Excerpts from Turning Grey into Gold conference at Newcastle University, 28th November
When growing old, your kitchen is key for staying in your own home, says Peter Gore, Newcastle’s Professor of Practice and expert on matters related to aging. The fact that those who cannot prepare and clean up meals have no option but institutional care is behind my interest in a collaborative project with the university that I have called the Long Kitchen. However, while kitchens clearly need to be adaptable to the physical limitations of old age, my focus is on designs that stay the distance for emotional rather than purely practical reasons. The Long Kitchen is therefore an investigation into what allows kitchens to survive wear and tear, design obsolescence, aesthetic datedness and owners’ boredom. I believe that at least 30 years would be a good minimum life for one of my kitchens, and in this quest my 37 years of kitchen design provide a unique opportunity to learn from my earlier projects.
Kitchens need to be able to be refreshed so that we fall in love with them all over again. Our own 23-year-old kitchen at Fyning has had three incarnations, superficially at least. In need of light we put in French doors, which gave us an orientation to the garden and an outdoor eating/living area. We employed freestanding furniture pieces, bar the central island and sink cabinet, so as to leave as much free space as possible for moving around a sofa – perfect for parking babies, dressing small children and for adults to lounge on. With a big table, open shelves and a trolley for clutter, our kitchen also acts as an entrance hall. Much of the furniture was originally hand painted and so can be refreshed easily. For a long lasting relationship a kitchen must embody a family’s culture or soul. Our central island makes cooking sociable: when cooking you can talk to anyone in the room and at the same time enjoy a view of the South Downs. A relatively small amount of work surface forces us to be organized when cooking, since we allocated over 65% of the floor space to other sociable activities.
Primarily, the long-lived kitchen is experienced more like a period house than a commodity that is used up and discarded. It inspires pleasure and a kind of loyalty and is rewarded with dedicated – though not onerous – maintenance and periodic makeovers, through new paint schemes and accessories that reflect changing needs.
Jonathan Chapman talks about the relationship between emotional connections with objects and environmentally responsible behavior like recycling in his book Emotionally Durable Design. Japanese wahi sabi, a moral and aesthetic philosophy, incorporates the passage and effects of time in its value system. This has much to teach us about the beauty of things that are imperfect and reflect eventual impermanence, of things that are modest, unconventional and rustic. Materials that age well and capture time – like a piece of antique country furniture – profoundly impact on one’s sense of being settled in a place. For a number of years now I have been working on a philosophy of maintenance and using materials that fit with this. The Long Kitchen, then, is all about meaning, emotions and memories – as well as ergonomic support for safe, effective cooking.