Friday, March 6, 2015

The heart of the house

Kitchens are funny things. Or, rather, the way that people relate to kitchens is sometimes funny. I read somewhere "In Australia, kitchens continue to get smaller and bathrooms continue to get larger. What this says about us, I leave to you."

The past few decades have seen a change in the way Australian houses are laid-out and how they are used. Where once there was a formal dining room and a more casual meals area in (or adjacent to) the kitchen, now the trend is for the kitchen to flow to a more informal eating area that often doubles as a living area.

However, this has caused a change in the way that people think about kitchens. What was once a utilitarian space (a place for getting cooking done) is now often seen at least as much as a showpiece. For many kitchens, the aesthetics have sometimes even come to surpass the function. Since many people these days don't really cook much, this is understandable (though ridiculous).

However, there seems to be a parallel trend, even amongst people who value good home-cooked food, to aspire to an immaculate kitchen that looks more like something in a magazine than a place to, er, cook food.

Below are a few photos of my kitchen. I've put a caption on each, describing what can be seen. The kitchen is almost exactly as I fount it when I went to do the dishes tonight. I moved a couple of things slightly, so that they could be better captured by the photo, but what you see is almost exactly what was there. This wasn't planned, and the state of the kitchen is pretty normal for us. The reason I've done this, is that I want to promote an aesthetic of the kitchen as a messy, human space which has a definite purpose of making beautiful food rather than looking good. I aspire to the kitchen that was common in Australia in the 1930s to 1950s (although I'm very happy to accept a few modern conveniences such as a microwave).

Our house was built in 1955, and the kitchen is mostly original from then. In the 1970s, there was a new cupboard installed along the meals area wall, and all the benchtops were replaced. The oven is newer, not sure how old.

Starting from left, this photo shows our microwave with the chooks' scraps bucket on top, the grey water bucket on the bench, a bag with home-grown onions poking out the top, our yoghurt-maker,  assorted plastic containers full of home made crackers, bread, a bowl of figs that we picked from a tree in the park around the corner, some semi-insulated bags that we use for shopping.

Standing in the same place, but turned 90 degrees to the right, you can see the fridge (an Electrolux ETM4200-series, which uses about 0.8 kWh/day -- very efficient. Bought second-hand for $500), the meals area (where we usually eat) our recycling box, a small container of various stone-fruit-pips (waiting to be planted) a container of grapes and another of figs. You can also see the LED strip light I installed (white line). On the wall, you can see the chasing for the ceiling-fan controls that we've just installed.

This shows the bag of flour we never put away (because we use it most days), a bowl of home grown tomatoes, spice drawers, coffee makers, roasted vegetables, a home made pull-apart loaf. This covers our old and un-funky, but very usable oven.

This shows some of our preserves in the cupboard next to the wine, a mini-oven that I bought cheaply 2nd hand to save power and heat in the house, jars of seeds/spices, cookbooks, etc

This is all mundane, I don't think our kitchen is particularly exciting. But I do think it is beautiful. I love it. So much great food comes out of this kitchen -- most of it is cooked from scratch, and a lot of it is home grown. For me, I'd much rather have a kitchen like this than something schmick but sterile. I think the idea that utilitarian can be aesthetic is an idea that should be spread.


  1. Hi Angus. You really wrote this one from the heart - of the kitchen of course. hehe! Well done and a very nice bit of writing. I like your kitchen, it is a nice lived in space. There are so many different activities going on: home made biscuits, yoghurt, preserves. All good stuff.

    I have never noticed that expensive ovens cook anything better than a basic oven. One of my mates has a 900mm wide oven and it just seems like a bit of a pain to me. Have you also noticed that in new houses, there is no bench space at all? The kitchens are large, but you'd be hard pressed to actually do any work at all in there.

    How good is the Easi-yo system? I've been using that thermos system for years - ever since I kicked the habit of ultra sweet tubs of yoghurt. A few years back my local supermarket marked down the price of the culture sachets and I bought all of them. We've been experimenting here with extending the number of batches we get from a packet too and seems to work quite well. My lady does the yoghurt making so I'm a bit hazy on the details, but one packet can produce many kilograms of yoghurt.

    The preserves look great too.

    Top work.


  2. Thanks Chris, glad you enjoy it. The Easiyo is really great -- we buy a container of yoghurt every two to three weeks, and use that as starter culture for the easiyo, which works well.

    The best thing I bought is the second-hand microwave/convection oven. I paid $60 for it second hand, and it heats up really quickly, and with microwave boosting cooks really quickly. Because we only have 2 kW solar, the oven will pull from the grid even at max solar output, so we try to avoid that. But the mini oven can operate totally on solar, since it only draws about 1350 W.

    Cheers, Angus


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