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1970s Open Concept Kitchen

1970s Open Concept Kitchen

There are some interesting historical correlations between kitchen design, feminism, women in the work force and the divorce rate in the United States The decline of the so called “nuclear family” and “home cooking” follow the same timeline as the rising popularity of the open concept kitchen which came into fashion in the 1970s. As more women entered the work force and there were more latchkey kids either due to working moms, divorce or both, Americans came to depend more on processed foods. At that time (and now?) preparing a box of mac and cheese was accepted as cooking and the goal for many women was to “get out of the kitchen” and get paid. Nothing wrong with that.

In terms of Feng Shui, getting rid of the walls and merging the kitchen with other living areas was a way (consciously? unconsciously?) of changing the yin/yang balance within the home and empowering women to work outside the home. As in every revolution there were good and bad results.

In 1969 California Governor Ronald Reagan signed the nation’s first no fault divorce bill making it possible to obtain a divorce without citing any faults committed by either party. Over the next 15 years almost every other state followed suit. From 1960-1980 the divorce rate in America doubled. Less than 20% of marriages made in 1950 ended in divorce compared with 50% of marriages made in 1970. “Swinging” or open marriage was brought into American popular culture in the 1970s, Which came first? The open concept kitchen, open marriage, rising rate of divorce or our dependence and possible overuse of processed foods? It seems like they all appeared around the same time.

Compared to the yang (or public) rooms of a house, kitchens were traditionally considered a yin (private) area which was associated with the matriarch of the house. Kitchens were usually located at the back of the house in a room that could be closed off from the rest of the house. There are some very practical (as well as metaphysical) considerations behind this arrangement that mostly have to do with fire. The ability to use fire to cook is deeply intertwined with the idea of community, safety and social support; an opportunity to go beyond mere survival. In terms of human evolution the kitchen is the home of the cooking fire, without which we would not have developed into the big brained primates that we are. Gathering around the fire or hearth is ingrained in our DNA.

Fire is a source of wealth for us but it is also a danger to us. Keeping the fire in the back area of the house keeps it away from drafts and if the fire gets out of control the results will be less damaging than a fire in a kitchen in the center of the house. Before we had effective ventilation hoods the door that separated the kitchen from the rest of the house was the best way to keep cooking smoke from entering the other living spaces. The kitchen located at the back of the house also kept women out of sight in a private environment. You’ve got to keep your wealth (i.e. food and women) away from those who would take it from you.

The type of cooking being performed indoors by women (therefore yin) traditionally went unseen except by family members*. Women were seen as workers, nurturers, cooks and home makers. With the advent of the open concept kitchen the yin nature of the kitchen was lost to the idea of multiple cooks, entertaining and parties but the reality was less and less frequent home cooking. The intimate family relationship became open to more than just the immediate nuclear family members.

Even when we do cook we use actual fire much less than any other time in history. By 1997 90% of Americans had a microwave in their kitchen. We have continued to find more ways (such as the induction cooktop or “burnerless” stoves) to prepare food and “cook” without any fire at all. This is what I see as the root of the problem. We need someone tending the fire at home to hold the family community together. And by the way I am not in any way suggesting that women should be the only home cooks all the time or that the nuclear family is somehow ideal. I think this remedy is fit for a 2013 kind of family.

Fire, food and cooking are sources of wealth. All kinds of wealth. I have heard some of my Feng Shui teachers say about the open concept kitchen “Oh – you will eat out more often”. This is a gentle way of saying the family won’t be eating meals together at home. I’ve seen it come true time after time.

One more thing: Let’s not forget that the energy of the cook adds its own flavor into the end result. Food made by a decent cook who loves you tastes better than food made by someone who doesn’t know you, regardless of their skill level. What are the dishes that everyone remembers? Whatever Grandma, Mom, Uncle Jim or Aunt Margaret used to make.

What to do?

  • Everyone in the family should learn to cook, even if it’s just two or three dishes. Of course it will probably usually be the case that one person enjoys it more or has more time to cook, but it’s up to the whole family to keep the home fires burning.
  • Those two or three dishes should be cooked from scratch. It’s okay if one of them is scrambled eggs. Every time you buy fresh ingredients you are casting a vote for keeping them available for everyone.
  • Cook on a gas range. Having actual fire in the kitchen is a great energetic boost to your wealth and health.
  • If you are house hunting and cooking is important to you, look for a house with the kitchen in the back, out of view from the more public spaces such as living room, dining room or family room. You might find it helps with your romantic relationship as well.
  • If you already have an open concept kitchen there may be a way to create a better yin/yang balance without the high cost of remodeling by hiring a Feng Shui consultant . The people in the house and what they do is more important than the walls.
  • Set your intention and organize your week to include shopping for ingredients and cooking them in your kitchen. Get in there and rattle around. Lure your family in to see what smells so good. Even if you only have time to make a few meals ahead on a Sunday or throw some of those ingredients in the slow cooker in the morning you will see changes in the energy of your home.

*I find it interesting that fire (yang) was controlled and used indoors by women (yin) In Five Elements theory wood and fire are the most yang elements and water and earth are the most yin. You can put out a fire with water or earth. In modern kitchens having the stove (yang) across from the water tap (yin) can cause serious arguing between males and females of the house. The pot filler or pasta arm used for filling pots while they are on the stove creates a similar situation.

N.B. Among the boundaries broken and yin/yang out of balance: Open concept schools also emerged in the 1970s.

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