In Our World, Before & After, we're asking our favorite culture writers, cooks, and home/design experts to describe how life will be different after COVID-19—with essays on cooking and being at home, the new ways and foods we’ll eat, plus travel guides (both real and imagined).
I don’t think any of us ever imagined such long stretches of time in our homes. We are a peripatetic lot: We dash to the office, jump on the next flight, race to the market, take off to sporting events and create elaborate visits with friends and family. None of these, nor countless other activities, left too much time to stop and think about our homes, how they functioned, how they looked and, most especially, how we truly wanted to live in them!
Today, months into self-isolation and social distancing, home is on our mind 24/7. By now, we’re done with the housekeeping drill: we've cleaned out the clothes and toy closets, made multiple trips to Goodwill, tossed expired spices, reorganized pantries and jotted down lists of future projects. When it comes to the next step, though—re-imagining our actual lifestyles (because I’d like to think we’ve been given an opportunity to)—the kitchen assumes tremendous significance.
So, how will our kitchens change? For some, that could mean buying (and, I hope, actually using) more advanced tools and appliances—ones that are more intuitive, perhaps even voice-activated, that cut down prep time, or maybe do the cooking for you. But I prefer to think about how to transform a kitchen into a hub for communing, in a true modern sense: the swirling nucleus of the household, the pivotal place where important conversations happen, homework is done, celebratory moments are created, food experiments and preparations are explored.
For many of us, me included, the kitchen has emerged from the grab-and-go-on-my-way-to-somewhere-else spot in the house—an attractive and high-functioning pass-through—to a space where creativity and conversation prevail. The question then is: what can we add or subtract to improve this mindful equation?
One of the ways to achieve this next-generation kitchen is to clean up and clean out. Having prepared countless consecutive meals over the past few months, I have a new and profound relationship with my kitchen. I recognize its shortcomings—most of which I can fix myself by rearranging the shelves and prioritizing their contents. (The others are there to stay.) The key is to be prepared to make disciplined choices.
While function is the word most associated with the kitchen, the first word that resonates with me is comfort and reassurance. For me, it implies a space where everything that I need for the next meal (and the many after that) is readily at hand. On a very personal level: Before the coronavirus changed our lives, I never expected that I would ever cook 125 consecutive meals at a stretch and give my kitchen the kind of workout that I have. But it goes beyond the cooking and eating. For instance, I had never factored in the importance and versatility of my kitchen table. It has become my favorite place to conduct IG Live interviews, take Zoom calls, birdwatch and generally stay—and feel—connected to the outside world. The window facing the terrace, the greenery, the shifting shadows all create unexpected zen moments that inspire me and help keep my spirits up.
The other aspect of comfort involves style and design. Kitchen planning often focuses on how one can possibly fit the maximum number of cabinets, drawers, and shelves into the space at hand—functionality at its core. But you’ll find a better opportunity for change by asking yourself how you want your kitchen to feel; how should the materials relate to one another—the counters, backsplash, cabinets, hardware, chairs, and decorative objects? The objective is to layer elements in a way that creates beautiful visual, but also emotional, experiences day after day and year after year.
And that’s critical because the kitchen’s primary function, as a place to prepare meals, has morphed into something so much more. The prevailing psychology is that the food you prepare nurtures the soul. Thoughtful meal preparation, creative combinations of tastes and textures, and delicious aromas should ideally all align with the physical and emotional experience you create through your design choices. That’s where the best kitchen memories begin.
What does your reimagined kitchen look/feel like? Tell us in the comments.