Julia Child’s kitchen is located on the ground floor in the West End Gallery of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
It isn’t a replica but the actual kitchen in which the famous chef, cookbook author, and television host used to cook.
Julia Child donated her kitchen to the Smithsonian Institution in 2001 after representatives of the museum met with her in her home.
In 2002, after her 90th birthday, she was present at the opening of the exhibition of her kitchen. Her recognizable copper pans and pots were displayed until 2009 at Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts until 2009, when they were taken to the museum and placed in her kitchen once again.
Hundreds of utensils, gadgets, items from the kitchen drawers, and cookbooks were recreated as they once were in her home.
The kitchen has items from the 1940s when Julia Child was in the early stages of her cooking career up until 2001 when she donated the kitchen to the museum.
The kitchen was designed by her husband, Paul Cushing Child, and built in their home on Irving Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1961. In 1978, Julia wrote an essay for Architectural Digest, where she talks about her kitchen’s design.
She called it “the beating heart and social center of the household.” This was Child’s ninth kitchen and it was bigger than the previous ones. Minor alterations to the kitchen were made after they moved into the house.
The double sink was moved from its original position and one of the windows was covered with the pegboard where copper pans were later hung. The large, restaurant-style gas stove was brought from Julia’s old home in Georgetown.
Architect and kitchen designer Pamela Heyne conducted an interview with Julia in her home in 1989. She described her the kitchen as “a very comfortable and welcoming workroom full of carefully chosen tools and fixtures.”
Like many who had watched Julia Child’s shows, Heyne expected a massive center island, but in her home, Julia had a table in the middle of the kitchen.
The table and the chairs were purchased from Norway where Julia’s husband had once been stationed. The table was covered with a convenient oilcloth.
The maple countertops were 38 inches high instead of the standard 36-inch, to suit Julia’s height. The light blue-green color that predominates in the kitchen was selected by Paul.
Paul also drew the outlines of the pans so they could be returned to their proper place after they were used.
If there were items with the same shape but different color, he would put a Polaroid picture next to it. Julia was well organized, and to avoid confusion and disorder, she would keep most of her tools in the open.
The knives were attached to the walls with magnets. Every item in the kitchen was placed near its work zone.
The original linoleum floor was supposed to be taken to the museum also, but it was discovered that it had an adhesive that contained asbestos.
In the past, asbestos was a commonly used fire-retardant building material but is considered hazardous nowadays. The museum copied the original floor pattern for their exhibit.
The kitchen was the setting for three of Julia’s shows, In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs, Baking with Julia, and Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.
A massive center island with a built-in stove was added when the show was recorded. The rest of the items remained untouched.
The main refrigerator, which Paul had painted black at one point, had to be unplugged during the show because it was too loud. The kitchen hosted almost all of Child’s television series in the 1990s.
Naturally, museum visitors aren’t allowed to walk through the kitchen; they can see it through three viewpoints where the original doors were.
Once the exhibit was set Julia visited it and as she entered, she said, “It feels like home. It makes me want to turn something on and cook!”