I have sort of an obsession with midcentury design—from the furniture, to the retro barware to the angular houses that look out of place among traditional Southern homes. When Business Report recently wrote about efforts to save the sprawling midcentury Crawford House in Webb Park, I of course wanted to know what it looked like inside (Thanks, Realtor.com!).
What struck me most about this spacious home was the kitchen. It’s huge, but also very much separate from the rest of the house. There’s even a floor-to-ceiling screen one could pull out of the wall to completely hide the kitchen from guests.
Back then, no one hung around the kitchen island helping you arrange a charcuterie board. You hid behind the door in a cramped kitchen waiting for that jiggly aspic to set before bringing it out on a tray for your patient guests.
What’s this got to do with millennials “killing” the dinner party? This story from Vox argues that millennials have left behind those classy, showy sit-down dinners of their parents and grandparents for more casual hangouts. The menu is thrown together last minute or based on what we found at Trader Joe’s that day, friends are encouraged to BYOB, and sometimes Brenda just has to sit on the floor because there aren’t enough chairs in this tiny apartment. (Sorry, Brenda, but deal with it!)
As the story says, “Most young adults today—specifically, millennials, who are in their mid-20s to late 30s by now—don’t have the money, time, or space for the types of elaborate dinner parties their parents and grandparents might have hosted decades ago. Dinner parties were once a way to show off your wealth and social status, but millennials hit by the Great Recession have neither.”
So student debt, slow wage growth and a higher cost of living are the culprits? Well, that and the open floor plan.
While the Vox article does touch on our grandparents’ generation’s use of the formal dining room to entertain guests, it sort of skips over the part where our parents took out a whole wall in the kitchen to open it up to the living room and dining room—inspired by every HGTV show since the late ’90s and a desire to show off that fancy new range and marble countertops.
And in the imperceptible way that domestic traditions slowly change, the dinner party moved into the kitchen and became more casual long before millennials brought it into the living room because LOL!, this 800-square-foot apartment doesn’t even HAVE a dining area, Brenda!
I’d argue we’re better off because of that shift. Our parents created an atmosphere that was homey and comfortable. That open floor plan implies there are no secrets—any neighbor or family friend could show up and relax, striking up an easy conversation in a shared space.
Millennials, the story notes, still value and prioritize friendships. And the dinner get-togethers still happen, they just aren’t as fussy. We also love a pop-up dinner event where we can eat family style, meet new people and support the local community, because #local.
And since economists say we may never accumulate the same wealth as our parents’ generation once did, you can bet those casual hangouts will continue—and we definitely won’t be putting in offers for the Crawford House anytime soon.