Elizabeth Collins Cromley


On her book The Food Axis: Cooking, Eating, and the Architecture of American Houses

Cover Interview of January 18, 2011


I hope that historians and architects will come to think about the evolution and development of American domestic architecture more as the product of people living in houses, than as the product of architects and designers producing stylish surroundings.

Houses are always works in progress, as dwellers relocate uses inside and outside the house.  In this book I have focused on the way that changes in people’s preferred modes of food storage, preservation, preparation, and the serving of meals acted as agents of change for the design of houses and their nearby landscapes.

The Food Axis shows how the addition of new utilities systems encouraged owners to add new appliances and required the adjustment of old locations for food.  Walls were moved or added, wings or ells attached to small houses to make them accommodate new needs.  Over the long-term, slowly, the spaces in American houses evolved as dwellers’ desires and needs regarding food shifted over time, resulting in major changes in the way domestic space was and is still being shaped.

Other domestic activities such as sleeping or socializing could be traced through the reports of users and the adjustments made to the physical fabric of houses.  And they would yield comparable insights into the way house plans have been adjusted over the long-term to meet the needs of dwellers.  Architects’ designs, ambitious aesthetically, still fit within the culturally accepted parameters established by these slow processes of change.

© 2010 Elizabeth Cromley