Xinyi Du

Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts: Architecture | MArch

Xinyi Du

Cohort 2014


Graduated 2017

Partner University:

Tsinghua University

Scholar Highlights

Kitchen: The Warmest Place in the Home

The kitchen, where the food is prepared, has long been considered more than just a place for cooking. It’s a place that provides people with a view into the constantly changing economic situations and societal relationships.[1] The kitchen was previously considered a place for housewives, especially after industrialization when work and home are separated. Debates have arisen around the world over the tension between femininity and domesticity and how women should balance between the role of professionals and housewives.

In an ordinary middle class family, the kitchen used to be noisy, messy and unpleasant to work in. It is usually hidden away from the family’s sight, and placed at the corner of the house. However, people often nostalgically refer to it as Mom’s kitchen, featuring Mom’s cooking. Perhaps what people miss is not the smell of the kitchen, but the flavor of the delicious food moms prepare and the figure of a loving mother wearing an apron busy working in the kitchen. This reflects the traditional image of females as housewives with a lot of caring for the family. The female represents domesticity.

In the year 1926-27, changes happened in the kitchen, which indicated changes in women’s roles. A female architect Margarete Schutte-Lihotzky designed the prototype of the modern kitchen, the Frankfurt Kitchen.[2] The idea of standardization and mass production was deployed to rationalize the kitchen in a middle class family. With the integrated cabinets of all sizes and the dining table at one end of the space, the Frankfurt Kitchen was able to fit every part of the cooking and dining facilities into one limited space. The designer was inspired by the efficiency study of a home economist named Christine Frederick who led the domestic reform. She rationalized the workflow in the kitchen and mapped out the most efficient arrangement of equipment.[3] Although Margarete and Christine might also work in the kitchen, they distinguished themselves from the housewives by studying housekeeping as their profession. It is worth mentioning that from 1900 to 1930, women were allowed to do graduate studies in science only in domestic related research.[4] In spite of this, women started to have a voice in the professional field.

The new design had many advantages. It effectively improved the efficiency of kitchen work to liberate housewives from the daily drudgery and enabled them to have leisure time for their interests. However, Frederick Winslow Taylor who created the theory of scientific management worried that the “introduction of machinery in the household” will diminish the “distinctly feminine things that give a home its greatest attraction”.[5] Although women had more autonomy over their management of time, the term “leisure time” is still somehow defined by male authorities in society, which can be implied from Taylor’s words.

After more than a half century of developments, the kitchen nowadays no longer hides away from the family’s sight. It is central and open in the home, and has become a family hub. Indeed, a lot of struggles have been fought over this. From the aggressive second-wave of feminism where women characterized themselves as professionals who compete equally with men both at work and in life, to the third-wave of feminism where women strive to balance their work and personal lives, women gradually accept their maternal responsibility at home. Simultaneously in society, it is acknowledged that the one who cares for the home deserves as much respect as the one who earns a living outside the home. And it is the same with the housework and professions.

The kitchen is no longer gender coded as a space exclusively for women. Everyone in the family – including women, men, boys and girls – hold a position in the kitchen and contribute to the harmonious relationship in the family.

As a female, I feel lucky that I’m one of the new generation that I don’t need to struggle to make my voice heard. But we always need to remember the long way we have gone through that makes the kitchen the warmest place in the home.

[1] MOMA, Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen (New York: MOMA, 2011), 5.

[2] Ibid, 20.

[3] Ibid, 6.

[4] Kathleen Anne McHugh, American Domesticity: From How-to Manual to Hollywood Melodrama (New York: Oxford, 1999), 65

[5] Ibid, 72.