Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Non-kitchen

One of the first things I realized after moving into an 1890 house designed along 1812 lines was that the bulbous appliances of mid-century suburbia ruined the interior volumes. Over the first years here, the condo appeared and with it, small space appliances from Asia and Europe. As washing machines, music systems, and cookers became ever more elegant*, I came to understand that a return to an appreciation of small space was completely congruent with this eighteenth century structure.

I enjoy experimenting with life support systems. After I saw and coveted the elegant two-burner Swedish propane field stoves that the local hiking vendor had on the shelf, I fantasized about discarding the electric stove that had come with the house. The double-wide energy-hog blimp of refrigeration that claimed 
a quarter of the kitchen was long gone, as were the washer and dryer that had been parked under the sink.

For several years, I stared at the ceiling during breaks and visualized deploying the propane stove on the back porch and using small appliances in the house. It didn't hurt to have a partner with lab experience who appreciated state of the art self-stirring hotplates and longed for a serious hood.

One day the oven died in the middle of a batch of bread. I hitched up the buckboard and headed off to shop, coming home with an electric kettle, a convection oven, a set of racks, and said field stove. The gear cost twice what a new stove would have and halved the electricity bill the first month I used it. It paid for itself over the course of the next few months. I substituted an induction hot plate for the gas cooker several years ago, one of the smartest moves I've made, although it necessitated revising the batterie de cuisine.

The first time I threw a party, I cursed myself for a fool until I realized as I wound through the preps that deploying small appliances here and there effectively quadrupled the work space at my disposal. I can set up multiple work stations so that more than one cook can do preps. One of the joys of small appliances is that they tend themselves. They can also be stowed out of the way when I'm finished with them.

Recently the family parlor off the kitchen has been transformed into a domestic version of a coffee shop as I and family geeks tap keys all day. Hesitantly, I set up a printer in the pantry, worrying that grease and debris might compromise the equipment, but it's been a non-problem. When I'm not using the induction cooker it lives next to the printer, an unexpected high-tech association with, apparently, no inherent conflicts. The cooker is easy to clean with window spray. The flat top means I can stack laptops on it when it's time to charge them.

An inexpensive counter-height refrigerator occupies the site of the electric stove. The flat top is as useful as that of the induction cooker for staging projects. 

In effect, deconstructing conventional twentieth century kitchen facilities has restored the essential eighteenth century qualities of this architecture. Originally, human hands did the work, and they did it during daylight hours. Like meal preparation in the field, setting up was a flexible process, and the equipment was relatively light and mobile. The nutritional demands of knowledge work-six light meals a day-are easily met in the new system.

It can be daunting for a visiting cook whose motor sequences are conditioned to a fitted kitchen to work their way through the set-ups here, although a gang of friends with commercial food experience had no trouble using the unfamiliar room to stage a going away party. There is no incentive for an expensive  kitchen remodel on this property, and the neighborhood has at least ten grocery stores within walking distance. One hour delivery of fresh food is a phone call away. It's trivial to prepare simple meals and repair to one of the many nearby bistros for a big feed now and then.

Fused extension cords are the key to the mint.


*See Paul Hawken The Next  Economy  -30-

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