Get things cooking by following these kitchen inspirations à la Julia Child
Whether you grew up watching “The French Chef” or you’re a fan of “Julie & Julia,” Julia Child's contributions to the culinary world need no further introduction. HBO’s series “Julia” gives viewers a first-hand look at how the acclaimed chef and cookbook author started her TV show, with a close-up of Julia’s famous home kitchen. If you want a kitchen layout like Julia’s, here are nine tips to get you started.
HBO recreated Julia’s real-life kitchen from the home she lived in from 1961 to 2001 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Today, you can visit her kitchen at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History. There’s plenty to learn about organizing a kitchen, cooking good food, and making memories from this historical space, which Julia told Architectural Digest was the “beating heart and social center of the household.”
1. Make It Accessible for All
A standard countertop height is 36 inches, but to accommodate Julia—who stood at a statuesque 6 feet, 2 inches—her solid-maple counters were 38 inches tall. The extra height made her more comfortable while whipping up her famed boeuf bourguignon and coq au vin.
If you’d like to make your counters ADA-compliant, they should be between 28 and 34 inches tall. Installing new countertops costs between $1,858 and $4,177 on average, but ask your countertop pro how customizations impact the final price.
2. Organize Without Hiding
At first glance, Julia’s kitchen might seem cluttered. After all, modern kitchen trends favor clear countertops and hidden storage tucked away in cabinets and drawers. But Julia opted to keep all of her favorite tools and gadgets close at hand.
On the shelf above the range and counters, you’ll spot multiple crocks full of wooden spoons and whisks, big rolling pins in a copper stockpot, small appliances, and bottles of cooking oil. In your own kitchen, keep the tools and ingredients you use daily on your countertops, but tuck away items you only use on occasion.
3. Stick to a Place for Everything, and Everything in Its Place
Rather than stacking her pots and pans in a drawer or cabinet, Julia kept all of her cookware within reach. Give credit to her husband Paul, who created her famous “copper pot wall.” The Childs added polaroids in the 1990s so assistants would remember where to return each piece during television shoots in Julia’s kitchen.
At first glance, Julia Child’s pegboards look like they belong in a garage or a workroom rather than in a kitchen. As she told the Smithsonian, “It’s a workroom that’s good looking.” Being functional doesn't mean your kitchen can’t also be beautiful—there are plenty of creative kitchen storage ideas you can implement.
4. Opt for a Wide Range
The Childs purchased their restaurant-style stove from friends in the 1950s. Julia called her six-burner commercial range “Big Garland” and never desired an update. If you’re an enthusiastic home cook inspired to go big with your range, just make sure it’s a residential-style stove since restaurant-style ones emit too much heat for a home kitchen.
Not only did Julia have a big range, but she had a lot of pantry space—three pantries, to be exact. She rolled out dough on a marble counter in her pastry pantry across from her microwave. Her second pantry doubled as a bar where the Childs prepared cocktails and stored their dishware and glassware. The third pantry was a storage space for food.
If there’s anything we can learn from the Childs, it’s don’t be afraid to go big with your ambitions for your kitchen layout. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Call on a local cabinetmaker who can help you add big storage to your kitchen.
Talk to a countertop installer who can make your countertops beautiful and durable.
Speak with a contractor near you about your pantry must-haves, including shelving and lighting.
Build a kitchen island where you can prep food and host dinner parties.
5. Define Work Zones
Julia and her husband created a gathering place for friends and family, but the kitchen also functioned as a culinary laboratory for Julia. Designating zones throughout the kitchen helped keep things running smoothly as she cooked.
As you can see in the scene above, Julia used the sink area as a workstation in her kitchen design. The knives are organized on vertical magnetic strips above the sink so she could easily wash a knife and put it back where it belonged.
If you take a look at her crocks, you’ll see that every wooden spoon and whisk is at arm’s length while working at the stove. After cooking in eight other homes while living abroad, she knew exactly where she wanted her cooking tools and gadgets. Creating work zones and keeping all of your tools within reach are tips for maximizing the efficiency of your kitchen that we can take from this celebrity chef.
6. Eat and Host Where You Cook
Most modern kitchens separate the actual dining from the workspace where the cooking happens. The Childs had an eat-in kitchen, and the centerpiece was a dining table they acquired in Oslo, Norway, where they lived before returning to the U.S. Channel the Childs by adding a dining table or island to your kitchen and using them for prep-work and hosting friends and family during intimate dinner parties.
7. Mix Old and New Tools
In addition to drawers and cabinets full of gadgets, Julia had an eclectic mixture of vintage cooking tools from her time abroad and modern cooking appliances. She acquired her large soapstone mortar and wooden pestle from a flea market in Paris, where she developed a discerning palate and attended Le Cordon Bleu, the internationally renowned cooking school.
Mixed among her vintage pieces—including French food mills, a stone crab claw cracker from Florida, and a vintage kitchen scale with both American and European weights—Julia had a food processor, KitchenAid stand mixer, and an under-counter ice maker for keeping food cold during long TV shoots.
8. Choose Colors That Complement Your Space
Paul, an avid painter and photographer, not only designed the kitchen with Julia but chose the paint colors for the cabinets. The two-tone kitchen cabinets are light blue and green, and the partial overlay doors add a visual layer while allowing some of the natural wood to show through.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the craftsperson who refinished the countertops informed the museum that the painter came up with the colors on the spot. Museum designers concluded that the blue is close to Benjamin Moore’s Covington Blue, and the green resembles Benjamin Moore's Sherwood Green or Stem Green.
9. Keep It Fun
Julia took cooking seriously, but she was also known for her humor and personality. Her kitchen reflects this in small personal details, like the asparagus painting on the back wall cabinet and fish prints—pieces from her days in France pepper the space, including the white ceramic bowl on the table. Bring in personal touches to your kitchen to make the space your own.
May Julia’s kitchen principles and wisdom guide you through your next kitchen remodel or cooking endeavor. Call a local kitchen remodeling pro if you need help creating a new kitchen layout, defining work zones, or choosing the perfect color scheme. Bon appétit!