What do our kitchens say about us?
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.
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.
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.