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In the typical American house, the kitchen is centrally located with direct relationships with both living and dining areas, which allows for ease of service for both daily life and occasional entertaining. This centrality has led to recent characterizations of the kitchen—particularly the kitchen table—as the new hearth of the American home. This phenomenon is reinforced by representations of the American family on television, including generations of sitcoms and soap operas in which many important family issues are debated and resolved at the kitchen table.

In this construction of the traditional family the kitchen is largely associated with female domesticity especially in the postwar suburban context. The role of advertising as well as the publication of cookbooks and mass media helped to define a mythic image of American women surrounded by stove, oven and refrigerator—perhaps with a pantry laundry or storage nearby—which is still invoked by cultural conservatives. Servants, however, were already treated as unusual—the woman ran her own appliances, budget and household regime. This image also generated periodicals, such as Redbook, Family Circle, Ladies’ Home Journal and Better Homes & Gardens, targeted at women and their kitchens. Industry-related publications, such as Bath & Kitchen or Metropolitan Home, have also successfully marketed clean, bright kitchens as indicators of a healthy home life and as coveted status symbols.

Kitchen spaces have also changed in the last five decades. The rise of the “island” in kitchen design is associated with greater flexibility and changing habits in food production and consumption. The late-twentieth-century phenomenon of singleparent homes or families in which both parents work has also contributed to a shift in kitchen design towards layouts that accommodate shorter meals, faster preparation and spaces used primarily for entertaining. In urban settings, the restaurant kitchen may replace the cultural associations of the domestic one, as indicated by an increase in exposed kitchens and comfort food on menus.

The competitive appliance market also has been crafted to determine preferences and ascribe status to the niche industry of kitchen remodeling. Basic stoves can be replaced with elaborate grills; refrigerators with Sub-Zeros or additional freezers; and dishwashers, trash compactors, disposals and other appliances converted to necessities.

Often undertaken as a substitute for a complete home renovation, upgrades in appliances or changes in color schemes are generally seen as indicators of recent affluence or a change in the dynamic of the family. In lieu of traditional architects and designers, the aestheticization of the kitchen is being realized by home centers, spec-kitchen showrooms and cultural figures such as Martha Stewart. This emphasis on the kitchen as the epitome of the home has also generated a cultural counterpoint of more illicit behavior in the kitchen, as represented by films such as Fatal Attraction (1987) or 9½ Weks (1986)

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