The kitchen door: an analysis

I.svgt appears that the world is split up in two types of people: the ones that love their kitchen door and the ones that prefer an open kitchen. The kitchen is the beating heart of the house; I think there’s an ontological connection there: we keep our food in the kitchen and the food is what keeps us alive. On top of this, there are a ton of cultural, social, or even geographical or political elements that come into play…all of this changing with the times. Looking back, the kitchen is the genesis of everything. Starting with the Middle Ages, the majority of the population had only one room which served as a kitchen (with an open fire), bedroom (for the entire family) and living area (for people and animals alike). The wealthy 1% of the population had the luxury of distancing themselves from the kitchen which meant hard manual labor, horrid heat, pungent smells, garbage, unwanted leftovers and so on. All the things that needed to be kept out of sight and out of mind. Things change, but the kitchen (and the door controversy) are here to stay. So where does this leave us?

I2.svg come from a culture where the kitchen is closed and it’s the most important part of the house. In Romania, we say the kitchen is for friends and the living room is for guests. There’s a lot of truth in this saying. The kitchen is such an intimate space, it’s a sanctuary, it’s something so private and personal, it can be messy, it can be crowded with stuff, but it’s such an accurate reflection of our being that only the closest friends are invited there. Depending on the closeness of the relationship, one will escort visitors either to the kitchen or to the salon. There’s something magical about a crowded kitchen, full of friends, piles of dishes, bottles of wine, full ashtrays everywhere, green plants, empty glasses and the most random things in the most random places. There’s always a point when food is about to come out and the host asks (half-hearted): “Shall we move into the living room? There’s more space!” and everyone replies: “No, no, we’ll squeeze in, let’s just stay here!”. Then you know you’re with the right people in the right place.

A.svgnd what about the open kitchen? It seems that the starting point of the open kitchen is in the ’20s, when Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, an Austrian architect, came up with the concept of the Frankfurt Kitchen: a design challenge brought on by the housing shortage after the WWI. The Frankfurt Kitchen was a small room (1.9m X 3.4m) separated from the rest of the house by a sliding door. Inspired by Taylorism, it’s designed to minimize the amount work and to reduce the time spent on house-chores. This would leave more time for women to either work in factories or to free up time for pursuing other interests. I’m not gonna go into the philosophical debate here, suffice to say the kitchen and the work done in this space were given a new shape and meaning. Up to Frank Lloyd Wright, an American architect, to pick up things and create the Unsonian houses of the ’60s, where the kitchen was adjoined and opened up to the living room. Fast-forward to the ’80s, the open kitchen came to be widely accepted (along with other horrors that the ’80s brought in our lives). A merge of the cooking space and the dining space, a monster hybrid, especially aimed at the upper-middle class. The so-called American kitchen. Initially, it glorified cooking and positioned it as an act of creativity, which needed to be seen by the guests. A taste of exhibitionism for the cabotin host.

C.svgoming back to the present days, I have developed a theory about the kitchen door. Trends have come and gone and it seems that the trendy kitchen today is an open one. Yes, I have a strong aversion towards most things “trendy” or “cool”, but that’s not it. After living in different parts of the world, my conclusion is this. The cultures that still have home-cooking as an integrated part of their ethos have closed kitchens. The cultures that lost the home-cooking have open kitchens. It all boils down to the practical side: if you’re frying onion, grilling sausages, making slow-cooked stews, cooking fish or making preserves, you absolutely don’t want your whole house to smell like that. (No, I didn’t forget about the extractor hood, but really, how effective are they when you’re making a jambalaya? They are not, I can tell you). If you’re throwing olives in a bawl, cutting cheese or charcuterie, opening a bag of chips or peanuts, heating something in the microwave an open kitchen will probably do. Supporting this theory, is the emergence of processed, packaged foods, frozen dinners, cake mixes and so on, which correlates well with the emergence of the open kitchen. The (American) house wife using all these “helpers” has an easier life, that doesn’t necessarily include real cooking anymore. And she can go for the so-called aesthetically pleasing set-up of the open kitchen, showing all the new, shiny kitchen appliances to her guests.
S.svgo there you have it! To kitchen-door or not to kitchen-door is a question you can easily answer if you think about how much cooking you’re actually doing. As for me, I love spending time in my kitchen: cooking, writing, reading, playing scrabble, talking, eating…really, sometimes I think the kitchen is the center of my universe. And I want to be able to close the door and only open it for the people I love.

3 thoughts on “The kitchen door: an analysis

  1. nisrinesmoods

    I really love this article! And I learned something new: the “american kitchen” concept started in Austria! Love a bit of history in this.
    And agreed, in Morocco, you will never find an open kitchen (unless in a fancy combo or new modern buildings), because people still HEAVILY cook at home.
    Now that I started cooking at home all the time, I am indeed in love with my kitchen door!

    Can’t wait for the next article 😉


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