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As Simple as Black and White

The Art of the Kitchen

By Irina MacPhee

It seems difficult to remember a time when the kitchen wasn’t “The Heart of the Home.” The kitchen has become not only the heart but also “The Art of the Home.” More than any other room in the house, the kitchen has been revolutionized to reflect our attitudes, lifestyles, habits, technology, culture and artistic styles, particularly over the last century.

A fascinating look back in time, kitchen “design” translated primarily into “function.” In the United States, kitchens were originally a part of the home’s main source of activity. An open fire served as the main heat source and for cooking essentials. The cooking room was a place of work and functionality, replete with noise and smells. The kitchen soon reflected social and economic status; an attitude of disconnect emerged within the upper class. These rooms were often placed as far away from the main house as was reasonably functional. Kitchens were sometimes situated outside the main dwelling in a separate building, on the lowest level of the home, or as a separate room away from the center of attention. Many social-elite households had servants to do their cooking and serving.

The role of women as middle class “homemakers” was gaining popularity in the late 19th century. Enter technology, industrialization and the innovative spirit of the human mind. Indoor plumbing made it possible to have running water. Cast iron stoves, heated by coal or wood, became available for domestic use and gained popularity. These stoves were heated by one heat source, making it possible to prepare meals and bake from this utilitarian piece of equipment. Gas and electric ranges were also making their mark in the “American Kitchen.” The icebox was born out of necessity for cold storage. Often made out of wood, lined with zinc or tin, these storage units used blocks of ice to cool perishables. The cooking range and the icebox became staples in the early 20th century.

Initially, kitchens were not equipped with cabinetry, so storage was a problem. Enter the Hoosier Cabinet and the preoccupation with efficiency. The Hoosier Cabinet was one of the first real pieces of “cabinetry” that evolved in response to American culture. It was a culinary work station, allowing women to efficiently organize, store and prepare foods. Millions were produced and sold, changing the architecture of the middle class of the American Kitchen in the early 20th century.

Industrialization, World War II and women’s roles changed around this time period. Women began to see themselves as contributors to the war effort and the family income, empowering women to work outside the home. Gas and electricity, first available in wealthier homes and urban environments, produced more efficient and time-saving equipment and kitchen gadgets. Like fashion, popular colors found their way into the design of storage and appliances. The standardization of home building reduced the cost of construction. The idea of the “Kitchen Work Triangle” was formalized. Kitchen cabinetry was incorporated as part of the kitchen design. Still used today, the triangle was built on the idea that there are three main functions in the kitchen: cooking, storage and preparation. These functions centered on the stove, sink and refrigerator. Ideally, space between these centers was efficient, easily accessible and with no obstacles. Cabinetry surrounded these work stations and became incorporated as standard in a well-designed kitchen.

These designs still exist today: The triangle merges into a straight line in a galley kitchen design; the double galley incorporates cabinets facing each other on opposite sides, with two work stations on one side and the third on the other; the work triangle is preserved in the common L-kitchen design; the U-kitchen usually has the kitchen sink placed at the base of the U with the range and refrigerator on opposite walls; the G-kitchen features a smaller fourth wall, providing additional work space; the block kitchen (most recent) incorporates the use of a kitchen island, often used in an open concept plan, which can also easily function well for entertainment, overflow and eating purposes.

The American Kitchen has revolutionized to mirror in part what it was initially intended for: the main source of activity in the home. The kitchen will always remain “The Heart of the Home”; however, the “Art” of the contemporary kitchen is found in its design, technological advances, cabinetry, appliances, materials, colors, lighting, fittings, fixtures and even cookware to reflect the lifestyle, habits and artistic style of its inhabitants, making for a very personal and unique reflection of the homeowner.

Pastiche of Cape Cod’s new kitchen division, overseen by MacPhee, brings decades of experience to kitchens on Cape Cod.
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