Thursday, 30 January 2014

Kitchen Talk

Before Christmas a new neighbour came to dinner. She enthused about our kitchen, which she described as a bang-up-to-date retro gem. I'm not sure whether she was being kind or whether she really meant that, because I've since seen her kitchen, which is a wonderland of open-planned elegance, with round basins recessed in marble worktops, questing taps like cranes' necks, and discreet utilities concealed behind panelled doors.

Retro ours is. I suppose it was the first generation of fitted kitchen, in that the sink is built into a cupboard unit which matches a similar unit on either side. The cupboards and drawers are a mushroomy cream colour. The sink unit has 'Dairymaid' written on it in cast metal, cursive script, like something on the boot of a 1950s Cadillac. And indeed, inside one of the cupboards, recorded by the sort of office stamp that had rubber belts turned by knurled wheels, is stamped, '23 February 1959'. The sink is stainless steel and the worktops are Formica, patterned, on close inspection, with tiny, ochre leaves.

The shelves and cupboards either side of the chimney breast date from the 1930s, when the house was built. There is a cream-coloured Standard 1941 Model C Aga cooker, a second-hand 1970s electric cooker inherited from neighbours, a scrubbed deal table, upright Victorian windsor chairs, and a bookcase for cookery books made from one of the children's bunk beds.

When we visit other people's houses and admire their newly refurbished kitchens, I have pangs of conscience that the Social Secretary has never had her own new kitchen. But then, none of my family ever had new kitchens. Their kitchens were practical, and cosy, and worked. None aspired to be show-pieces. They were about function, not fashion, and Vermeer would have felt at home in them.

In 2006 The Department of Communities and Local Government published 'A Decent Home: Definition and Guidance for Implementation'. It identified 'a reasonably modern kitchen (20 years old or less)' as one of the criteria defining a decent home. As our kitchen had its last make-over over half a century ago, I guess that officially we don't have a decent home - except that, apparently, 1950s kitchens are back in fashion, and there are people out there stripping out the so-yesterday granite and stainless steel, and putting in Formica just like ours.

I read that kitchens can be expected to last ten years. According to Which the average cost of a new kitchen is £8000. This means that not replacing our kitchen since the 1950s has saved around £40,000. It's also reduced quarrying, deforestation, ore extraction and consumption of petrochemicals. Granite, for example, is one of the most energy-thirsty materials available, and it is currently being mined at an unimaginable rate.

Maybe green is the new granite.