K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Feb 18 2011

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The birth of the tribal kitchen

The kitchen is one of those rare universals that can be found around the world. The kitchen you find in Los Angeles is almost identical to one in Venice or Bangladesh. As a matter of fact, the traditional layout of any kitchen can be found in everything from a mud hut in the Amazon to a Fifth Avenue penthouse. We find the same pattern in archeological excavations from Taos, NM, to the ruins of Pompeii.

Today, for all our technological advances, we still face many of the same quandaries that plagued our predecessors in ancient times—ever since Og brought home his first mastodon kill and invited the clan over for Sunday brunch, leaving poor Mrs. Og to wonder…were there enough rocks for all the guests to sit on? What about this new thing called fire? And where was she going to store two tons of leftover hairy elephant meat?

At the core of the “primal” kitchen we find three basic elements; fire, water and storage. The only real evolution is in appearance and technology. From the “hearth” to the “wood-burning” stove, to the “induction cooktop,” the water bucket, to the hand pump, to the integrated dishwasher—and from the “apple-cellar” to the “icebox” to the “Integrated Refrigerator”—it is not about how the kitchen has changed, but more about how we have changed the usage of this once purely functional space.

At the turn of the last century, the kitchen was designed to be out of the way—a place for servants, the cook and the help to gather and prepare the days meals and double as a place to stay out of the main household. It was sparse, functional and easy to wash down.

By post-war America, the kitchen was designed as a functional laboratory for a single participant, the woman of the house, “the little lady,” mom. It was laid out with assembly-line-like efficiency and a window centered on the sink so mother could watch the little ones in the backyard.

The evolution of the modern kitchen has taken it far from its primary function of food preparation, to that of “the social center of the home.” It’s become a place where the family, both nuclear as well as tribal, still gather to share, rejuvenate and commune together.

Today the kitchen is still the gathering place of the tribe, but the walls have come down and this once hidden and secluded place is now part of a larger social arena, the Tribal Kitchen.

The Tribal Kitchen serves as a meeting place, a dining room, a home-office, a place to do homework; it can even serve as a hideaway for quite reflection or a place to gather for fun and entertainment.

The Tribal Kitchen has become a place that defines the home and those who live in it. This once private domain of the feminine world has now given way to the new social order and reflects the world that we live in.

Today everyone is welcome in the Tribal Kitchen. More and more family members and friends are invited, if not encouraged, to participate in the ritual of preparation.

And with this increased activity and additional bodies, all in a high-traffic ballet of fire, boiling water and sharp pointy things, we find that the assembly-line kitchen of the past century, with its uniform horizon of sink, dishwasher, cooktop, oven and refrigerator, forever locked in its limited one-person “work-triangle,” must make way to a new way of thinking.

In our recent past, the collective thought of modern kitchen design was to create the “illusion of order.” This was accomplished by hiding the true function of the kitchen. By hiding the food, the waste and the appliances, we create the illusion of productivity and efficiency by hiding the process. In the new school of thought, the belief is that the kitchen must be efficient to be productive; it’s an environment that is conducive to the task at hand. It is about changing the way we think about this space we call “kitchen” and our individual relationships to it.

This new approach is to think first about the fundamental aspects of the kitchen, what we want from it and how this space can be utilized to its full potential. We must view this space as a whole and understand the relevance and position of every item and detail in it, from the largest stewpot to the tiniest teaspoon.

Kevin Henry

This entry was posted on Friday, February 18th, 2011 at 7:15 AM and is filed under Inspiration, Kitchen Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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