Food History, Kitchens, Research
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From Domestic Space to Status Symbol: A Kitchen History Photo Essay

Later this week, I’ll be discussing not only trophy kitchens, but also the phenomenon of ornamental trophy cookbooks at the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference. Just as I’ve explored the phenomenon of expensively outfitted kitchens that are then rarely used for cooking, the panel, “Cookbooks as Works of Art and Status Objects,” will explore cookbooks (such as Thomas Keller’s French Laundry Cookbook and Heston Blumenthal’s The Big Fat Duck Cookbook) that may find themselves more at home as coffee table art books than functional tools in the kitchen.

And so on that note, please enjoy this photo essay of the evolution of the twenty-first-century trophy kitchen. UPDATE: Some content from this post appears in my article, “Not Just for Cooking Anymore: Exploring the Twenty-First Century Trophy Kitchen,” published in the Graduate Journal of Food Studies, Winter 2014, pages 1-8!

Nancy Carlisle and Melinda Talbot Nasardinov straightforwardly define the kitchen in America’s Kitchens as:

the domestic space where food is prepared…primarily an indoor space, the place where people go to chop, mix, roast, boil, and bake.

Indeed, for hundreds of years the American kitchen existed as a domestic space. In the colonial period it was a large room that hosted a variety of household duties.

Colonial Kitchen

Colonial kitchen, Plimoth Plantation

In the late eighteenth century, the kitchen became a room exclusively for cooking, often detached from the home and staffed by domestic servants.

Detached Kitchen

Home constructed 1790; the “old kitchen” was originally a detached kitchen

Technological innovations have greatly revolutionized the space, first with modern conveniences, such as running water and electricity, and then with an ever-growing army of appliances, gadgets, equipment, and specialized décor (Carlisle and Talbot Nasardinov 2008, Shove and Hand 2010, Plante 1995).

1924 Kitchen

1924 Model Kitchen, Library of Congress

In the mid-twentieth century, the kitchen was reintegrated into the home, featuring the open floor plan familiar today.


1953 Model Kitchen

In opposition to how the kitchen has been historically positioned and understood within the home, the ideal twenty-first-century kitchen—often referred to as a trophy kitchen—is now considered the central “hub” of all activities, serving the combined purpose of multiple rooms—the dining room, living room, study, and kitchen—in one open and coordinated space (Carlisle and Talbot Nasardinov 2008, Shove and Hand 2010, Plante 1995). More than a domestic space for cooking, the trophy kitchen demonstrates status and expresses style.

Kitchen of the Year

House Beautiful Kitchen of the Year, 2012

As kitchen scholars throughout time have imagined the kitchen of the future, more than one predicted that the kitchen would disappear. For example, turn-of-the-century feminists argued for kitchenless homes to free women from the burden of daily cooking (Hayden 1982). “Frigidaire’s Dream Kitchen of Tomorrow” featured at the 1957 Paris Exhibition of the Future included “an IBM punch card recipe file, automatic dispensing, and online TV ordering” (Alter 2008).

Frigidaire’s Dream Kitchen of Tomorrowfeatured at the 1957 Paris Exhibition of the Future

Frigidaire’s Dream Kitchen of Tomorrow featured at the 1957 Paris Exhibition of the Future

Molly Harrison predicted that the kitchen would take the form of a cylindrical station, including all appliances and equipment in a compact unit well suited for a spaceship (1977: 187).

The kitchen of the future as imagined in 1972 (Harrison, Molly. 1972. The Kitchen in History. New York: Charles Scribners Sons.)

The kitchen of the future as imagined in 1972

Instead, the kitchen has become the focal point of the home, not shrinking away, but overtaking the functions of other rooms within the home. The kitchen emerges victorious as a social space that communicates self-expression, style, taste, status, entertainment, and hopes for a better future.


1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Blog #6: Dream Kitchen of Tomorrow | abynormalbrat

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