Monday, September 10, 2012

In the Kitchen with Harriet Healy

I've heard a bit about the late Au Bon Gout, the legendary culinary and kitchenware store located in Palm Beach. Founded by the late Harriet Healy in the 1950s, Au Bon Gout supposedly carried all kinds of marvelous cookware, table accessories (including Dodie Thayer lettuceware), and antiques. It was also where Healy, a noted cook, taught cooking classes. Healy later sold the shop to a business partner who continued to run the shop, although I can't find any information on when the business actually ceased operations.

Being mildly familiar with Healy, I got a little excited when I saw this 1965 House & Garden article that featured Healy's Palm Beach kitchen. Now I realize that this kitchen is not to everyone's taste what with the blue and white toile, but I find it utterly charming. Evidently, Craig Claiborne felt the same way as he wrote in the New York Times that the kitchen was "one of the best-equipped and most beguilingly styled kitchens in Palm Beach." What makes this kitchen so different from many kitchens today is that you can actually imagine food being cooked there. There also seems to be a lot of Healy's personality present in the kitchen with the toile fabric, the antiques, and the painted cabinetry serving as evidence of Healy's keen interest in French furniture, decor, and cooking.

After seeing these photos, I felt a wave of nostalgia for both charming, warm kitchens as well as traditional French food, both of which seem to be a little out of favor today. I think it's high time to bring back both.

P.S.- Healy wrote a series of cook books that were published in the 1960s and 70s. Click here to see what she wrote.


  1. Rachel7:19 AM

    This post is interesting to me as this spring we removed red and cream toile from our cathedral-ceilinged kitchen entryway. It was the elephant in the house... to all who saw it but me. I thought it gave the room a coziness, a less workroom feel to the kitchen. Alas, it was peeling and really just did not flow with the rest of the kitchen so it had to go.

    However, I am now planning to install wallpaper in that other utilitarian space: the bathroom!

  2. I love the cookbook holder which keeps the recipes at eye level and out of the way. Very clever. I tape single page recipes to the cabinet door above where I prep but it's a challenge to keep a cookbook nearby and not manage to get it splashed while preparing a recipe.

  3. Totally charming and unexpected. I agree with you about the kitchens of today. There are no signs of life. Many of them are "trophy" rooms existing only to show the world that their owners can afford that $30,000 La Cornue stove. Never mind that no one bothers even to make a cup of tea let alone prepare a proper meal.

  4. Enchanting, and I agree whole heatedly that it is time to bring back kitchens that we actually cook in and fine French food.

  5. Pamela11:11 AM

    What a wonderful space. For me, it's the middle of the night feel I look for; cozy, inviting, surrounded by charming patterns, designs and forms. A fine example is the kitchen in the classic 'Indiscreet' with Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant. Unlike the current trend, I still want my kitchen to be separated from the rest of the house. Though big enough for that vintage chrome table and chairs set...

  6. I remember seeing pictures of these kitchen cabinets somewhere -- they were incredibly charming. I, too, love the idea of the cookbook holder over the sink. I have to admit that this is the only compelling reason to place your sink somewhere other than in front of a window. Which is where mine is, but I'm now thinking I should install a swinging cookbook holder nearby (and have my carpenter boyfriend design one), so I can use it above the sink when I want to. It does seem that I look back at my cookbooks after I've used the sink. Thanks for another great post!

  7. The kitchen is charming, but seems very tiny and cramped, especially for Palm Beach and for a dedicated cook.

  8. Oh, I'm so completely with you on the return of traditional French food. I think the Italian Med "River Cafe" influence has probably gone on for too long- and I'm not sure that it's entirely suited to the Northern countries. Perhaps the way forward is a return to Escoffier- but with a lighter, healthier touch, more suited to the modern way of life? I still think that the general standard of food in France is extremely high- despite what the cynics say.

  9. I have always felt that kitchens, with actual people cooking in them, are the center of every house and need to be warm, slightly earthy, kid/adult/animal friendly spaces. (And the food prepared in them, healthy, delicious and abundant for all who might venture). Thanks. Mary

  10. Oh dear Lord!

    The MOST charming kitchen! That toile is anything but dated; the hand-painted elements from the toile on the cabinets is sheer genius!

    And the "cook-book holder above the stove........I am copying the second my carpenter is through with our daughter's house!

    How divine is that? And who invented it!? I bet "she" did! I bet!!!


    someone, invent it again!

    I have this brilliant thing in my laundry room. Called a "Merrymaid" it is a laundry rack that has ropes that go up toward the ceiling for hand-washables!

    A lady found one in a flea market........had it copied.....they come in different sizes and colors! So divine!!

    Interesting someone found it "cramped and small"!
    I think most kitchens today are so "way too big!!"

    Not cozy..and I am guessing this was not a "servant's kitchen" (very common in that era; the people who "lived in the house; did not go into the kitchen ! They buzzed it!)

    Not this place! She cooked in there......and I could move into that kitchen with my toothbrush!

    I think this lady (I think I met her on my first trip to Palm Beach in 1964!!!)
    She cooked in this kitchen! and gave cooking lessons in here!

    I think it is my favorite kitchen ever!

    (and I have and love toile in my own kitchen!)

    This kitchen is not "styled"! this is a "cook's kitchen"!!

    Bravo for finding this and 'serving it up!' to us!


  11. I am a *huge* fan of Dodie Thayer's lettuce ware!

  12. I love this kitchen-- it is oozing with charm! I especially love her scalloped framing detail.

  13. Anonymous8:06 AM

    Harriet Healy was a frequent host for Simone "Simca" Beck during her post "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" tours, and is mentioned in her books.

    I'm one of those cooks who finds a small kitchen very efficient, and this one is just the right size for me. The toile figures painted on the cabinets makes me think of Frances Elkins, who did the same thing. The cook book holder is a nice touch. I use a cheap version: a clamp-style pants hanger hooked on to a cabinet knob.