|When thinking of the modern kitchen and how it got to be what it is today made me think of Charles Darwin, the English naturalist who wrote On the Origin of Species. He realized that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection. ~Wikipedia|
|This was my grandmother’s kitchen. (She’s on the left.) My grandmother, Helen Sloat Moore, was born just 5 years after Darwin died. This photo was taken in the mid 1950’s (about the time I was born). That’s my mom on the right making waffles.|
Charles Darwin lived in a time before the industrial revolution. While he was turning the world on it’s ear theorizing about evolutionary biology, contemporary writers of his day, Jules Verne and H. G. Wells., were pioneering science fiction writing.
Fashionable art and decoration of the day was expressed in the style of Art Nouveau. This style was characterized by organic floral and plant-inspired motifs that were expressed in highly-stylized and flowing curvilinear forms. It was an approach to design that was applied to everything from architecture to furniture intending to make art part of everyday life.
So, I’m thinking that if Darwin were alive today, his design style (if he cared even a little) would decidedly be “Steampunk” as he would have been influenced by the popular themes of Art Nouveau and the fantastic ideas of evolving technology (though fictional) by contemporary storytellers of the day. Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction and speculative fiction. The term denotes works set in an era or world where steam power is still widely used — usually the 19th century, and often Victorian era England — but with prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy, such as fictional technological inventions. ~Wikipedia
I want to thank Kelly Morisseau, kitchen designer extraordinaire and author of Kitchen Sync blog, for first making me aware of Steampunk as a design style. Here I’d been a fan of the Steampunk genre for years and never even knew it! Now my current obsession, it reminds me of when I was pregnant and it seemed like just about every other person I saw was too. Everywhere I go I see either deliberate examples or pieces that would “fit” into a space or design of that ilk. My recent trip to New York was just such an event. More obvious examples would be movies such as the Harry Potter Series (think Hogwarts Station), the Hell Boy Series and even the movie: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
Steampunk enjoyed a prominence in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. However, there were earlier influences such as the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band of the 1960’s. I’m remembering John Lennon’s round spectacles. There has been a recent resurgence of the genre. I think we’ll start seeing more of its influence in the year to come as the lines between interior and industrial design are blurred along with the distinction between what is considered “vintage,” an interpretation that continues to evolve between concepts of what is “antique” and “modern.” While the bulk of kitchen styling in general seems to be moving toward a more modern and sleek look and moving away from excessive ornamentation, there are those who still enjoy the details and the craftsmanship of days gone by that are not taken literally or too seriously. They appreciate the nod to the Industrial Age combined with a twist of science fiction expressed in the fantasy world of Steampunk.
Recognize these pieces of computer equipment? Some clever Steampunk interpretations of the ergonomic keyboard, a mouse, and a notebook computer. As well as the fantastical machine details, notice the Art Nouveau engraved flourishes and Victorian decoration.
Aside from style, I think Darwin would have appreciated the evolution of the kitchen from what was once the domain of service staff to what is now considered an integral part of a home’s living area. He would have liked the open-plan concept. Unlike typical Edwardian gentlemen, and fathers in particular, he was an active part of his household and enjoyed the company of his wife and children. He suffered a debilitating illness much of his life that confined him to his home where he made best of the situation and enjoyed a special closeness with his family that was unique in his day and circumstances.
Darwin’s daughter wrote the following regarding life with her father:
"To all of us he was the most delightful play-fellow, and the most perfect sympathizer. Indeed, it is impossible adequately to describe how delightful a relation his was to his family, whether as children or in their later life. It is a proof of the terms on which we were, and also of how much he was valued as a play-fellow, that one of his sons, when about four years old tried to bribe him with sixpence to come and play in working hours."
"He must have been the most patient and delightful of nurses. I remember the haven of peace and comfort it seemed to me when I was unwell, to be tucked up on the study sofa, idly considering the old geological map hung on the wall. This must have been in his working hours, for I always picture him sitting in the horse hair arm chair by the corner of the fire."
"Life seems to me, as I look back upon it, to have been very regular in those early days, and except for relations (and a few intimate friends), I do not think any one came to the house. After lessons we were always free to go where we would, and that was chiefly in the drawing-room and about the garden, so that we were very much with both my father and mother. We used to think it most delightful when he told us any stories about the Beagle, or about early Shrewsbury days – little bits about school life and his boyish tastes."
"Another characteristic of his treatment of his children was his respect for their liberty, and for their personality. Even as quite a little girl, I remember rejoicing in this sense of freedom. Our father and mother would not even wish to know what we were doing or thinking unless we wished to tell. He always made us feel that we were each of us creatures whose opinions and thoughts were valuable to him, so that whatever there was best in us came out in the sunshine of his presence." Autobiography of Charles Darwin and Selected Letters. Darwin, Francis (Editor). New York: Dover Publications, 1992. Pages 90-92.
Darwin’s relation to his wife, Emma, was a very special one, for it was with her that Darwin found his happiness. In a life filled with almost continued illness, the presence of Emma transformed Darwin’s life into one of "quiet and content gladness".
In the evenings Emma and Charles played two games of backgammon in the drawing room, and this routine continued for nearly forty years. Apparently Emma was the better player, as Darwin kept a tally of who won every night. He would often explode in mock anger and lamented his bad luck while Emma smiled at her good fortune.
The manner in which Darwin related to his family was truly special. In fact, based on conversations I have had with other Darwin enthusiasts and with some of his descendants, it is safe to say that for Darwin his family life was far more important to him than his research into the natural sciences. ~http://www.aboutdarwin.com/index.html
I recently had the pleasure of meeting international superstar in the world of kitchen design Johnny Grey who was among the group of us who attended Fashion Week events as guests of Brizo Faucets in New York a couple of weeks ago. Were Darwin alive today and building or remodeling his home, he would most certainly retain the services and design talent of Mr. Grey. Not just because Charles Darwin would have been able to afford to retain design and craftsmanship for a luxury kitchen and would be counted among Johnny Grey’s star-filled list of clientele that is shared by the likes of Sting and Steve Jobs, or even that they are both Brits, but because I think he would have appreciated Grey’s design aesthetic and ideals.
Johnny Grey recently expressed his kitchen design ideas while speaking at the Moraga Barn in California’s Bay Area where he spoke of his concept of “The Post Culinary Kitchen.” (I was not privileged to attend the workshop, but fortunately was able to follow along the thread he created on Twitter. See @JonnyGrey comments of 2/20/10.) Grey became internationally known in the ‘80’s when he developed the concept of “The Unfitted Kitchen.” Since then, he has had a huge influence on the kitchen design community’s perception of kitchen components as furniture pieces and challenges them to think beyond the confines of connected boxes and the “work triangle” that have become cliché in today’s kitchen designs. What is a post-culinary kitchen? Grey describes it this way: “Open plan is the core of the post-culinary kitchen: high communication, easy flow, 360 degree vision, minimal wall space, planning in zones.” He is known as a thinker and observer of the social interaction of people within their spaces and between themselves.
While form is unique in Grey’s kitchens (and certainly not an afterthought), his painstaking attention to ergonomics, work-flow and function transcend the commonplace design of today’s kitchens. As the open concept kitchen melds with the functionality and human experience of the spaces connected to it, one wonders if the very word “kitchen” has become archaic and serves only to describe the “kitchen-like” activities that happen therein. Says Grey: “We are looking for models for sociable spaces that influence the way we live at home. The kitchen is becoming like a cafe.”
Charles and Emma would certainly have liked Johnny Grey’s ideas. They might have read his books: The Kitchen Workbook, The Hardworking House, The Art of Kitchen Design, and his most recent (which includes the design ideals I’ve described here and much more) Kitchen Culture: Reinventing Kitchen Design. They could look up his website http://www.johnnygrey.com/index.html on their Steampunk notebook computer. While I can’t say for sure, having only met Mr. Grey on one very dreamlike day in New York, I’m pretty sure he would have enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with the Darwins in developing their “social spaces.”
“In 1977 Grey set up a design studio and furniture workshop. He wrote a manifesto on design and began to explore a new way of designing kitchens after a chance encounter with a client who wanted a Gothic "punk" kitchen.” ~Wikipedia He might still have a little fun with Steampunk.
Recent photos from the NY Showtime Showhouse “Dexter” kitchen.