More than a half million dining rooms will be demolished in Britain next year, and Halifax Home Insurance believes the dining room may have disappeared completely by 2020.
In North America, we think of this as the rise of the" great room,"a topic we have treated in this blog a couple of times. A vast transformation took place in our domestic world, and it reflects I think changes in how people work, how they eat, and how they interact as families.
In particular, open kitchen is the material manifestation of feminism. Women complained that the dining room made them servants in their own home, obliged to leave their guests and ferry things to and from the kitchen, charging through heavy doors, turning their backs on the festivities and otherwise obliged to absent themselves from the occasion.
The open kitchen also suits new models of parenting. Americans are inclined to raise their kids in a way that privileges emotional and physical freedom over ceremonial perfection. From this point of view, the dining room was always a problem. It insisted that kids be formal, still, observant, when their natural condition, especially in an over stimulating America, was more active and spontaneous. The great invention of the new kitchen is the island at its center. Kids treat this as a planet around which they orbit during meal time. Less confined, they are more agreeable. More agreeable kids make for more agreeable parents.
For both these public and private purposes, the open kitchen was an important step for the North American home. I have once or twice looked for the figures and couldn’t ever find them. But they must be astronomical. The money that North Americans spent and will spend to open their homes must many hundreds of millions.
But to see this development at work in the UK is much more remarkable, I think. After all, the hold of Victorian propriety, the notion of the dining room as an important ritual location of family life, the belief in formality as a necessary coin in the social economy, one would guess that these are still more active in the UK…or at least not so steeply in decline as they are in the US.
Research I did last spring suggested that the open kitchen is not just an enthusiasm of the British, but may now be seen in Germany, Belgium, France (a little less), and Poland. This suggests either that there are non cultural forces at work here, or that there is a pan-Western cultural trend under way. Certainly, this would be consistent with the shift we see in the world of photograph where the portrait has given way to the more spontaneous action shot.
The new orthodoxy discourages us from making even very tiny generalizations. This means that observations about pan-Western culture should be laughably out of bounds. But I am always surprised how little interest my respondents have in the new strictures of academic discourse. It doesn’t matter how much I scold them, how often I give them the gospel according to Derrida, Foucault, and Baudrillard, they just go right ahead and remodel their kitchens.
Borland, Sophie. 2008. Open-plan living leads to death of dining room. The Telegraph. January 29, 2008. here.
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