Magazine article The Spectator

Cold Heart of the Home

Magazine article The Spectator

Cold Heart of the Home

Article excerpt

Against sterile modern kitchens

'I love my new kitchen heart of the home let's fill it with friends happy.' So says the thought bubble in the current ad for the estate agents Rightmove, part of their 'Find your happy' campaign. Don't even get me started on the lack of punctuation -- or the use of 'happy' as a noun. What I'm worrying about is the kitchen itself. Glimpsing Ed Miliband's second kitchen last week, we came face to face with the drabness of today's hyper-hygienic kitchen. Is the kitchen really 'the heart of the home' in Rightmove's imaginary domestic paradise, or is it in fact one of those spotless, minimalist, metallic kitchens, all hard surfaces and sharp corners? If it is, I fear that the heart has actually been ripped out of the home.

Have you spent time in one of those minimalist kitchens now cropping up in knocked-through basements in the wealthier parts of our cities? I went into one recently and it took me a long time to work out that it was a kitchen. The whole house had been done up at vast expense, and all the rooms looked identical: white floors, white walls, glass-topped tables and matching white laminate cupboards. The only pictures were large studio photographs of the children against a white backdrop.

There was hardly an object to be seen in the white room we sat in. The only giveaway that this was supposed to be the 'heart of the home' was a white jug that could have been a kettle. But when I said 'yes please' to my hostess's kind offer of a cup of coffee, she asked her cleaning lady to go round the corner to Starbucks and bring back some skinny lattes.

We perched on white bar stools at the cuboid white island, under a row of dazzling hanging lights that poured heat on to our hair and made the surfaces shimmer. When my hostess had to go out of the room to take a long call on her mobile (they always do, don't they?), leaving me in the kitchen, there was nothing to do: nothing to look at, nothing to read, not even a bottle of olive oil to contemplate. It was like being in act three of a long play with not enough scenery and not even any dialogue. I had to resort to my own iPhone, scrolling sadly up and down the old emails while gathering static; when eventually I left, I got an electric shock on contact with the industrial-chic metal door handle.

Whatever happened to stuff in kitchens -- and to cooking, for that matter? These minimalist kitchens have an air of underuse. Had anyone, I wondered, ever actually cooked red cabbage in this kitchen -- braised red cabbage, with its shameless, staining messiness and its lingering brassica pong? Probably not. At most it would be a bit of white sea-bass wrapped in foil and placed in the centre of the integrated Zanussi double-oven.

In the 1970s people used to hide their televisions coyly behind teak cupboard doors. Then, with the onset of the first fitted kitchens, came the urge to hide the evidence that you ever did anything as untidy as eat. In the latest high-end integrated kitchens (the word 'fitted' is passé but it means the same thing), this removal of evidence has been carried to its extreme: not only is there no evidence that the inhabitants ever eat or cook, there's scant evidence that they are even alive.

At least, in those original fitted kitchens of the 1970s, dismal though they were with their Formica surfaces and ill-fitting cupboard doors with the 'sani-bin' attached, you might spot a few signs of life: a pepper-grinder perhaps, or a ringbound reporter's notebook for the shopping list. …

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