Love and war in the kitchen
by Louis Postel
Design Times February / March 1998
When photographing the modern-day kitchens for this issue, I couldn’t help thinking of a kitchen from long ago.
I had barely graduated from high school and wad living at home. My mother, stepfather, and I sat around the mushroom-shaped, Bauhaus kitchen table. The entire universe revolved around it. We were all very still there in the center of our world. No one had much to say.
I had just returned from the Army /Navy base for draft selection. Hours earlier I had been told to strip my briefs by a uniformed warrior. Wearing nothing but hard shoes and underwear, I stood in clumsy lines waiting for fate to intercede. I was 18. Now I was back home in the safety of linoleum, groceries, and puffs of steam.
It was a kitchen designed by Oliver Chase. A flannel-wearing, big-chested carpenter and communist, Oliver designed the most bourgeois kitchens in all of Cambridge and Newton, Mass. Everything fit to 1/16 of an inch, like the boats in Maine, his home state.
But where was Oliver when I needed him? He might have had some practical advice on war despite his Marxist theories. As I looked around the kitchen, I realized it was the one room that truly reflected my mother’s cosmopolitan tastes, but I felt it was all very fragile.
“I guess,” was all I could mutter in answer to my mother’s question about whether or not her first-born son was going to engage the enemy in a faraway land. I looked to the cold, mica stars deep in the granite counter for answers. None there. The warmth and tightness of the bird’s eye swirls of the cabinet wood, the female roundness of copper pots hanging in their dusty glow, the swan-like bend of the avant-garde: none of these still lifes offered clues, just memories.
A month before I had a high school graduation party in this house. The Hallucinations, a band that evolved into the stadium-filling J. Geils Band, played in the living room. Blues riffs shook the Federal portraits of my step-ancestors.
Some of us retreated to the quietly reassuring kitchen to gab and drink punch. We assumed our parents’ cocktail party postures, holding lightly waxed Dixie cups just so. We spoke of poetry, love, and television as we huddled together in that precious space and time. What a gentle world I was in, and what a crazy world I was headed for. I thought my peace would only last a moment, and then everything would explode.
“Soup?” asked my ex-G.I stepfather to no one in particular.
“OK, soup,” I said just to be agreeable. I moved toward one of the first industrial stoves for home use. It promised a manly meal. As I went through the motions, getting down the Bennington Pottery bowls and the Georg Jensen spoons, I kept looking around the kitchen.Taking in the space, absorbing its order and serenity into my consciousness.
The kitchen is where family events like this take place all over the country. It is the space where we discuss who we’re going to marry, whether private school is right for this child or that, what to do when our parents get too old for the lonely, empty house, how to manage when the family car is repossessed. It’s where sons take leave of mothers and fathers for college dorms, jungle huts, and army barracks.
I never did have to go to war. Today, our offices are in the same place where we lined up in shoes and B.V.D.’s: now that vast Army Base has become the Boston Design Center. Walking its long halls, I pass all the elements of wonderful kitchens, and colorful fabrics salute like flags, greeting me every day.
Louis Postel, Editor-in-Chief