Monday, September 20, 2004

thoughts about Julia Child's kitchen

What does Julia Child's kitchen have to do with this re-modern movement?

I was in DC last week, visiting the Smithsonian, and I really enjoyed seeing Julia Child's kitchen. It had to be a big kitchen for its time, although it is sort of dwarfed by the average mcmansion kitchen of today. But it really struck me as to how it was such a great kitchen - such a good work space and such a good living space at the same time. Unlike the open plan kitchen living spaces that we think of being modern this one had a large space with a very long table, 3 separate pantries, one for food, one for baking, and one for dishware (a butler's pantry) and was separated from the other living spaces in the house. The work triangle - the frig, sink, and stove were at opposite ends of the kitchen - not the tidy work triangle kitchen planners often strive for. The stove was not in the prominent center place but in a niche at the far side. Cabinets were haphazard, some base cabinets were without doors for direct access to pots, there were few wall cabinets, a lot of peg board for hanging all the pots and tools - it looked like my dad's workshop! Countertops were either butcher block or stainless, and the floor was Armstrong congolium tile - a good solid vinyl flooring, but not the "classy" stuff people seek today. It was very casual and comfortable, but the antithesis of the year 2000 kitchen. I suppose people today will not be happy with such a functionally motivated, un-designer kitchen, but for somebody truly into food and cooking it could not be better designed.

But the big impact on me was the whole Julia Child story - when she started people in the US really had no idea how french cooking was done, and the imagination and creativity that could be applied to food. And I look at todays world and how many restaurants there are, and how much focus there is on food and cooking, and how much more savvy about food people are. I don't know how much credit goes to her, I'm sure other people contributed to this change, but what a transformation of popular culture it represents. It seems if that was possible with food and cooking, then we certainly must be able to do the same with the way america thinks about houses? no?


  1. Great photos of the kitchen posted at Dan Gregory's blog:

    And a movie depicting Julia Child's life in the early years of her cooking will feature a reconstruction of the kitchen - that's cool!

  2. It certainly beats the two kitchens my mother had -> 1971 Dark stained cabinets and Harvest Gold applicances. Only to be renovated in 1983 with almond laminate cabinets with oak trim and almond appliances. PJB