Grey Matters

‘Yes, we cook’ – Obama’s kitchen imagined, Installment 1

The White House.

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.

Obama\'s Kitchen Imagined


3 Responses to “‘Yes, we cook’ – Obama’s kitchen imagined, Installment 1”

  • chuck wheelock Says:

    Hi Matt,

    I love the perspective sketch: how do you do it? Would you retain the golden color-scheme in this room to allude to it’s history? What are the functions of the connecting spaces, and the oreintation?

  • Matt Says:


    Thanks. How I do the perspective sketches is a trade secret Chuck! But I couldn’t do it without my ‘tablet’ laptop which allows me to draw over screen captures….

    Personally I couldn’t live with the Yellow. The bright shock is probably good for waking you up in the morning but I’d prefer a calmer colour the rest of the day!

    The orientation (I think) has north at the top of the plan. The room to the left is a family room but the corridor to the top is ‘public’ which is why the banquette stretches up to create an architectural screen and some privacy.

  • Cool Kitchen: Design for the White House - A cool kitchen-finds blog - Kitchenisms Says:

    […] pick for the Obama’s would be Matt Withington’s Helm and Hearth design. I think the slightly traditional feel of the units and all the oval shapes at play would […]

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