Last week I made a lightning trip to Milan at the invitation of Samsung to see – not just some of their appliances but also to consider – via an installation they had created in the Brera Design District – the role of the kitchen in our busy 24 hour lives.
The company took over three rooms and created a 60m long countertop that snaked through three different kitchens designed to showcase different times of day: morning, day and evening. We were invited to think about how the kitchen has changed over the centuries; from a fire outside a cave to a small space used in a purely practical way often used often by servants. The idea of the kitchen as the heart of the home is a relatively modern concept. For most of the 20th century it was more of an engine room rather than a place where the family would gather together to hang out, share food and spend time together.
Now it has become both engine room and beating heart of our domestic lives. The dream of every first time buyer (in the UK at least) is a kitchen big enough to eat in. But as our living spaces get smaller and smaller that isn’t always possible.
We live in more open plan spaces and spaces that have to multi-task, and that has led to important changes in the way we decorate and equip our kitchens. They have become – as the show was titled – the Samsung 24-hour Kitchen. We use the kitchen all the time but we live in it too.
In other words it’s not just about the functionality of our appliances. They have to look good as well because they might need to blend with the dining table or be near the sofa. That old form versus function argument. Twenty years ago it was all about the latter, now it’s more a marriage of equals and that is one of things that Samsung wanted to demonstrate.
Surfaces are flush and seamless. The white fridge can hide in a bank of cupboards and disappear. Or it comes in a matt black that fits with your dark design and doesn’t need to be integrated because it looks cool whatever your decor. What about classic stainless steel? Only this one – the Samsung Family Hub – is, “like connected” (name that film with Frances McDormand) by which I mean you can download an app and then – listen carefully because this is the good bit – if you are at the supermarket and you can’t remember if you have enough cream for the pasta sauce or how much butter is left for the morning, you can consult the app and IT WILL LOOK INSIDE THE FRIDGE AND TELL YOU. I know!
And believe me, you may rail against the march of technology but that is so much easier than trying to ring the 15yo from Waitrose and begging him to go downstairs and look for you. You can also use this fridge to write notes: “Yes I appreciate you have just got home from school but before you even THINK about opening this door and reaching for that leftover pudding you can do and do your science homework” sort of thing.
Michel Roux Jnr, that chef off the telly (who was, by the way, just as lovely off-screen as on) was at the installation to do a cooking demonstration and he told me: “I live in a house of Post-It notes. My fridge is covered in them but this way we could get rid of all of them and just use this screen.”
He then took a picture of the pudding he had just created and uploaded it to the fridge screen. And we decided that would also be cool for families: “Look what’s for dessert if you learn your spellings/do your French/unload the dishwasher.”
But it wasn’t just fridges. Samsung have done clever things with ovens as well. Not all of us have enough space for a large range cooker with two ovens. And sometimes you want to roast a piece of beef on a gentle heat while making Yorkshire Puddings to go with it, which need a much higher heat. And can sink if you open the door too often. So they have created the Dual Cook Flex Oven. Not only can it cook at two different temperatures but the door also folds in half so if you need to check on the top one while leaving the bottom one alone you absolutely can.
And when it comes to hobs we all know about induction but one of the common complaints is how hard it is tell how hot it is – particularly if you are used to cooking with gas. Samsung has created a hob that has Virtual Flame Technology, which is a blue LED flame effect (so it looks like gas) and basically the taller the flame the higher the heat. Monsieur Roux was quite keen on that I can tell you. Influenced yet?
Appliances taken care of and you need to think about your decor. Do you want to decorate your kitchen for the morning, day or night? Perhaps, as is the coming trend, you want it to look more like a furniture-filled room where you cook rather than fill it with sleek fitted cupboards.
As I heard someone observe at the show: “Kitchens are the new cars”, by which he meant that just as our parents used to show off their new wheels to their friends and neighbours, cars are no longer cool or environmentally friendly. But kitchens can be both of those things and these days it’s cooler to show off your kitchen than your car. And now you can.
Thank you to Samsung for inviting me to see their products in the Samsung 24 hour Kitchen.