Every year at this time our thoughts turn toward America’s War of Independence. Which we won. Finally, we were free of the British, of onerous taxation and excessive meddling, of kidney pie and boiled meat. Free of the hundreds and hundreds of years of European history — all those wars and marriages between those tiny little nation-states shoved up against each other on the map. We were able to start from scratch, here in this vast land, able to build our houses one chunk of sod at a time, free from the influence of kings.
But in our haste to chuck out our past, I think we got a little carried away. We became enamored with anything new, a love affair that still influences our collective taste. The standard in in our homes is to make everything (seem) as new as possible. We love trends, and race to install the latest look in our interiors, full throttle, without managing to incorporate anything from the last latest look. This is especially apparent in our kitchens, which we make so up-to-the-minute that they become dated the moment the last drawer pull is screwed in.
The kitchen depicted in the accompanying picture belongs to Olatz Schnabel. By the way, I love the name Olatz Schnabel. The z at the end of the Spanish first name rolls right into the German sch of the surname and creates four syllables worth of the ideals of the European Union. Unfortunately for her, Olatz had to marry the artist Julian Schnabel in order to acquire his last name. They’ve since split up but at least she walked away from the artist with a pile of beautiful paintings, attractive children, and a great name. And this kitchen.
Why is it so perfect? Well, besides the fact that it belongs to a perfect person, Olatz Schnabel, it contains all the elements a kitchen should have. And no, I do not mean a large stockpot and a dish drainer. Not those kinds of elements. I mean elements in a larger sense — the pieces that compose the building blocks of a room, that send signals about what kind of room this is and indicate what sorts of things should take place in it. But the building blocks of this kitchen might seem troubling, fundamentally un-American as they are. This lack of red, white & blue spirit becomes clear when you observe that the kitchen is without:
1. Excessive cabinetry.
2. Granite countertops.
3. Recessed lighting.
But yet, when you look at the picture of this kitchen, aren’t you certain that you would love to be in it? That you would love to tuck into a plate of farm fresh something-or-other, prepared by the casually beautiful hands of Olatz and her circle of fascinating friends? You just know, triggered by all the subconscious messages the elements of the room send you, that long, lovely meals take place at that table, that cut flowers are arranged in one of those enormous glass jars at that soapstone sink before being placed on the table, just in time for a tossed together dinner of homemade pasta and basil, freshly plucked from the kitchen garden. There is probably a dog that sits underfoot (an Afghan hound or some European version of a Golden Retriever) and a grandmother ensconced at one end, dispensing cranky but timeless wisdom.
Your mind creates this picture, and others just like it, because of what you see in the room: farmhouse sink, weathered table, casual dishware, the warm green color that transcends current fashion. Of course a rustic kitchen isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But I would argue that a rustic kitchen is the only sort of kitchen there should be, really. At least if cooking and eating is your primary concern. Kitchens respond to our most basic needs, the need for warmth, nourishment and society. And if concern about splashing tomato sauce on that bank of shiny cabinetry installed like a fortress above your cooking pots overwhelms the cooking itself, maybe you should rethink your revolutionary American ways and look back to our shared past, to those European kitchens of America’s colonizers. After all, they can’t tax good design. At least not without a fight.