What Makes A Good Kitchen?
Julie and Julia, the new Nora Ephron film from Sony Pictures opening this week, is the perfect excuse for thinking about kitchen design. Julia Child’s kitchen in Cambridge — which she donated to the Smithsonian in 2001 and which was reincarnated for the movie by set decorator Susan Bode Tyson — is all about function, livability, and character. Created originally by Julia and Paul Child in 1961, it’s a space for working and entertaining and is neither period-traditional nor sleekly modern but purposeful and personal. I think it still has an important lesson to teach us: Make your kitchen work for you and not for some architectural dogma or decorative effect. The central table — “comfortable for six, ideal for four,” in Julia’s words, doubles as a work surface. (Photo below courtesy Country Living Magazine)
There’s not a slab of granite or elaborately tiled backsplash in sight! It has a country casual air: blue-green cabinets sport small paintings on some of the fronts while honey-toned wood chairs and trim and a large freestanding butcher’s block add warmth. Pegboard-covered walls put whisks, cleavers, (photo courtesy the Smithsonian blog)
fish-shaped molds and all the pots and pans in a well organized and easy to reach display (still a great idea!). A large commercial Garland range (photo courtesy Smithsonian website)
dominates one corner with an oven that can hold two roast turkeys. The kitchen is almost without a style: a well-organized collection (think ingredient list!) of disparate objects, work surfaces, and appliances.
So what makes a good kitchen? As Julia says in the Smithsonian’s introduction to her kitchen: “I’m very proud…if I can influence anyone to keep into the kitchen and make it a real family room and part of your life.” I think the answer is, at least partly, simply a room you can work in and really want to live in. I think Julia’s kitchen is an example of good design that’s not necessarily following an esthetic rulebook. It just seems right and vividly expresses the personality of its owner.
Some other kitchen examples to whet your appetite: San Francisco interior designer Lou Ann Bauer specializes in color and finish details as well as functional organization.
Here’s one of her designs with trimmed cabinets and a central table; it could almost serve as an update of Julia’s kitchen. In another example she incorporates antique furniture, painted cabinetry, and an English farmhouse sink for a warm eclectic look.
Or if a more strictly contemporary architectural approach fits your taste, consider our Plan 463-1, the Marken LEED Demonstration house by architect Silvia Steurer with Alexander Maurer, where the kitchen incorporates nature.
The spare elegant lines allow the view — shared by work space and dining area — to dominate.
In short, the kitchen is a canvas as well as a platter. Find your room recipe and bring it to life.
For a fascinating article on how we may in fact be cooking less and less — despite the hugely successful cooking shows on television that are the successors to Julia’s pioneering work — see the piece titled “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch” by Michael Pollan in last week’s New York Times Magazine. That might mean that when we do cook, it’s more important than ever. Last night my wife and I sat in the kitchen and tucked into a small cheese souffle that I had made. It was delicious — even if it didn’t rise as high as I would have liked — and we enjoyed it. Merci, Julia.