chapter  12
16 Pages

Kitchens

ByCAMILLE BÉGIN

The success of the HBO show Mad Men is often attributed to its depiction of, and our fascination with, what look like arcane social mores in the workplace. It does not neglect the home, however, using the kitchen as a revelator of the characters’, particularly female, vulnerabilities. The show’s set features a series of kitchens from Betty Draper’s suburban kitchen with its obligatory breakfast nook to, after her divorce, her larger, older, and outmoded mansion’s kitchen, isolated from the rest of the house and which she plans on “tearing out.” Carla, a hired black maid, often steps in to take care of the kids.1 Joan and Peggy cook in apartment building kitchenettes. The ultimate modern kitchen is Megan’s, a space at the heart of the open-space apartment where she can cook boeuf bourguignon for her husband while aspiring at independence and admiring her white carpeting.2 As the quick typology of Mad Men’s kitchens suggest, the location of this room evolved throughout U.S. history. The kitchen was the core of the home in colonial times, but architectural and social change contributed to its relegation to the back of the house by the mid-nineteenth century, only to lead to its reinstatement at the center of the household’s architecture starting in the mid-twentieth century. Though its location and role in American households’ life changed, the space remained loaded emotionally, symbolically, and ideologically.