Facts about the kitchen at the National Museum of American History
The kitchen measures 20 x 14 feet, the exact dimensions of Julia Child’s kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Only the walls and floor were fabricated by the museum. Everything else was Julia’s and was included in her donation to the museum in 2001.
Everything in the kitchen--the appliances, counters, cabinets, tools, and utensils--is assembled according to its exact placement in Julia’s kitchen as of November 2001, when the museum documented it before taking it apart.
The museum collected about 1,200 individual objects, including equipment kept out of sight in cabinets and drawers, but the exhibition presentation includes only those things that can be seen out in the open. Because of Julia’s preference for covering virtually every surface with kitchen tools, however, there are still hundreds of objects to see.
The appliances are not hooked up to gas or electricity. While they are in working condition, they will not be used.
The three plexiglass viewports into the kitchen are in the actual doorways that existed in the Cambridge house. Two of the doorways led to pantries off the kitchen, the other to a landing and hallway, which connected to the central hall of the house. (The house was built in 1889.)
Part of one wall is missing—a pegboard covered wall containing Julia’s French copper pots, most of which she donated to another organization (Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food, and the Arts, in Napa, California). In the Smithsonian exhibition, this missing section is represented by a clear plexiglass wall into which the pot outlines have been etched. This design feature adds another view into the kitchen for museum visitors.
Julia’s original flooring is no longer manufactured, so museum staff created a floor graphic using a sample of her linoleum. The design sample was digitized and a “repeat” pattern was created. It was then pasted to a thin, rigid support for installation.
Kitchen Background and Highlights
The layout of the original kitchen was determined by both Julia and her husband, Paul Child. In 1961, when they moved into the Cambridge house, they organized the kitchen to suit Julia’s requirements as a cook. Among the unique features are the maple countertops, which are a few inches higher than standard counters to suit Julia’s 6’2” height.
Paul and Julia also arranged the pots, pans, skillets, and utensils on pegboard-covered walls, within easy reach of a busy cook. Paul outlined each pot in black marker on the pegboard, making it simple for anyone using the kitchen to put things away properly. The outlined pegboards and reference photos attached to them were created by the Childs.
The Garland, six-burner, gas commercial range was manufactured in the early 1950s, and was already a used restaurant stove when Julia and Paul purchased it for $429 in Washington, D.C., in 1956. Julia sang the praises of her “big Garland” throughout her career, and used it until she donated it to the Smithsonian in 2001.
Julia’s knives are arranged on magnetic strips mounted between the kitchen windows and above the sink. With this arrangement she didn’t have to hunt for a knife, she just grabbed what she needed and, when finished, could wash it off and put it away easily. A self-proclaimed “knife freak” Julia collected knives throughout her life.
The bookshelf in the kitchen holds the cookbooks and reference works Julia used regularly. It contains “kitchen copies” of her own cookbooks, as well as The Joy of Cooking, Larrouse Gastronomique, The World Atlas of Wine, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, How to Clean Everything, and many other titles.
The metal pole mounted on the ceiling was installed by A La Carte Communications in the early 1990s. It was one of two that held the television lights necessary for taping the three cooking shows that were staged in Julia’s home kitchen between 1994 and 2001 (“In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs,” “Baking with Julia,” and “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home”).
One wall of the gallery features highlights of Julia’s life. Biographical bits are interspersed with photographs, graphics, and a few personal objects, including a signal mirror from Julia’s stint with the OSS during World War II, her 1951 diploma from the Cordon Bleu, and the embroidered patch designed by Paul for her first cooking school in Paris. An array of cookbooks by Julia Child also line the wall.
Another section of the exhibition is dedicated to the step-by-step approach Julia used in her cookbooks. All 22 pages on how to make French bread from Mastering the Art of French Cooking II, are enlarged and reproduced on the wall, above a selection of ordinary tools from Julia’s kitchen of the type used in making real French bread.
A 90-minute video, “Julia Child’s Kitchen Wisdom,” produced by A La Carte Communications, will play continuously in the gallery. It features memorable moments from Julia’s televised cooking shows, from the 1960s “The French Chef” through the most recent “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.”
Julia’s own television set, which she kept in a pantry just off the kitchen, is used in the exhibition to reflect her role in public television and her influence on the cooking show genre. Some of the props she used in her shows are also displayed.
The ways in which Julia’s kitchen represented a range of old and new technology are highlighted with examples of tools from the kitchen.
Since the actual kitchen cabinets will be closed, Julia’s love of gadgets will be treated in a deliberate spill of her orderly kitchen drawers in a special section of the gallery. Visitors will be invited to guess the names and functions of various tools, some of which are quite mysterious.