Posts Tagged history

When butter was its own food group!

This weekend, a fascinating exhibit opened at the National Archives in Washington D.C.  “What’s Cooking Uncle Sam” details the Government’s  involvement in our country’s  food production over the past 200 years through the ephemera collected and preserved by the National Archives.

Using photographs, posters, menus, scientific reports,  film, radio and other records, this exhibition traces American food production from the importation of rice and other crops by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin to the ever-evolving attempts to define a healthy diet through food groups.

I’m dying to see this show as it combines two of my passions: food and archives!  It closes January 3rd, 2012, so I predict a visit to our nation’s capitol in the not-too-distant future.  Maybe I’ll see you there!


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The secret life of wallpaper.

During the 70’s, we had a bathroom that was wallpapered in an ornate pattern of red flocking that would not have been out of place in a bordello.  In fact, almost every room in our house had some kind of pattern on the wall, as was all the rage in the suburban Midwest circa 1977.  Every so often, I come across a wallpaper design that would have fit right into my parents house and it has the same effect as Proust’s madeleine: suddenly I am  awash in random memories of childhood.  After what seems to have been a long hiatus (or perhaps I have just been living in white-walled rental apartments for too long), wallpaper is having a resurgence.  Ever wonder about it’s history?  Check out this week’s Retrospect column on Apartment Therapy for a concise outline of the last 2,000 years in wall decor.

What kind of wallpaper did you have growing up?  What covers your walls now?

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You can never get enough Counter Space

“The New Dwelling sets for its occupants the task of rethinking everything afresh, organizing a new lifestyle, and of winning freedom from the irrelevant clutter of outmoded habits of thought and old-fashioned equipment.”  – Franz Schuster, Das neue Frankfurt, 1927.

Frankfurt Kitchen photo by Christos Vittoratos

One of the inspirations for starting Domaphile was my recent visit to the newly opened exhibition at MOMA entitled Counter Space: Design + the Modern Kitchen.  While this blog is not dedicated solely to cooking or food,  I can’t think of a better place to begin a conversation about things domestic than by considering the kitchen.  Or at least the Frankfurt Kitchen.

The first of the three themes explored in the exhibit is the idea of the “New Kitchen” as an experimental laboratory of household efficiency and social change.  The highlight of this section is the Museum’s recent acquisition of one of the last remaining examples of the Frankfurt Kitchen, designed in 1926 by Austrian Architect Margarete (Grete) Schuette-Lihotzky for the post-WW1 social housing projects in Frankfurt, Germany.  Her aim was to create a kitchen in a small space, but with the utmost in organization to ease the burden of domestic labor.  Her ideas were shaped by the writing of Christine Frederick in her 1915 book, “Efficient Housekeeping or Household Engineering, Scientific Management in the Home”, by her interviews with women and by scientific time-motion studies to ascertain how women moved around while performing specific domestic tasks.  At the heart of all of this was a commitment to the utopian idea that changing the home could effect change on a larger political level.  Schuette-Lihotzky was pretty kick-ass, not only was she the first woman architect in Austria, but she also spent 4 years in prison for resisting the Nazis.

While there is much to contemplate here as to the history of domestic architecture, feminism, and the evolution of domestic labor, what struck me first upon actually seeing this iconic kitchen I had read so much about was how much I would prefer the Frankfurt Kitchen, built for working class families in 1920’s Germany to my own Manhattan galley kitchen circa 2010.  Some of the cool features included were aluminum storage drawers that pulled out to reveal pouring spouts, a garbage drawer for scraps near the cutting area, oak wood flour containers known to repel mealworms, and a stool on casters.  The cabinets were reportedly painted blue because research has shown that the color blue repels flies.  I am amazed that IKEA hasn’t yet designed a version for today’s market.  Seems inevitable.

photo by Christos Vittoratos.

If you are in the area, I highly recommend a visit to MOMA to see this small, but dense exhibition.  The show’s online component is also amazing and includes a blog and a wonderful bibliography.  Stop by either and let me know how the show relates to your own kitchen.

See also:

The Frankfurt Kitchen in song:

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