Saturday, June 15, 2013

Kitchens old and new

click photo to enlarge
I don't keep abreast of fashion in interior design: it changes too often for the flimsiest of reasons for my liking. However, interior design - in fact design of all kinds - and the way it has changed down the centuries and decades is something that does interest me. I have the feeling, from my admittedly limited experience, that the aesthetic inspiration for many of today's cutting edge kitchens is the mortuary or perhaps the operating theatre. All those easy-clean surfaces of black and white tiles and stainless steel put one in mind of places where flesh is opened and saw meets bone. There was a time in the Victorian period when a similar approach was taken to kitchen design. In large country houses they were often laid out with ergonomics, industrial scale food preparation and easy maintenance in mind. Rows of Belfast sinks, scrubbable hardwood surfaces, serried ranks of utensils, heavily tiled floors and walls and enormous cooking ranges all suggest a similar kind of utilitarian rationale underlying their construction.

I was in one such kitchen recently. It is at Audley End, a large country house of the Elizabethan period and later, near Saffron Walden in Essex. The building is owned by English Heritage, is open to the public, and often offers activities in the Victorian-period service wing. This group of rooms features a kitchen, pastry larder, cook's room, servants' hall (now the restaurant), meat safe, game larder, coal shed, scullery, dry larder, wet laundry, dry laundry, dairy maid's sitting room, dairy and dairy scullery. In the house's heyday these would be filled with servants of many ranks and job descriptions producing all the food, washing and other services that were needed to keep the owners of the house, their family and their guests in the comfort and style that they felt they deserved. Today English Heritage stages reconstructions of some of these activities with, for example, staff in period costume making bread or other food using the implements available in the kitchen.

Today's smaller photograph shows one of these re-enactments. In the main photograph you can see all the shelves that can be glimpsed on the left of the smaller image. The rows of gleaming copper pans, shiny silver serving dish covers and the  contrast of the white of the pottery on the plain wooden shelves made an interesting composition for a photograph.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 11.8mm (32mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f4
Shutter Speed: 1/40
ISO: 500
Exposure Compensation:  -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On