Visitors to a private house in Melbourne are frequently shown into the kitchen to socialise. If they are in my house there is a combined kitchen and dinning room and is designed to socialise in. A century ago visitors would not have been shown the kitchen then kitchens were small narrow rooms near the back of the house with only space for one or two people in them at the most. Kitchens in a social and cultural context have changed, a complete reversal of status in the house.
Socialising in the kitchen allows the hosts to conveniently serve food and drink to guests and family without leaving the room. They are the entertainment hub in Melbourne’s homes from the wealthy to the poor; except where the old house designs do not allow for socialising in the kitchens.
Houses are the form of lifestyles, their architecture defines the way that we live. The architecture of rooms and their use in a house contains information about social hierarchies, taboos and other information about the way of life of its inhabitants.
My kitchen fills half of a large room that also functions as a dinning room and a central intersection of the house. It is the first room after the hallway that a guest usually enters. This combination makes the process of serving food at dinner parties so much easier. I can get up from the table and within a few steps reach the stove, fridge or anything else I need.
The change in the status of kitchens in our culture is a kind of parallel to the change in the status and social role of women. It is also an indication of social equality both in the greater society, in that kitchen staff are no longer commonly affordable, and in the family where the wife is no longer her husband’s servant. My wife and I share the cooking, I probably do slightly more. I’ve been a kitchen hand and I often help when my wife is cooking by cutting up onions or preparing other vegetables.
This change in the status of kitchens has also lead to a change in the way that food is enjoyed and the kinds of food enjoyed. Food preparation may involve designer utensils or novelty kitchen gadgets. Food is a chance to explore the variety of things to eat – fish sauce, Canadian maple syrup and Spanish olive oil can all be found in my kitchen.
In 2006 I built my own kitchen, screwing it together from a flat pack kit. I’m kind of proud of the biggest DIY job that I’ve ever done. Most Australians get professionals to do their kitchens and the kitchen in a Melbourne houses is one of the most expensive rooms. Mine has an island bench, the transition point between food preparation and consumption; most of the plates, bowls and cutlery are stored under the island bench. There is a great flow from the pantry and fridge, through to the cooking area and the finally the cleaning area and waste disposal, sink, dishwasher, and bins. There are three bins: one for compost, one for recycling and one for non-recycling. Then there is the area that where I feed the cat; it has a mat of newspaper because she likes to eat with her paws, dragging her food out of her bowl.
My kitchen is sparsely decorated. There are a couple of vases for flowers and a couple of my paintings on the dinning room side of my kitchen. The fridge is an odd centrepiece to one wall of the kitchen and acts as a kind of noticeboard and place for souvenir magnets. In the 1911 Marcel Duchamp made a small painting for the kitchen of his brother Raymond’s house, “Coffee Grinder”. “It’s normal today to have paintings in your kitchen but at that time it was rather unusual.” Duchamp said, noting the status change in kitchens.