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More on the kitchen thing

"it is where the meals are created – it fuels the bodies, minds and souls. Some say that while life may be created in the bedroom, it is certainly lived in the productivities of the kitchen." Maria Diamond - The Guardian

I don't think I was being entirely honest with myself the other day when I wrote about my kitchen and how my workspace was being eroded by 'stuff' - most of it David's.

Because if I am honest, I don't really need that huge bench to work on - the back corner - a metre or so of space, perhaps a bit more, is really all I need on a day to day basis. If anything big is happening then the bench top does get cleared - and let's face it, that's not going to happen anytime soon. That fridge top in our first home together was not adequate, but mostly a metre or so of reasonably deep space is enough. As long as you have a lot of storage space that is.

So why do I get so uptight about it?

"Surfaces darling, surfaces", said Edina in Absolutely Fabulous when she found people putting things on her immaculate new kitchen bench. She was horrified and had them all removed, all the time muttering about the mess. I felt for her. For I live with a person who sees a clean space as somewhere to put things, and I like spaces. Just a vase of flowers or something decorative is all that is needed. I think it's because I grew up in cramped circumstances, where every surface and every space was filled with stuff. But then David did too - even more so probably. When we came to Australia and fell in love with the place, I think one of the main drawcards was space - everywhere space. The streets were wider, the sky was somehow more limitless - as was the horizon, and the houses were more spacious too - even our tiny 11 squares of house in typical 1970s Australian suburbia. There were cupboards in which to put things, shelves to put things on, and floor space on which to put tables and chairs - or - oh bliss - just leave empty.

Some will say, of course, that an empty space is sterile and cold. I just see it as serene and calming. So seeing stuff spreading all over my beautiful piece of granite is distressing. But then I look around my desk as I type this post and see that it is messy. Very messy. Not just with the detritus of every day office stuff - a diary, a notepad, a pen, but little figurines, boxes of tissues, scraps of paper, projects half done. In this case there was a fairly large space available. So I filled it. Now why is that? I do remember that when I worked I always had a few knick-knacks as they used to call them on my desk. It made the space somehow my own. That thing of 'My own space' again.

Here is my current kitchen bench, which as you can see is not pristine, but take away David's newspapers, and stuff and all the cables and charging hubs and you would indeed have a fairly empty bench with just the vital knives, salad dressing ingredients and salt and pepper. Which is all down to the fact that the storage spaces in this kitchen are perfect. Frying pans on the wall, a deep pantry hidden behind doors and lots of drawers and cupboards in which to put everything else, plus bookshelves for my cookbook collection. And being an Ikea kitchen many of the drawers have been divided up into little compartments. All very neat and satisfying.

Storage is key and these days, apparently the Butler's pantry is making a comeback. My gourmet friend has one, as does my daughter-in-law. Now these are spaces that are made for mess. They are spaces where you can hide all the messy stuff - the washing up, the pans that won't fit in the drawers, the appliances, the jars and jars of preserves that you have laboured so lovingly over, the empty jars waiting to be filled with something exciting. But let's face it, you need space for a Butler's pantry. I have a lot of space, and I set aside one narrow bench top specifically for my major appliances, but I have no room for a Butler's pantry, unless I spread into the bathroom next door. But then where would the bathroom go?

Now because of the way our kitchen is designed there actually is nowhere else for David to put his stuff, unless he chose to sit at the dining room table which is just behind where the photographer was standing in my kitchen photograph. I could not think of a better solution, than what we have, but in these days of the 'kitchen hub' I should have. I don't want him to cover the dining table with his stuff either. One of my experimental designs did indeed have a separate space looking out of the window - just for him. But he didn't like that idea - I think it's a need to be in the middle of the action. Below are three different solutions that might have helped, although maybe not possible because of the layout of the rest of the house. Behind those bar stools is a sort of open corridor.

Today - and COVID has absolutely highlighted that fact - the modern kitchen has a different purpose for every member of the family, not just for mum. There needs to be a space for all those cables and also for the laptops that the children will need for their home schooling and/or homework. Of course they also need space for that in their own rooms, but as my own experience in the past tells me, they mostly like to be where the action is - and that's the kitchen. Dad too might like to do a bit of work there when the kids are not disturbing him - but really he needs a study or a study space in his bedroom. Little kids need a play space near mum in the kitchen, and middle-sized kids need a space to lounge and do their thing whatever that may be. The kitchen is a potentially busy space and the central meeting place. So yes it needs to be as large as possible.

"the kitchen will be a space for leisure, work, health and relaxation, and with smart appliances and connectivity, and incorporating techniques and devices normally found in professional kitchens.” Houzz (Silestone Institute)

I also think and Ikea thinks this too, that the kitchen needs to be open to the outside - to a space where the general activities, not least of all the eating, can be done when the weather is fine enough. Eating outside is like being on holiday - which may be increasingly important if we can't go on holiday any more. I mentioned Ikea because they apparently did a survey of what people wanted from the kitchen and they came to the conclusion that it should be:

"a "green" space in which the garden and kitchen merge, allowing food to be grown in both areas."

And here is their idea of what that space might look like.

I certainly agree that it is good to have herbs growing nearby and that you can grow herbs on windowsills and balconies if you haven't got a garden. This Ikea solution is maybe a bit extreme but I did see talk of wall gardens and hydroponic greenhouses, and so on. It doesn't seem to be just Ikea that are thinking 'green' with 'green' extending to the materials that your kitchen is made of, the energy you use, the appliances you use and so on, not to mention the food you cook of course. It's certainly true that if you look at the kitchens Ikea showcases on its website they almost all have plants in there somewhere.

Ikea, in fact thinks that the kitchen will be:

"the wellbeing hub of the home, and will be dedicated to enhancing and bettering the inhabitant." Ikea report

Or inhabitants as increasingly the case seems to be.

"Kitchens seem to be moving toward a more liveable, cozy, and approachable environment." Tiffany Leigh Piotrowski

But you need space to do all that stuff. I guess you could take away some space from other areas - maybe we don't need quite as large lounges anymore if we are all clustering around the kitchen. Maybe you could make bedrooms smaller - but they actually need to be larger to accommodate the study space that is now required. So what is actually happening is that the garden is shrinking. The land your house is built on is now much smaller, but your house is larger.

However, probably all of this dream kitchen stuff is irrelevant to many, maybe to most - at least to the poor. Space is not something that the poor have. I tried very hard to find a picture of a kitchen in a Housing Commission flat, but could not find anything that I was sure was actually that. This is the closest I came to it. It reminds me of my mother's kitchen back there in 1950s England. Cramped, but not impossible, and some photos that I saw actually implied that the kitchens were actually a reasonable size.

Maybe something like this, but with not such classy fittings and minus the inevitable mess. Mind you, you can buy sinks like that in Bunnings, and shelves too. Aldi has such things every now and then too. Size wise it's probably much like my first kitchen here in Australia, and also my mother's kitchen. There is not as much storage space but then I guess the poor would not have as much stuff to store. That work space at the end is probably about the size of workbench I had in my previous kitchen. Even my son doesn't have a lot of stuff to store - but he's a representative of the generation that has a lot of takeaway food and doesn't cook that much. The generation which supposedly is not going to require a kitchen at all in the future. Which I don't think is true. He doesn't even have a grater, although he does have a blender now. And he does like to cook. This kind of kitchen is not very amenable to the multipurpose functions that the modern kitchen requires though. You can't fit computers, and children playing on the floor in here.

I'm not sure whether the 'average' Australian can dream of these modern, spacious but cozy high tech kitchens either. That said, another thing that COVID has done is boost the home renovation business. The money that would have been spent on holidays or eating out, etc. is being repurposed into renovating your home - possibly by yourself. With ready-made kitchens such as those produced by Ikea and Bunnings, anyone can have a go.

"No room in the home is subject to quite the fetishistic desires and extravagant spending as the kitchen." Justin McGuirk - The Guardian

Which is a bit of a putdown of the kitchen because it is important. It is the space towards which everyone gravitates, if only to hunt for food.

"[it's] a place where the continuous existence of the human race is determined" Maria Diamond - The Guardian

Anyway I don't think I can claim the kitchen as my own space. I might want my own space and dream about it but the kitchen is not that space. 'My own space' I think has to be a more comfortable place to which I can retreat and close the door. Maybe when we get rid of all the toys in our 'toy room', when the last grandchild has grown some more I shall be able to convert that. Or perhaps one of the spare bedrooms. A COVID project perhaps.


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