Our kitchens and Pantone

January 3, 2020


This story is included in my book, Exploding Hushpuppies - More stories from home.

Colors bring back memories of the kitchens we loved. - by Leslie Anne Tarabella

We can thank the “color-ologists” at Pantone for giving us a new reason to look forward to January. At the beginning of every year, they’ve announced their official, “Color of the Year.” It’s a very big deal for decorators and designers, and much to my husband’s fear, always makes me contemplate repainting a room or two. 

The color experts provide deep psychological reasons for their choice and it always has something to do with making us feel peaceful, safe, happy and loved, so to Southerners, our minds will naturally wind their way back to the colors of a kitchen we’ve loved. 

Colors bring back memories of the kitchens we loved. - by Leslie Anne Tarabella
Here it is, 2020’s Classic Blue!

Food is an important part of our culture, so our memories of living rooms, bedrooms and patios can fade, but even if it’s been several decades since we were last there, we can still identify the exact pattern and shade of the curtains, dishes, countertops and walls of a kitchen where we were warm, well-fed and safe. 

People may first remember how ugly the harvest gold appliances were, but soon, they’ll come around to telling you about how they loved sitting at the mid-century atomic patterned Formica counter while granny made biscuits and pulled turquoise Fiesta Ware out of the canary yellow cabinets. 

Colors bring back memories of the kitchens we loved. - by Leslie Anne Tarabella

My sorority sister, Verbie Jo, laughs about her great aunt’s pink kitchen with poodle dishtowels, yet every time she passes through an antique store, searches for pink Pyrex for her own collection. 

Our food is legendary and the kitchens where it was prepared hold memories more colorful and detailed than any company mandated paint swatch. This year’s passing trend will soon be forgotten, yet the color of our great-granny’s kitchen step stool we stood on to help stir the stew will stick with us until we die. 

My favorite color has been orange for a long while now (maybe because of the Brady Bunch kitchen?), but my love of green probably started in my grandmother’s kitchen. With innovative flip-out cabinet space to hold dry goods, the floors were a Kelly green and white checkerboard pattern. When I see a similar floor now, I instantly break into a smile and crave tea cakes which were always in a cookie jar on the counter. 

The warm aroma of a yellow butter cake, licking a chocolate coated spoon shiny clean, and a silver pot bubbling with eggs yet to be deviled, all came from grandmother’s green kitchen that was small, yet somehow held her along with four daughters, reaching, flipping, chopping and shooing children out of the way. 

Colors bring back memories of the kitchens we loved. - by Leslie Anne Tarabella
This is very similar to my grandmother’s kitchen in North Alabama.

Linoleum patterns, chair cushions and tablecloths edged in hand-embroidered daisies are seared into our minds and produce far more of a psychological response of peace, safety and happiness than any commercial paint swatch chosen for us (by a company based in NJ, by the way — “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” said my NJ husband). 

Not only the heart of the home, the kitchen was a place that is held deep within our real hearts. Our memories of colors, smells, tastes and sounds can be as sharp as if we were just sitting there yesterday. 

Pantone feeds our need for something new, but we only need to close our eyes to be nourished in the colors and patterns of a kitchen we’ve loved, even if it’s harvest gold, orange  or pink poodle paradise. 

Colors bring back memories of the kitchens we loved. - by Leslie Anne Tarabella

This story first appeared on AL.com and in the Mobile Press-Register, Birmingham News and Huntsville Times.

  • Kitchens stir such strong memories and emotions. I loved riding my bike home from Miss Tapio’s School of Dance in the cold (when it was safe to turn your child loose to roam all over town!) and walking into our warm kitchen. Mom always had something delicious smelling on the stove. We ate together every night as a family, seated at the table…no exceptions. My sister and I took a trip to Washington, D.C. a couple of years ago. Number one on our Must See list? Julia Child’s kitchen at the Smithsonian! I adore that kitchen that reminds you of your grandmother’s!!

    • Great meomries, and I didn’t know about Julia Child’s kitchen being on display in DC! What a fun experience. I’d love to see that, so I’ll have to put it on my long “to do” list! Thanks for the memories and the travel tip!

      • You definitely need to see it! It’s not what you might expect , it is very small and not the least bit fancy.

  • My parents and I lived with my paternal grandmother for the first seven years of my life. I honestly don’t remember the wall color there, but I do remember the pink, freezer on the bottom refrigerator! It went perfectly with her large collection of Franciscan Desert Rose dishes. My sister has those dishes now and they are a fond reminder of our grandmother who with only a ninth grade education still raised two sons as a young widow doing book keeping. I would put her self taught Biblical knowledge up against any of today’s seminary trained young preacher boys. She lived her faith out loud and used that pink fridge to help her throw the best wedding and baby showers.

    Now my mom, who was fond of saying “I cook to live, not live to cook” much preferred playing softball and singing . But I think the red formica counter top in the house I grew the rest of the way up in had something to do with my choice of red as a prominent color in my kitchen now.

    My kitchen today is my dream kitchen, painted Sherwin Williams “Blonde” with red accents. I started my married life in the avocado green years. Had a time of peach and blue in the early nineties, then some white. Finally hired a decorator to make it look like I pictured.

    Thanks for prompting such sweet memories.

    • I love your memories and can almost see it all just as you described. I know that Franciscan pattern and when I see it, it always reminds me of a good friend’s house where I would often eat dinner. So glad you have such happy memories and colorful stories!

  • Fun post Leslie Anne, brought back memories of all the past kitchens I’ve loved and a lot of smiles! Happy New Year!

    • Thanks Jenna. As an artist, I’m sure you have vivid memories of all the colors!

  • Ellen Shook says:

    Ours was blue and yellow and white. We also had the blue formica “dinette set” after the very old white painted Victorian set went away. I would actually like to find THAT one now (the first one). I guess we were ahead of our time because I don’t think any of the chairs exactly matched. That was probably because we were kind of poor, and that’s just what they had, not because my mother was trendy. And you are right: I still like those colors! I have actually paid homage to it in a couple of my previous houses, reinterpreting it in my own way.

    • From the photos I’ve seen you post on Instagram, you win the prize for best use of color! I adore all the bright colors you use. Maybe you were originally inspired by that blue and yellow and white kitchen! I just think colors are happy-happy!

  • Oh boy do I remember these kitchens. Love to see them when they pop up in ads. Some of those colors were a little wild but they weren’t boring! Thanks for the story Leslie Anne, it brings back a lot of fond memories!

    • Thanks Emily. If we had bright, bold kitchens now, I can only imagine what you would do!

  • Karyn Tunks says:

    I LOVE this story. It’s one I will revisit ofren. What I would give for my Nanee”s Formica table.

    • I’ll bet if you saw the same table 50 feet away, you’d instantly do a double take. Something about those kitchens!

  • I would love your grandmother’s kitchen! I would love it even for today. I cringe when a couple walks into a vintage kitchen on House Hunters and snootily starts saying “this would be a gut job.” I also love orange, Leslie Anne. Wish I could remember the name of the artist in England who painted her kitchen orange that I flipped out over. With lavender tablecloth, I think. It was in one of the UK shelter magazines that I keep for years and years.

    My own mother’s kitchen was knotty pine with shiny red formica counters. And she had a red checked pattern wallpaper put on the ceiling! I loved it so much. We even bought the house years later from them when they moved to Florida but alas, sold it a few years later. I love the Pantone color of the year this year. I love your look back at the kitchens of the past. Hands down, the room I most want to see in a house is the kitchen. Nothing is more fascinating to me than women in their kitchens. Probably it should be the bedroom, huh? Shows what an unexciting woman I am!

    • And years later, everyone will say, “My mother’s kitchen was white.” — “mine too.” — “mine too!!!” Wallpaper on the ceiling? Now, that’s a bold woman! I’m sure you inherited some of your mother’s flair and style. I wish I had a photo of her kitchen. It sounds amazing!

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