and inconveniently placed, the small counter-top ones are not sufficient for the volume of clothing I iron and leaving one set up at all times is not realistic in my cramped 700 square foot condo. I don’t enjoy the process of ironing itself but I do enjoy the finished product 🙂

  11. As a kid we ironed with an ironing board that was probably dismantled from some old house cabinet, covered and pinned up with probably a thousand old sheets so it was nice and padded (and about 4″ thick) and placed atop 2 wood chairs. We could move it wherever we wanted and we ironed everything. Now I iron once or twice a year and have a quality Mary Proctor from the 1960’s that is a breeze to fold up and put in the closet. When I sew, it is out all the time. T shirts and jeans don’t need it though I have hear of people ironing those!

  12. I wear dresses I make myself from vintage patterns. I iron all my dresses before I wear them (and make everyone else in the household iron before they go out in public) and have a big basket of Sunday hankies (the ones with lace around the edges) and household misc. that I iron when the spirit moves and it’s not too hot in my attic sewing room.

  13. I prefer to do everything sitting on the floor so my ironing board is a piece of masonite with a towel on it. I iron several times a week, sometimes for clothes, sometimes for craft items. When I’m done, the towel is set aside and then I use the masonite as my work surface for all kinds of craft projects.

  14. I was under the impression that our grandparents and other ancestors ironed clothes to kill moth eggs and other eggs (bedbugs, lice, or even bugs that just laid eggs on clothes hung out to dry), and the softness/wrinkle-free effect was a bonus.

  15. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the post. I also love ironing, thus my reasoning behind, I guess, why I love the post. Ironing is therapy to me. Thank you for the info. Sharing..

  16. Oh, I own 2 of the ironing boards with the wooden legs & table. I cherish these as they were my grandmother’s & great grandmothers.

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