Thursday, March 08, 2007

Your Kitchen Is Devouring Your Soul

I've been installing a kitchen for a friend of mine.

I used to have a lot to do with house construction. It's very rare for me now. The furniture is everything. I've been in thousands of homes; modest, palatial, big, small, desert, arctic, seashore, mountain, underground to apartment aerie. Canada, lots of US states, Central America, Italy. I've noticed lots of things about lots of places. But the thing I've noticed most, is that 99 times out of 100, the kitchen is devouring the soul of the inhabitants.

It's not meant to. It costs more in treasure and effort than any other three rooms in a house. And though people are constantly striving to get a kitchen that's the center of their home, generally they spend all that money and end up with a sort of dismal industrial vivisectionist's operating room, more or less.

Look at that picture. You want that woman's kitchen. You tell me you want it something awful. You describe in painstaking detail the cozy, sunlit, roomy, casual kitchen you want, and are willing to pay big dough for, and then -- I'm sorry to tell you this -- you absolutely refuse to allow any of the elements that make that kitchen look so lovely. You throw it a way with both hands.

It's not all your fault of course. A sort of grim sameness descends on the whole process. You can choose from an almost endless assortment of the same damn thing. It's like the industry makes you take three lefts to take a right. But you don't want to go that way. In my experience, the advice you are going to receive from the vast majority of kitchen designers is a guaranteed lock to make your kitchen about as homey as a podiatrist's waiting room. So what is it that makes that place in the picture look so luminous across the decades?

Here's why that picture looks so lovely:
  1. The room has a high ceiling
  2. The room does not have a vaulted ceiling, making it a cavern
  3. The room is lit from at least two sides
  4. There is a great big sink
  5. There are two great big windows over that sink
  6. A little sconce between the windows below eye level
  7. Items in constant use are at hand
  8. The cabinets are made for the room, and have inset doors and face frames
  9. The cabinets are painted and look like they can be refreshed
  10. Broad windowsills allow houseplants to grow in the sun
  11. There are no fussy finishes or furnishings
  12. There is a door to the outside
  13. There is room for others to gather
  14. There is room for others to help
This is well and ably done, and undoubtedly by an amateur designer. Probably just a carpenter with a pattern book.

Let me point out that that woman is poor. She isn't holding a basket of eggs that a style magazine just handed to her for a photo shoot. The hens just handed those to her. Money won't cure your problem. Mostly, money makes it worse.

There was poison put into our intellectual drinking water last century. The brutalists took up the lament that a house, and especially the kitchen, was " a machine for living." Let me ask you. Should people be fed into a machine? Do you want to feed yourself and your family into one, every day, for the most essential thing in your life -- the marvelous ritual of preparing and eating food -- made no less profound for how often you do it?

( More tomorrow)


Patrick Martin said...

My family is fortunate enough to have a kitchen like that. It's a great big room with the kitchen at one end and the family dining table at the other (you know, the table everybody eats at 360 days out of the year, saving the 'dining room' for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the occasional birthday). We even have couches in it, most of the time, depending on my step-mother's whim.

When my folks had the place built, my step-mother really wanted to shoo people out of the kitchen before and after dinner, so she could work on the meals and let it be a tad unkempt because nobody would see it. She shouldn't have made it so nice. The kitchen is the real living room in most houses, because that's where people actually do most of their living. Homework is done there, bills are paid there. Serious discussions about the family and the future go on over a cup of coffee across the counter top. Teenagers are invariably either locked in their room, out with their friends, or in the kitchen.

Kitchens should be about comfort and utility, not colorful statues of roosters and geese and other "country" designs, nor about the sleekest looking tech possible.

Anonymous said...

Boy, you've certainly grabbed my attention with this one, Sipp, having spent a large part during one of my careers as a kitchen designer.

Small kitchens are under appreciated being the most challenging and rewarding to design.

The kitchen in the photo closely resembles some of my grandparent's kitchens before they "threw it away with both hands" by remodeling with dark particle board cabinets and a smaller tin-like stainless steel sink.

I look forward to "more tomorrow".

Lynne Eldridge M.D. said...

I love that kitchen, and guess what? Having a kitchen like that may help those of us that love to cook, reach the age of the woman pictured.

What I noted were all of the houseplants. NASA has done extensive research on the ability of common houseplants to absorb carcinogens in the home. Why? The EPA said that indoor air quality is the 4th leading cause of environmental cancer. Women that work at home are 54% more likely to develop cancer.

While the number of plants pictured here may not be necessary, it is beautiful as well.


Lynne Eldridge M.D.
Author, "Avoiding Cancer One Day At A Time"

Ruth Anne Adams said...

I wonder how many babies got baths in that big ole' sink.

Joe said...

Good writing and a truly unique intellectual perspective on a mundane topic. That made my day. Thanks.

SippicanCottage said...

Thanks yourself, Joe.

Ruth Anne- You would think of that, wouldn't you? What a pleasant memory that is. Ruth Anne's kitchen: Life happens in there.

Patrick- Nice descriptions. I guess I could have just used your last paragraph, but I had to fill out the page.

Koekkener said...

Its a fabulous kitchen, having a kitchen like this will make my life satisfy. Because its always giving me a time to cook. Thank for posting this beautiful article.