Mucking about in the kitchen

Mozfest Homelab Kitchen

In September, we were invited by the BBC’s Research and Development team in Manchester to contribute to their ‘Global Village’ space at the Mozilla Festival. Having produced the festival in the past I knew what fate awaited us and accepted at once, on the condition that we would curate the kitchen. The kitchen is an interesting and dynamic place to start redesigning the home for a new future. Often described as the heart of the home, it can be very social, there can be lots of tools, the energy consumption is higher than in most other rooms and things often go wrong.

We started to think about what topics we’d like to address over the course of a weekend. I was keen to explore other dynamics like the ones I seldom experience of children in the kitchen which led to the creation of a panel discussion with some amazing women who talked about architecture, neighbourhoods and sharing tools.

we also wanted to address the strange gender dynamics engaged in designing for the kitchen space. Since the post-war era we have been designing with women in mind, women who needed to be led back into the home. Women who probably hate being stuck in the home if they are anything like me, but are keen foodies and have complex relationships with the act of making food for a loved one.

We moved on to talk about how cookbooks and the fairy tale imagery of Mrs Beeton who wrote at 21 what became the Victorian and later contemporary ideal of what good housekeeping was about even if she plagiarised most of it. Rocio’s excellent talk is posted online for your delight.

In general here are my personal takeaways from the weekend which I think will be used to move The Good Home forward to Milan in April.

1. The role of technology in the kitchen is at best ambiguous.

When we looked at some of the kitchens of the future videos there were a lot of interesting, sometimes controversial design decisions which had nothing to do with technology. These interior design decisions had an impact on how technological the space felt. They also added to the innovative qualities of the white goods designed which sadly never lived up to their promise of being anything more than showcase objects for World Fairs or trade shows. Counter tops that were higher to avoid back pain, separators so that husband and children could be shielded by the ‘battlefield’ of the kitchen, self-cleaning functions on ovens and others contributed to a language and a message about the interaction of mostly women in a space that was changing but strangely hasn’t changed much since. I tried a Drop kitchen scale before the festival, lauded as the most successful kitchen kickstarter, it was strangely clinical and made cooking a very dull, box-ticking, effecient exercise. The Soylent of kitchen tools. It’s part of the same language and future drawn by manufacturers since the 1950s with little recognition of the social and economic changes that have taken place. Changes like who lives in and around those kitchens: families with diminuishing budgets, flatmates with different shelves in the fridge and in the pantry, single professionals who hardly cook, foodies who eat farm to fork only, instagram-saavy home cooks, the kitchen we live in should be different but isn’t. Imagine a kitchen that catered to each in slightly different ways. Not a one-size-fits-all quite but a generous, warm space that was social by design, energy-friendly, and technological in small but important and accessible ways.

2. The kitchen front and centre, literally

I’ve been reading about dutch women and windows in this excellent collection of essays. It used to be that windows and their state, cleanliness, decorations and curtains all used to have meaning for the neighbourhoods. But it also meant that there were eyes on the street as Jane Jacobs so eloquently puts in in the Death and Life of Great American Cities. One of our panels discussed the fact that kitchens used to have a window with a view on the street making it easier to keep an eye on the neighbourhood, share responsibilities and have kids roam around in the street. This is again assuming women are in the kitchen which is still common but not necessarily universal. An eye on the street may be something that other types of occupants may want to for different reasons but these days, those windows are often covered up, that view ignored.

3. The kitchen as an actor in climate change

Over the weekend, we put on a ‘low carbon lunch’ which was a Ploughman’s lunch selected by its carbon footprint. The bread and cheese had been made in London, tomatoes from the Isle of White, fruits from Surrey. With this week’s COP I think it’s interesting to think about kitchens and their role in the energy spend of a household as well as the carbon footprint of the things we shop for. Veg boxes are a start and I’m sure most people wouldn’t want to live off of raw food only, but the conversation veered towards a ‘it’s too complex, where shall we start’ which shows me that there is something to do here. This may be about a sort of kitchen carbon footprint based on data from your local supermarkets and offsetting schemes based on the number of plants you have in the house and your garden and solar pv cell. Even if the home contributes in a very limited way to climate change (when compared to the industrial sectors) it’s role is still important. Having worked with many energy companies in the past, I think we would all benefit from innovative ways to change the use of the National Grid. It’s not too complex, we’re just missing good tools and ways forward. The perfect time for design to come in.

Low-carbon lunch

The Good Home