When discussing classical architecture, it can sometimes be a challenge to find the right fit for the interior spaces. Should an American living room look more like an 18th-century English drawing room? Are we convinced that columns and architraves of the Corinthian order make an entrance hall more gracious? Should we arrange rooms in an enfilade, or is it preferable to have the rooms emanate off a central hallway? These are questions that, when put to a competent architect, will generate an answer based on the client’s taste, budget, and preference in either creating a precise sense of neohistoricism or a fresh take on a period look. The best way to examine these inquiries is to consider the appropriateness of the style to the space, and how can the best result be achieved at the highest standard the budget will allow. It seems that the logic of space goes out the proverbial window when designing the kitchen, however.
When I think about kitchens in the great classical houses of the United States, one thing is consistent whether it belonged to a Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Roosevelt, or Wharton . . . everyone had the same kitchen. While most of their houses were some interpretation of a classical ideal, the kitchens all looked like kitchens. Even Elvis, who lived in a Classical Revival, had a kitchen that looked like a kitchen. And he was the king. What is interesting is that these functional spaces were beautiful–and enduring in their appeal–because they performed certain essential tasks in the household without any ornament or embellishment. Covered head-to-toe in white tile, outfitted with hard-working floor and counter surfaces that were easy to clean, sufficient cupboards for necessary comestibles, and a clock that regulated the household’s activities were the hallmarks of not only important American houses, but virtually every single one from coast to coast throughout most of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
But what happened a few decades ago? The humble workhorse of the house had to be a showplace. And not just a place to entertain guests, it had to reflect the taste, wealth, and station of the homeowners as much as the rest of the house. This was a significant departure from the previous generations. Many people like to have company in their kitchens, so consequently, out went granny’s utilitarian tools that had a place in full view (because she used them every day, as did Julia Child. Remember her famous pegboard, now in the Smithsonian?). In came Baccarat chandeliers, bespoke cabinetry, stoves that could heat most of Akron in February, refrigerators that would have made our depression-era parents blush (who could even afford to fill it, let alone eat everything that a 48” fridge could hold?), and of course, the pot filler.
The argument for having one of these is that it is not some showy piece of hardware. It’s a real tool, just as essential as the sink faucet. It is marketed as being supremely functional (and necessary!), so you can easily fill up a pot (hence “pot filler”) when boiling fettucine for fettucine alfredo or for boiling linguine for Stanley Tucci’s Bolognese sauce (worth it, by the way). Let’s face it, it’s so burdensome to fill a pot with two quarts of water and then have to walk the two steps from the sink to the stove. You may have a kitchen that rivals Brillat-Savarin or Escoffier, in which case you may have to walk eight steps to the stove with the pot. So much work! It is also curious that this time-saving and essential tool came upon the scene just as carbohydrates were earning the opprobrium of every nutritionist and diet guru in the world. Nonetheless, the pot filler seems as popular today as it was when shelter magazines first started featuring it.
As I get older, I am constantly looking for ways to insinuate a little bit more exercise into my daily routines. While I realize I am fighting a mostly losing battle, I bend to get the wash out of the machine, descend the stairs to bring the aforesaid wash to the basement, and am only too happy to give my arms a little bit more of a workout by bringing that pot from the sink to the stove. Also, if I’m going to be tucking in to a low-calorie meal of pasta with cream sauce, or spaghetti and meatballs, shouldn’t I be trying to work some of it off by a little heavy lifting?
If you are looking for a way to spend some of your kitchen budget, instead of a pot filler, may I suggest that you use the money you’ll save on better cookware? Oh, and don’t forget to salt the water for that pasta.