Saturday, January 18, 2014

Our decision not to have an open kitchen

This just makes Cookie queasy.

When we bought Ville d"Cookie in Baltimore, it wasn't perfect.  In fact, it has proven difficult - damn difficult - to live in.

A house designed in the 1920's is designed for how they lived in the 1920s - a room for everything and everything in its room.  As quaint as they charmers are, most people who own houses don't "live" in the room, seldom eat in the dining room, and almost never have breakfast in the breakfast room - if in any room at all.  

However it is the kitchen that houses came with that are the most difficult to live with, because they are so damn small - but there was a reason why they were made small.  

After WWI, the idea that a middle income or high income household needed a large kitchen flew out the door when the household staffs began to shrink.  As wood stoves were replaced with electric and natural gas ranges, electric refrigeration, electric toasters and irons, and - GASP! - electric sinks (what we now call dishwashers) became available and common place, a housewife or limited staff, like a housekeeper, could run the house on their own.

And small kitchens were believed to save steps, and thus be easier on housewives, and thus efficient.  And this worked until the late 1940s.

In the 1950s, following WWII, open concept living was pushed for a variety of reasons, but chief among them was if you eliminate walls, you eliminate building costs.  So you had ranch houses with slightly larger kitchens with things like "snack bars", because serving the family like a diner was sold as being more efficient.

Kitchens got big again in the late 1960s and continued to grow until they were larger than living rooms - which we all know that people wouldn't live in because anyone coming to the house would see the mess.  So while kitchens go bigger, Living rooms reverted back to their role as the front parlor.  Eventually, the family was moved from the living room to the "family room" - a place where the family could gather around the TV.

All the while, kitchens kept getting bigger, fancier and expensive.

And frankly, I think BIG kitchens are making us BIGGER at the same time.  When you are living in a room with a TV and a kitchen, you have no excuse not to eat.  The food is too easy to get your big grubby paws on.

Now lets circle this back to the Cookie's and our kitchen, which is small, poorly laid out and has no work space.  At 144 square feet it has three indoor doors, one outdoor door, a stove, a sink and a side by side fridge.  And no garbage disposal or dishwasher because of the "big black bastard" of a radiator (5 foot long, and eighteen inches high and deep) that lives in the cupboard under the sink.

We had been considering knocking down walls and opening it up, but because the wall separating the kitchen from the rest of the house is a load bearing masonry wall, that would have added $20,000 to what would have been an affordable redo.

And then I saw online that small efficient kitchens that can be closed off from the rest of the house are the next hot thing.

Sweet smoking Jesus!  It's now chic to be small!

Also going by the wayside in these chic, small kitchens, are granite counters, which leach radon into air.  So that is saving us ten grand, right there.

BUT we have decided to take that useless breakfast room that connects the kitchen to the dining and install a serving counter with a bar sink, and bar fridge. You'll be able to see that from the kitchen, but not the mess. And our guests don't need to be in the kitchen.

So the husband and I have decided that our goal is to go back to that 1920s ideal of modern appliances, labor saving steps and simplification.  And reader, I am ready.

Now all we need is money!


  1. interesting that you chose that frigidaire photo...when my grandparents fled the city for the suburbs, 1969ish, their new raised ranch came with that [pictured] frigidaire dishwasher in avocado. when grammy left that house in the 90s that machine had never been used. she'd stored plastic bags in it.

  2. When we lived in Miami we had an "open concept" house. When you walked in, you were IN the house.

    Our house in Smallville is some forty years old and all the rooms are separate and we love it.

    I love the kitchen closed off from the rest of the house; it's big enough to entertain in, and small enough to cook and eat in. And we do use our formal dining about once a week so we love that too.

    Makes me glad this open concept thing is shifting!

    1. Like someone said, if Julia Child had an open concept kitchen and she dropped the bird in front of her guests, well everyone would know it.

  3. Whenever I think of "open-plan" living room-come-kitchen-diner setups I always think of "Abigail's Party".

    Ange: "Oh, the rotisserie. Yeah. - Do you do chickens and things on it?"

    Beverley: "Well, you can do. To be honest, I'm not much of a cook, so I haven't used it yet. But you can."


  4. Oh, I have a little 1920s kitchen too....with 1970s appliances.
    The most I can dream of having, alas, is a I can close it off.