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The re-enchantment of the kitchen

‘Enchantment’ is a slightly quaint word to use in connection with kitchen design. When recently judging the Kitchen Bedroom and Bathroom (KBB) Design Awards, it nevertheless came into my mind as the missing ingredient in many of the entries, despite a number of good ones. What they lacked was a sense of the personal, beyond linear cabinetry, black and stainless appliances, commonplace handles and hard stone counters. These kitchens needed warming up with elements of charm, creativity from artisanship or signs of use. I realise this is particularly difficult in new build properties but many developers acknowledge this by employing specialists for show houses.

Grandma’s kitchen, styled by Reminisce Magazine

Grandma’s kitchen, styled by Reminisce Magazine

Is charm capturable, and can it be planned for? Thomas Moore, writer and psychotherapist, notes a ‘close tie between enchantment and haunting’, i.e. the continued presence of the past (people and memories) people and memories) in our lives. When you come across personal elements or signs of private life in a design scheme these qualities create a tangible atmosphere. By means of a painting, a poem, music, a view of landscape or garden, a piece of furniture or a room of unusual character in someone’s house, momentary loss of awareness of time can be experienced is created along with a welcome feeling of being transported.

Art is a particularly easy way of adding delight whether in the form of pattern on the furniture, in ceramic surfaces or hung on the wall, likewise seeing furniture as a medium to express more than function.

A desk isn’t just a place to put papers….

Let me offer a few insights. First, create a physical and psychic space with opened-up planning and less furniture per square metre. Natural light, a table or island positioned in an arc of sunlight, a long view and places to sit, lean or perch, all help encourage lingering and a sense of belonging. A couple of corners of the room could be left free, letting the architecture breathe.

Then invite time and memory in, invoking different decades or even centuries via things collected. All objects, not just heirlooms, tell a story: the salad bowl bought on holiday or a junk shop chair. Cookery utensils, especially if received as a gift, acquire aesthetic and emotional significance, and so does anything commissioned from a crafts person. Just as in a good novel the writer leaves interpretive space for the reader’s imagination, the relationship between designer and client is a creative collaboration. By including personally meaningful objects and playful ideas an environment is created that has a life of its own, the space inhabited by multiple presences and temporalities.

Rather than something to be resisted as sentimental, nostalgia can play a vital role in our lives*, it warms the hands as well as the heart, says the psychologist Tim Wildschut of Southampton University. More recently in the Guardian ** he described it as a mood booster. Chicago psychologist Fred Bryant was quoted in the same article (by Stuart Jeffries 15th January) as equating reminiscence with the sense of being ‘rooted in a better past’. Morris Berman the cultural historian who wrote Re-enchantment of the World back in 1981 said recalling pre-scientific revolution consciousness would re-kindle our connection to the environment and animistic natures. Making people’s homes feel like a nest in line with our instincts is part of this, so is holistic kitchen design. It is worth noting too that allowing for nostalgia does not exclude modern aesthetics, as the present moment always incorporates elements from the past – a defining characteristic of the contemporary is this mixing of periods. ‘Mid (20th) Century Modern’ is now a recognised design movement that produces its own pleasurable nostalgia and has given ‘retro’ a potent and recognisable content to use in kitchen interiors.

All this explains why when I visit people’s homes and leaf through interior design magazines the kitchens tend to leave me rather cold, or un-enchanted. Other rooms – sitting rooms, dining rooms, studies,hallways, conservatories, even the outside rooms of gardens – succeed better, as they tend to allow for more self-expression. We kitchen-makers should learn from these diverse spaces.

*ref The Telegraph 17th January - Nostalgia warms the hands as well as the heart


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