‘Yes, we cook’ – Obama’s kitchen imagined, Installment 1
The name alone conjures up all kinds of imagery and expectations of power, prestige, formality, and history. The last association one might make with this impressive structure is domesticity. But that’s exactly what it is: a family home. The iconic pillared front contains the presidential Residency, but the places where all the hard work happens, such as the Oval Office, are in the wings.
So how does the world’s newest public family want to live? And how can everyday domesticity be achieved against the backdrop of the presidency? I’ve tried to imagine the Obama’s private sphere and invent ways of supporting and shaping their aspirations for a comfortable home life while at the same time providing sanctity from the very building they live in – and all that it is associated with!
My initial analysis of the building and its existing layout raised a serious question about the size and location of the family kitchen installed by President Carter. Stuck in a northern corner measuring 12’ by 12,’ the space wasn’t sufficient to create a ‘sociable family kitchen.’ So we decided to move it! The space is traditionally used as a parlour or reception room. The choice is also a nod (and a wink) to the ‘Oval Office’ – it focuses the two most important jobs in the world – running the country and raising a family!
The history of the building was the starting point for my design. The building is grand and guarded zealously by a curator. I had to respect the fabric of the architecture and furnishings. That’s why I chose to use free-standing furniture, as we do in many of our JG kitchens. It leaves the walls untouched and use of pieces from the White House collection. It also means the Obama family can take the kitchen with them at the end of their time in the Residency.
I started by imagining a helm from which Michelle and Barack can survey and command their family surroundings while performing culinary theatre! This offers long views out of the windows as well as shorter sight lines to sociable areas. From here, all of the cooking zones radiate in a sequential system, each with the necessary countertop space and storage.
The main kitchen elements comprise two curved islands that create a subtly annexed cooking zone – its tapering shape discourages guests from entering the hive of cooking activity but invites them to hover around the perimeter. The food preparation and cooking zone overlooks the couch, dining and homework areas. The dish washing zone faces the wall and creates a soft barrier to the other living quarters. Pieces from the White House collection house dry food, breakfast cereals, crockery and the like.
In order to create a buffer from the main corridor, I have included a high backed banquette with café table. This piece creates a cocoon in which two can have a quiet conversation or where the girls can do their homework. The larger oval table in the bay is for family dinners and important decisions. And once peace has broken out and all is right with the world, the family can migrate to the hearth or crash on the giant L-shaped couch together.
So this sums up how the form and function were derived…our next installment will bring together materials, colours, and textures – in other words, the aesthetics of First Family life.
– Matt Withington
See the entire concept presentation here.