Rethinking the built-in kitchen...

Is it time to rethink the built-in kitchen?

By Michael Smith (Veshengro)

I must say that I hate the built-in kitchen with a vengeance and that for more than one reason, probably.

When I grew up there were two ways we had a kitchen, either outdoors when we were “on the road” or a discrete build one when in the house. When I say here discrete then that is the same term as is used in electronics where it means no integrated circuits and everything either on a printed circuit board or just in a case wired together.

There was a wood cook stove several cupboards of different kinds even – a mix and don't match sort of affair – the kitchen table and the chairs and the rest I cannot really remember now.

The great thing was that, when needed, and that happened once, and you need more storage, you can just get another or additional cupboard and place it in the kitchen. No need to completely remodel the entire thing. You don't like a certain way the kitchen sits; you rearrange it.

Until a hundred years ago, nobody really had fitted kitchens as we know them; they had stoves and iceboxes, but everything else was kept in pantries or cupboards, and work was done on a table in the middle. In some places fitted kitchens never came in until after the Second World War, such as in most places in England and even continental Europe.

Kanz Outdoors has a great little kitchen arrangement that would go well for those that don't cook too often and/or have but a small place, and that is a field kitchen that can be folded up and stored away in a closet. Not that it was designed for that but...

The kitchen that is not built-in can be, as said, changed, expanded (if the room is large enough), and thus be one that can be tailored, without the help of expensive workmen, exactly to your wishes and needs.

Sometime after 1900 the fitted kitchen was invented by Christine Frederick and the famous Frankfurt Kitchen, was designed by Grete Schütte-Lihotzky and the rest is history, as they say. Kitchens became fixed and stuck to the wall. Then they just grew, got islands in the middle again, and even separate pantries because there were not enough cupboards.

Kitchens kept expanding, if you were in America, that is, and so did the amount of junk inside them. New products were supposed to make life easier on housewives, but often they had the opposite effect; more stuff just meant more upkeep. In Britain, on the other hand, it would appear that in the 1960s kitchens began ti shrink and only about 30 years or so later did we begin to build bigger kitchens again.

Theoretically all you really need in and for a kitchen is a stove, a sink, a refrigerator, some pots and pans, a knife or two and some serving spoons. All else is optional.

I would like to advocate, while we are at redesigning the kitchen, to being it back into life as the center of the home, the hub, where meals are cooked and eaten and where the family gets together informally around the kitchen table, which also doubles as dining table.

In days gone by it also served as writing desk for the kid's homework, the place where Mom did her sewing and mending, and much more. The kitchen was the hub of the home and family life. The parlor was used for entertaining. This changed with the advent of the goggle box and kitchens no longer where were everything happened as the family gathered around the TV in the parlor.

Farmhouse kitchens were the prime example for the large family hubs and this was reflected also, in a smaller scale, in the ordinary home, rented or owned, until about the 1950s and 1960s. It was then, in Britain, that kitchens became the size of large broom closets – OK, I exaggerate a little – and things changed drastically.

Our life could change for the better, methinks, if we brought back the old style kitchens though keeping the modern things we have so much gotten used to, but do we really need all those gadgets?

I did, for example, buy a deep far fryer a while back but it has been used about ten times if that and I find that I can do fries as well if not better in a saucepan and that with less oil.

There are a few other gadgets too that I bought and have never ever really used, some electric and some non-electric, like the mandolin for slicing veg. I can do that better and easier with a knife on a chopping board, thanks.

What I really hate on modern kitchens is the built-in units and such to which you cannot add and which, more often than not, also means that there is no space, mostly, to bring in a free-standing kitchen cupboard (if you can find one).

Bring back the real kitchen...

© 2011