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What do our kitchens say about us?

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Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen | 17:00 UK time, Sunday, 28 August 2011

In this week's The Food Programme, we consider what our kitchens reveal about us and the times we live in. Ten years ago new kitchens were designed as showy-offy, minimalist, modernist areas in which there was an almost theatrical attitude to the preparation of food. In the high street the current trend is for traditional-looking kitchens. But the new kitchen isn't frilly. It's not based on the country diary of an Edwardian lady. It's a much more streamlined version of the past. The kitchen is reflecting the kind of cooking we want to do. It's all about integrity and natural ingredients. Our kitchens are trying to be as ruggedly timeless as Rick Stein, or as easygoing as Jamie Oliver.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen in kitchen

Kitchens as a design area are a very recent innovation. We only started considering what they should look like when we had to start using them - when we stopped either having servants, or when it stopped being the only room we lived in. We talk in the programme about how George IV (or Prince Regent as he was then) created the first ever show kitchen at the Brighton Pavilion.

Most of our housing stock was built between 1880-1930 and the kitchen was a small galley - either for the wife or the downstairs maid. There was never anything spoiling about it. By the 1930s it was the first area where modernism started sneaking in - the Bauhaus precepts and the Le Corbusian ideas - because it's the most practical space in the house.

Traditional-style kitchen

Is this your perfect kitchen? Image credit: design*sponge

But it was my parents' generation that really discovered the kitchen. The kitchens that I grew up in - in the late 60s and early 70s - were resplendent, eye-catching, indulgent, designer spaces that were all about undulating, richly saturated wallpaper, avocado tiles and bits and pieces brought back from France. There was a link between that confident attitude and the kind of food that was being cooked in these kitchens. It was nourishing, outward-looking and inspired by travel.

Since then one of the problems we've got with our kitchens is that they've never been so big. We've had extensions, knocked walls through and annexed to create extremely large, unwieldy spaces. The kitchen has become the principle reception room, which is why you should decorate it as a sitting room and not as a machine for cooking.

So does a kitchen need to be clean and practical above all? Of course it needs to be ergonomic, but it also needs all the tricks of a sitting room. I'm a big fan of putting things like table lamps on kitchen surfaces so that you can knock off the overhead lighting when you no longer need it. I like wallpaper, art and mirrors in kitchens, taking good design aesthetics and principles from all around the house. It'll be a while before I start introducing shag-pile carpets into the kitchen, but I'll never say never! My kitchen has been recently pilloried by The Lady magazine as looking like an overdose of Berocca first thing in the morning. It's certainly very orange and very, very pink - maybe a reflection of my unusual family, and that we like our environment to be personality driven and unique.

Hopefully we're becoming less obsessed with the idea that where we live should be a monetary investment above all else. Maybe we can relax a little. We're stuck with our kitchens for a while and so we can let our hair down a bit. We don't have to worry what an estate agent will think if they come round and see that we've painted our kitchen Berocca and pink. Kitchens are now being created to give the ideal environment to relate to each other as a family unit.

What's your kitchen like and what do you think it says about you and the kind of food you like to eat? What would be your perfect kitchen design?

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen is guest presenter on The Food Programme.



  • Comment number 1.

    My kitchen is a clean and practical space for cooking and has evolved quite a bit over the years to meet family needs. But it's certainly not my "dream kitchen" - that would be a big country style wooden kitchen with wooden beams and a giant cooking range and lots of space to sit and relax!

  • Comment number 2.

    When you have a Kitchen that's only 6' wide and 8' long you have to be tidy, the advantage everythings at hand on shelves as there are not enough cupboard space (I'd love to get some of these high flying desiners and chefs in to see what real people have to cook in)

  • Comment number 3.

    I am basically a happy slappy cook!! I love my kitchen - barely anything matches, and it is a living room, It is where i spend the most time, the telephone is even in there. It isnt very big but i have pics on the wall, old brasses plates etc and am a keen collecter of cook books, so many they wont even fit in the kitchen! My dream would be for the kitchen big enough to house a rocking chair and a pine table - I would loveoneof the old ranges too with the fire grate and oven at the side, but i need the space for cupboards for all the stuff i have! Baking pans and pots etc...tuts to me, but i love my messy messy kitchen xx

  • Comment number 4.

    My kitchen is also my shed! Yes, I do keep my lawnmower there as well as other gardening acutrements. I have concerns about garden shed security, so I guess I'm lucky I have the room! My ideal kitchen would be like Barb's (No. 3); somewhere I'd want to spend most of my time and to house my ever increasing collection of cook books. I'd also like to have those big cupboard 'draws' which make life easier for storing pans and small kitchen appliances. Love my gadgets! And love cooking for other people.

  • Comment number 5.

    If I had the kitchen of my dreams then I'd definately entertain more. I've got a galley kitchen at the moment but we're thinking of knocking it through to create one big open space on the ground floor. Food & drink are such a big part of my life, I'd love to integrate it into the other rooms so that the whole family can start to see how important cooking and eating is to our social lives.

  • Comment number 6.

    I also have a very small kitchen, with very limited cupboard space.
    It has bright yellow wall tiles, and pale cream painted cupboards and walls.
    I have a lovely bright yellow painting on the wall.
    I have a wall rack, where I hang many cooking utensils - that get used often.
    The items I use to cook with have been passed down from other family members. I have a Tasty Toast circa 1800'S. iT'S FANTASTIC. It was my Grandmothers who used to produce meals in a pub that they ran when I was little. When my Grandfather died early 1950's my Gran came to live with us.
    I have some of her lovely old cookbooks.
    I love the history behind the equipment I use.

    One more thing on my imaginary wish list.
    A huge fridge and freezer.
    My DREAM kitchen would be larger with a lovely galley widow / sky light very high up. I would have a proper larder, where one cupboard would have a marble slab, that was cold.
    I would love an additional cooker - An Aga. That would be my idea of bliss. Old with the new.

  • Comment number 7.

    I am intrigued, what is a Tasty Toast @ #6?

  • Comment number 8.

    my current kitchen is a dump as I've no choice but I agree with Laurence as my dream kitchen would be red,pink and apricot hopefully with a coal/log fire and a walk in larder/dairy.


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