Island Appeal

I've been looking at houses and learning about houses and learning about buying houses.

An accidental part of this research has been marathon sessions of home-buying television shows, principally "Property Virgins" and "House Hunters".

The primary appeal of "Property Virgins" is the strange post-nationalist blend of Canadian Realtor/host and mostly mid-western clients. It can be surprisingly difficult to tell whether an episode is taking place in suburban Toronto, but in the end it usually is. And the nice neighborhood what-can-you-afford headfake opening is always fun.

Wherever the houses are located, there is inevitably a shot wherein the buying couple enters the kitchen and, bracketed by b-roll of the appointments and hardware, one of the virgins comments on either: a) the presence of a nice island workstation, or b) the disappointing absence of same.


After walking through enough kitchen layouts myself I realized why islands are so valued by prospective home buyers. Today, cooking is so often viewed as entertainment in mass media that home buyers--when imagining their occupancy of a particular property--project themselves into the kitchen as a show not a room. In a sense the question their asking themselves is: can I shoot a cooking show in this kitchen?

An island most often means you can address your television audience. Without one, food preparation is done back turned, looking away from an audience. One might as well be in a 19th century scullery, not an open-plan sound stage. I think this reaction is completely unconscious, but with open plan living areas with an ability to converse with company while working in a kitchen reproduces the television effect. In this sense its likely a proxy for a wish deeply held with home buying.

I think it leads back to the notion that celebrity experience is an increasingly powerful prism for framing and addressing consumption. Even Tracey Kidder's "House", safely buffered by twenty plus years of media evolution and celebrity magnification, clearly highlights the role that projection plays in evaluating a house.

Anyway, if you're remodeling a kitchen you might consider the question: could I make television here? It's a question everyone wants answered in the open house.

Posted December 31, 2009.