The heart of the home

It’s the centre of the domestic universe, the heart of the home, the sun around which the family orbits and while architecturally, the kitchen is somewhat of a low-key calling card, the room itself is often the most popular amongst home dwellers. It’s the most important room in the house because it’s where we gather several times a day before looping away to our separate tasks, only to return to the kitchen – so how, when and why did the humble cooking area become such a hive of activity?

Looking back at ancient traditional Ibiza fincas, the main gathering space was always the porxo, the central room of the house. It served as workroom and dining hall, animal shelter and storage unit. The kitchen was often a smaller room coming off the porxo. Before the hearth and chimney came into common use – in some areas not until the 20th century – a fire was built in the centre of the kitchen space, the smoke blackening the ceilings and walls. In the few fincas that remain in pristine condition on the island, you can see the smoky depression in the stone floor where the fire once sat. Cooking over an open fire takes some skill and can be back-breaking labour with the additional irritation of smoke and soot inhalation. It would be a few hundred years before science caught up with kitchen design.

As those centuries passed, American industrial psychologist and engineer Lillian Moller Gilbreth developed the concept of studying motion with her partner and husband Frank, often using their 12 children as research subjects. Efficiency, process and analysis ruled the Gilbreth family’s daily lives. Sound familiar? Two of the Gilbreth children wrote highly successful memoirs about their childhood, both made into films; Cheaper by the Dozen (1952 and then a somewhat deviated remake in 2003) and Belles on Their Toes (1950).

Frank died leaving Lillian a widowed mother of 12 and after a lifetime of working as her husband’s partner without recognition, Lillian needed to find a way to support her family without foregoing her intellectual goals. She turned her professional gaze towards the so-called female realm – the kitchen – despite considering her own time ‘too valuable to be devoted to actual labour in the home’ (Lillian never cooked a meal in her life) in the 1920s.

Anyone who has built a kitchen from scratch, or those who salivate over glossy magazines dreaming of their perfect culinary hub, will have heard of the working triangle – the resulting legacy of Lillian’s work. It’s an algorithm that dictates the principal elements of the kitchen – stove, sink and refrigerator – should form a triangle with no pathway less than 1.2 metres or more than 2.7 metres long. The triangle’s perimeter should be between 4 and 7.9 metres. Good kitchen design is all about economy of movement and Lillian’s work in domestic and commercial motion study spawned a whole new scientific field – you could say she is the mother of the modern kitchen.

Around the same time in most European cultures, the kitchen was traditionally closed off from the rest of the home. It was considered dirty, noisy and of course, the ‘women’s space’. As lifestyles changed with technology and society, the kitchen became the most occupied space in the home. It was the Americans, with their talk of meritocracy and freedom, who opened the kitchen to the rest of the house. Frank Lloyd-Wright designed his first open kitchen for the Wiley House in 1934 and what would American television be without it? Hit shows such as I Love Lucy, The Brady Bunch and even Friends all revolve around an eat-in, open-plan kitchen.

Over time in Ibiza, the kitchen evolved into a utilitarian space designed with customary simplicity. Poured concrete benches and wooden doors, exposed niche shelving, wide stone or porcelain sinks; the traditional Ibiza kitchen reflects a farmhouse sensibility dictated by an uncomplicated aesthetic. These days, the Ibiza kitchen is varied and individual, reflecting the tastes and lifestyles of those who use them. Like home kitchens all over the world, they are the locus of the household – homework station, provider of nourishment and comfort, late-night talk spot, the nucleus of a party, and laboratory for culinary masterpieces.

A welcoming and well-functioning kitchen makes a house feel like home. In terms of design, a kitchen should favour function over form, however as the space emerged from the back of the house to the centre, it also became a focal point for chic design and an opportunity for designers to play with colour and texture. From an industrial design perspective, the open-plan kitchen gave life to statement appliances such as Alessi’s kettle, Starck’s juicer, Kitchenaid’s free stand mixer and the classic Smeg fridge.

The gravitational pull of the kitchen is unquestionable, and therefore an important element to consider when designing your home in Ibiza. Kitchens in modern Ibiza homes can now take advantage of amazing views – be they stunning sea vistas or across the rolling green countryside – and be flooded with natural light through skylights, plus floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors.. While those who entertain might choose to add a concealed prep kitchen, the family structure flourishes when the kitchen is open to the rest of the communal spaces, flowing outwards from to dining to living to patio to the garden, enveloping the house and its inhabitants in a collective embrace of family time.