In the second installment of his radical kitchen redesign, architect Nick Sowers rethinks how we bring food into the house.
Architect Nick Sowers returns with the second in his series that explores whether, by re-designing the kitchen around food, we could establish a new and closer relationship to it. Read the first part, "What If Your Food Hired An Architect to Redesign Your Kitchen?" here.
Unloading groceries sucks. First of all, I've usually already exhausted my limited stock of patience at the store. And the stuff in the bags is never organized. Running out of counter-space, putting food on the floor, tripping over the bags, having to reorganize the fridge in order to fit everything in—the list could go on and on. In short: There is little that is pleasurable about bringing food into the house.
In fact, the opposite should be true. Bringing food into the house should be a rewarding experience, like bringing in a harvest from the fields.
Granted, we have likely not toiled in the fields to achieve that feeling of "earning" the food. Finding a parking spot at the market or grocery store is often the most grueling task we face in the gathering of our food. But let us not think too selfishly. Food, not people, is the client in this series, so the question is, if food could redesign its own entrance into the home, what would it want?
Let's start by thinking about what aspects of the current system might make food unhappy. There's the fact that it's crammed up in bags. Perhaps the food is briefly let out to breathe on the counter, and a few lucky items might get to hang out in a fruit bowl, but the majority will get crammed up again right away in the pantry or fridge. Sometimes the food is forgotten altogether, allowed to wither in a depressing corner behind Styrofoam boxes of leftovers.
To understand this process of bringing food into the domestic realm, I traced my movements as I washed vegetables and put food away after a trip to the store. The image at the top of this post is a plan view of my kitchen that documents this process—I dumped the bags on the floor and went back and forth between them and the refrigerator, cupboards, and counter-top.
Clearly, my kitchen is not designed to make post-shopping unloading particularly efficient, let alone celebratory.
Instead, what if when we set the food down, it was given prime, celebrity attention? We could lay it out on a long, generous surface. The food would be allowed to "socialize," even—sophisticated cereal boxes greeting their relatives, the country bumpkin jars of persimmon jam from the farmer's market. Frozen things and dairy should be put away immediately, of course, but other items might be left on display as a kind of temporary celebration of having the privilege of bringing all these tasty things into the house.
In the re-designed kitchen, the work surface is divorced from the storage, allowing the pantry to be located in a compact arrangement opposite the surface where the food will be unloaded. The concept of the fridge is also altered, with a mini-fridge for items like milk but a separate humid and dry storage area that better meets the needs of fruits and vegetables.
Another problem is solved by the "harvest table" being adjustable in height. Kitchens are typically composed of surfaces at about hip height, which are not necessarily ideal for looking down into the bottom of a grocery bag. Placing bags on the floor allow us to see what is in there, but is both ergonomically unsound and disrespectful to the food.
A surface at knee-height, however, permits one to survey the landscape of groceries and think about where to put them.
Meanwhile, seeing the harvest as a whole will increase our appreciation of the food. We may even imagine some creative dinners to assemble later in the week, finding inspiration in the connections between ingredients that would not be possible when everything is immediately stored out of sight in cupboards or the refrigerator.
After all, the real value in re-thinking this process is not to invent new products or new functional ways to "solve" these domestic inconveniences. There is an entire history of kitchen design in the 20th century which concerns itself with that line of inquiry. This series, instead, asks to take kitchen-space as a vehicle for exploring and augmenting the complex relationships we have formed with our food. The harvest table makes visible the act of bringing groceries into the kitchen, and in so doing, has the potential to reshape the way we store, cook, consume, and, ultimately, perceive food.
To be continued...
All drawings by Nick Sowers; click on each image to enlarge it.