Functional Beautiful

I have been obsessed with this photograph for a few days. This is a farm worker’s kitchen in Essex New York. It is actually a reunion of workers who have worked on the farm, Essex Farm, which belongs to Kristin and Mark Kimball. I read about them.

The thing that obsesses me about this photo, this kitchen actually, is it is the most beautiful kitchen I think I have ever seen. It is, to my eyes, 100% functional…and gorgeous.

I am a huge fan of good design. I am a huge fan of very basic, just get it done, functionality. I sometimes cannot reconcile the two.

If you came to visit me, and we sat on my deck to have a beer, you could spend a lot of time exploring all the non-functional details of my container garden. I have moose, seagulls, lions wearing nightshirts, Irish pub signs, and a ever increasing variety of containers in which things are growing, from a crock pot to a retired smoker. All of this is not only functionally irrelevant, it is, in more ways than one, dysfunctional. At the same time, if you ate the potatoes I had the the BBQ tonight, you would have tasted green onion, sage, rosemary, basil, all of which I “harvested,” chopped and applied to the potatoes on the deck, as I was cooking. Very functional.

Off the deck: compost placement? Functional. Fire pit placement? Functional. Garden tool placement? Functional. Metal rack from which all the garden tools hang, which was originally intended to display collector plates? Functionally dysfunctional. My entire backyard? Well, it depends on what kind of animal you are.

There is so much freedom when functionality is the bottom line. Look at the photo. Look at the floor. Freedom. Look at the plates and the serving dishes. Freedom. But the freedom of functionality so often, probably always, comes hand-in-hand with very, very hard work.

I don’t think anything about the kitchen in the photo is intentional beyond the fact that it works for people who work. The calender fits…there. The mailboxes work…there. Hang the pots with what? Nails. Nails work. A shelf is what? Wood. A shelf is wood. Wood works.

So, I’m not sure I will discover how to reconcile the zombie gnome in my garden with the tomato cages that are just stacked randomly about the yard, waiting for their turn. But I do know that if the kitchen in the photo were my kitchen, I would be proud of it. But I also know that this is a kitchen where nobody stares absent-mindedly into the refrigerator during the commercial break, wondering what they might snack on.

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