Thinking About Kitchens

Turns out there are very few pictures of my grandmother’s 1960s kitchen. This is the best I could find (that’s me, with my new tricycle, Christmas 1981).

My grandmother, my father’s mom, died last July 4 at the age of 94. She was so intelligent. She attended Miami University (Ohio) at a time when many women did not, and studied business. Although she worked in accounting-like jobs for a little while, she married a farmer and spent her life working “on the farm’s books” (as she would say) and preparing meals for her family of six and the farmhands. She spent hours in the kitchen. (I often wondered if she longed for more.) They lived in an old farmhouse and my dad remembers as a child their kitchen remodel (the end result was a beautiful early-1960s kitchen, impressive for where they lived). But in the middle of the remodel, the factory where the cabinets were being built caught on fire. My dad remembers my grandpa telling my grandma that the remodel would be delayed for months. My grandma had already spent weeks cooking without a kitchen, washing dishes in the bathtub for her family and farmhands. I can’t imagine the work. My dad said it was one of the few times as a child that he remembers seeing my grandmother cry.

Kitchens are important. 

I grew up on acreage, north of Cincinnati, surrounded by an ever-growing suburbia. My friends who lived in subdivisions seemed to all have one of three kitchen layouts, depending on the builder who built their home. I know many people who still live in these houses, and although most have remodeled their kitchens, they still look similar to one another — just updated versions of three basic layouts and styles. 

Now I live in Fort Thomas, Ky., filled with houses built between 1890 and the 1950s, with a good amount of newer ones thrown in from tear-downs and folks selling off parts of their lots. I admit to being a bit jealous of some of my Fort Thomas friends’ kitchen remodels — everything is so bright! so clean! — but still, so many seem to be similar to one another. (HGTV’s influence is immense.)

If I had to guess, the kitchen of our 1910 home was remodeled in the late 1990s/early 2000s. I have never known what to do with it, but I have delighted in small discoveries (like finally figuring out what the little painted-over door is on the outside wall of our pantry — ice delivery!). A kitchen from a big-box store would just be an updated version of what we have now (and what we have now doesn’t feel right in the space). I’ve always assumed a custom kitchen would be completely out of our price range. Turns out, I’ve never really, truly, thought about it.

After finishing my copy edit of Nancy Hiller’s new book, I now understand the aptness of its title, “Kitchen Think.” Nancy’s book teaches you how to think about kitchens in a way I never have. Nancy explains how to create a beautiful, functional space from a large-picture perspective while also addressing the smaller details few books on kitchens do. Concerns we have that are now answered: Uneven ceilings, walls and floors, and how to scribe to fit. Dealing with a kitchen that has very little wall space (three of our four walls are taken up by a wide opening to the dining room, a pantry door, a back door and two large windows). Much-better storage ideas (that don’t cost a fortune, they’re just common sense) that are different from most box-store kitchens I’ve seen. And on, and on, and on. 

And then there are the case studies, filled with pictures of kitchens that excite me in a way that would make child-me cringe (but as a 41-year-old mother who is spending a lot of time at home these days due to the pandemic cooking* and cleaning for her family of five, a beautiful, functional kitchen excites me greatly). *I use the word “cooking” lightly here as my husband is the much-better and more-frequent cook.

This book is wide-ranging in its audience, gorgeous and refreshing. I was 1-1/2 days later than promised turning my copy edits in, mostly because I kept stopping to read sections out loud to my husband who at one point finally asked me to stop. “You don’t have to sell me on it,” he said. “I know I will like it.”

— Kara Gebhart Uhl

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8 Responses to Thinking About Kitchens

  1. David Carson says:

    Cooking for and caring for one’s family is *at least* as important as any job outside of the home, and it is 10x harder, too. Somehow, in our culture, being a stay at home mom has been devalued (by women as well), which is a horrible, horrible thing. I don’t know if people just bought into the idea that a regular job is somehow glorious and that a (often) mom’s work is not worthy of consideration?

    While unemployed, I attempted to fill that cooking and caregiver role. I feel I fell short. It was way harder than any mere “job.“

    People that center their lives around caring for their families need to be honored. Thank you for this article.

  2. Matt says:

    Great article. I just sent this to my parents and siblings, who all live in and around Cincinnati and Fort Thomas. Looking forward to buying the book.

  3. Don Joyner says:

    Now that, Ms. Uhl, is how one sells books…almost incidental to a wonderful, personal story about its topic. Thank you for this enjoyable post.

  4. Richard Mahler says:

    I have wanted this book since it was first mentioned as being in the works! My wife must read it first since, as one of a family of gourmet cooks who are also creative thinkers, no big box or cookie-cutter solutions will do, and this kitchen-to-be will be built to her specs. Already I know that one entire wall will be a floor to ceiling shallow cabinet with doors in which will be hung dozens of pots, pans and utensils in full view and accessible without the need to search, rummage in cabinets and pull things out – everything within ready reach and in its place. Multiple ovens – none of which will require bending over. A kitchen can be pleasant and beautiful but its space must be all about everyday functionality.

  5. Mark Colyer says:

    A picture was painted. Desire was built. Well done!

  6. tsstahl says:

    I was promised “The House of Tomorrow” as a kid ( Until I can get that, I’ll have to settle for an awesome book.

  7. toolnut says:

    Boy those floors, cabinets and counters at your grandmother’s look familiar and brought back childhood memories of a very similar kitchen. Thanks! Looking forward to the book going up on the website.

  8. Blue Wren says:

    When and where will the book be available. Like many others here I’ve been waiting on this one!

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