Kitchen Dramas

“The Mix Master is an iconic staple in anyone’s kitchen” – Kris Jenner, scolds her mother for not displaying her brand new appliance in an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. E! December 3, 2017.

01 Kelvinator Moist Cold Refrigerator

Magazine excerpt for Kalvinator refrigerator ad, 1947. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

Over the past several months my computer hard drive and iPhone camera roll have been stuffed with countless images of kitchen advertisements. One folder contains over 200 items from old Ladies Home Journal catalogs and product displays from familiar brands like Frigidaire or General Electric.

The collection began as an obsessive desire to discover new meaning within the unusual history of the kitchen. As I scoured through digital archives, and google image searches of vintage advertisements, I was transported to an era of novelty. When refrigeration technology revolutionized the way food was bought and stored. The refrigerator quickly became an iconic symbol for modern lifestyle in the twentieth century. When first gas then electric ovens altered the preparation of meals and transformed cookery into photo-worthy displays. When armies of joyous female characters innocently symbolized the American dream. Elaborate tableaus of shiny stainless steel appliances characterized the picturesque mid-century home. These ads not only appealed to technologies that would improve housekeeping standards but promised glamour and perfection while performing daily tasks.

07 New Freedom Gas Kitchens

An advertisement for gas technology from 1947. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

09 Ge Wall Refrigerator Freezer Blue

An advertisement for gas technology from 1947. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

11 Ge Stratoliner Range

An advertisement for gas technology from 1947. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

10 Ge Keyboard Cooking Range

An advertisement for gas technology from 1947. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

04 Ge Straight Line Refrigerator Freezer

Various magazine excerpts of appliance and cookware ads between the 1940s-1950s. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

05 General Electric Speedster Range

Various magazine excerpts of appliance and cookware ads between the 1940s-1950s. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

08 New Freedom Americana Kitchen

An advertisement for gas technology from 1947. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

02 Kelvinator Scotch Kettle

Various magazine excerpts of appliance and cookware ads between the 1940s-1950s. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

03 Kelvinator Refrigerators

Various magazine excerpts of appliance and cookware ads between the 1940s-1950s. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

06 Rca Whirlpool Refrigerator

Various magazine excerpts of appliance and cookware ads between the 1940s-1950s. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

12 Frigidaire Flair Electric Range

An advertisement for gas technology from 1947. magazine-advertisements.com/appliances-and-cookware.html

What became apparent from this archival exercise is the power of an ordinary advertisement to influence mainstream culture.1New lifestyle standards are delineated by staging domestic tableaus with iconic artifacts like a “mix master.” These household items are used to sell desire by representing an identity: luxury, perfection, glamour, or beauty. Diligent consumers then imitate these images by buying and displaying their stuff.

Today with the influx of advanced media platforms, the twentieth-century ad-man is dead. Instead, pop culture personalities are quietly influencing the design of interior spaces like the kitchen. And celebrity kitchens are the pinnacle of today’s trend towards spacious and oversized luxury. Effectively, an unusual subculture is advertised inside Hollywood homes.  

For example, clips released from Season 16 of Keeping Up with the Kardashians features an intense dispute between three sisters of the family. They are gathered in a Kardashian home, and the camera follows Kim as she moves around the kitchen. Marble countertops are sleek and pristine, empty of any unsightly messes. A few pots rest on the stove yet no remnants or leftovers of the presumed meal are visible. High-tech appliances shimmer in the background begging to be bought. Every predictable cliché has been indulged as if the reality-star took a page out of an Architectural Digest magazine. However, the perfect tableau of the kitchen conflicts with the drama between the Kardashians. What would a kitchen look like if it radically mirrored the identity of its users?

Kitchen Top

Image courtesy of Claudia Wainer.

The stuff usually hidden behind cabinets and within drawers would be scattered across countertops. Dishes cracked from an unknown force maintain their usability. Spills are not accidental but purchasable. Chairs are crossbreeds of cute and familiar forms. Hordes of kitchenly artifacts are deviously assembled on a shapely island. The perfect image of the kitchen is more like a staged crime scene for new purchasable consumables. Together the identity of the user and the kitchen radically coexist to produce an unusual interior experience. It promises an escape from the realities of housework. It requires a forensic study of the entire tableau. The viewer is confronted with several choices: to laugh at its absurdity, to be horrified by the graphic imagery or — armed with a credit card in hand — venture to the nearest IKEA, Target or Home Goods store to buy this stuff.

Kitchen Scene Int01

Image courtesy of Claudia Wainer.

Kitchen Persp

Image courtesy of Claudia Wainer.

Kitchen Scene Int02

Image courtesy of Claudia Wainer.

  1. For more on this subject, Smithson, A & Smithson, P. (2003). "But today we collect Ads": Article written by Alison Smithson and Peter Smithson and published in the Finnish magazine Ark in 1956. Architecture d'Aujourd Hui. 344. 40-45.