In the late 1920s, a wealthy family commissioned Le Corbusier to design a country house just outside Paris. In a letter to the architect, the homeowner detailed exactly what the family wanted, room by room, down to the square meter. The list is striking for the glimpse it offers of the priorities of an affluent family in the first half of the last century. Most fascinating is the stark wish list for the kitchen: "3 sockets supplying high-power current and 2 lights." The house became the Villa Savoye, known now as Corbusier’s reinforced-concrete marvel.
It’s hard to imagine such a basic list existing today, because our relationship to the kitchen has changed so completely. Le Corbusier’s wealthy clients weren’t going to use their kitchen; it was for their staff. It was an era in which the kitchen was a sequestered space, and today the kitchen is arguably the most important room in the home—it’s a culinary theater, an entertaining area, a family room, and a media hub all in one. Unsurprisingly it’s also typically the first room people select when pulling the trigger on a home renovation.
If the kitchen is the undisputed center of activity, the bathroom is the polar opposite—a place of refuge. As Jun’ichirō Tanizaki put it so eloquently in In Praise of Shadows, his 1933 meditation on aesthetic ideals, the perfect bathroom must have "a degree of dimness, absolute cleanliness, and a quiet so complete one can hear the hum of a mosquito." That’s quite a distinct list of prerequisites, written around the same time as that wish list for Le Corbusier. Obviously Tanizaki planned to spend a bit more time in the bathroom than the Savoye family planned to spend in the kitchen.
This issue focuses on these two most frequently trafficked rooms in a home, those most commonly tackled with a renovator’s zeal. Unlike, say, a mudroom or a home office, the kitchen and bathroom are essential to a home’s function. Think of them as the common denominator among a rehabbed Victorian with minimalist interiors, an austere cabin in the woods, and a vernacular-inspired modern farmhouse. In the pages that follow, you’ll see homes in Finland, Spain, Missouri, and San Francisco. Though scope and materials may vary, the ideas and desires are similar—light, organization, openness, accessibility, convenience, and of course, beauty.
A vaulted ceiling, mosaic tile, and a custom tub with an ipe-slat basin make a third-floor master bathroom in Kansas City, Missouri, feel like a true getaway. Over in Madrid, architect Daniel Bergman Vazquez of Estudio Untercio puts it best when he says the bathrooms in the apartment he designed for a young couple were conceived as "special spaces," with petroleum-blue tiles and other materials chosen for their serene qualities. It’s worth noting, though, that Vazquez tries to have it both ways in this apartment, shielding one bathroom behind oak slats while providing a mirrored window that gives users a view to the terrace without sacrificing their privacy. Elsewhere, in a newly built New Zealand bungalow, the kitchen is tucked under a bedroom adjacent to a soaring double-height great room. It’s a feat of architectural sleight of hand, allowing the kitchen to "borrow" space from the larger room while maintaining its own identity as a discrete location.
We close the issue with the a one-of-a-kind bathroom on the Nakashima Estate. We typically hear about George Nakashima’s work as a furniture designer and craftsman, but it’s a treat to learn more about an architectural space he created in his own home, one that is still used by his daughter Mira Nakashima. The creation of the room itself is very much a part of family lore, from the rituals of using the traditional soaking tub to the names of Nakashima’s grandchildren spelled out in the whimsical tile design.
This issue is especially relevant for making the most out of a little. Whether adding on an entirely new kitchen, knocking down walls to improve the layout of an existing bathroom, or replacing outdated fixtures, we’ve got 140 pages of inspiration that prove that true modernity is all about adaptability. Unlike in Le Corbusier’s time, the kitchen and even the bathroom have become celebrated living spaces of their own, integral to a home’s identity.
Amanda Dameron, Editor-in-Chief
Follow me on Twitter: @AmandaDameron
Get the Dwell Newsletter
Be the first to see our latest home tours, design news, and more.