An Architect’s Ties to Her Mixing Bowls: Metal Rings

The architect Katherine Chia’s parents, immigrants from Taiwan, bought these Revere Ware bowls as newlyweds in 1965.

A half-century of whisking has left faint spirals inside the stainless-steel mixing bowls, the only etch of time visible in the architect Katherine Chia’s otherwise unscarred, immaculately white kitchen.

The bowls are vintage Revere Ware, hard to find anywhere but on eBay now. Ms. Chia’s parents, immigrants from Taiwan, bought them as newlyweds in 1965. The company that made them has roots that go back to Paul Revere, the silversmith and midnight rider, with his tricorn-hatted silhouette on the bottom of each bowl — although, Ms. Chia said, “My mother used them so much, the stamps are nearly gone.”

They nest inside one another in three ascending sizes, the largest still small enough to be cupped with one hand. They are almost weightless, with high walls (“so flour doesn’t fly out,” Ms. Chia said) and a ring at the rim for anchoring the thumb so they won’t slip.

Credit...Krista Schlueter for The New York Times

Her mother, who died in 2003, taught her to scramble eggs with chopsticks and mash the ingredients for won tons with her hands. The bowls have survived papier-mâché art projects (first hers, then her two children’s) and endless reprises of chocolate-chip cookies. “They’re almost an extension of who I am,” Ms. Chia said.

Her parents, born in China during World War II, fled with their families to Taiwan when the Communists came to power. “That kind of upheaval does something to you,” she said. “You have to abandon things.”

They came to the United States for graduate school, unsure of their future: At the time, only 105 Chinese immigrants were allowed into the country each year. After restrictions were eased, they stayed, later settling in a house in Bedford, N.Y., that had been designed by Edgar Tafel, an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright.

Growing up, Ms. Chia didn’t realize that she was surrounded by icons of modern design: a Florence Knoll sofa, a Braun mixer by Dieter Rams, two Bertoia chairs that now sit in her apartment near Union Square. “I was always sinking down in those chairs,” she said. “That was the sweet spot.”

She remembers seeing a radio in the Museum of Modern Art’s design collection and recognizing it from her father’s study. “But it’s not about whether it’s in the museum or not,” she said. “My parents were very practical people. They picked things that were well designed and built to last.”

Twenty years ago, she and her husband and fellow architect, Arjun Desai, started their firm, Desai Chia Architecture, from their living room. (Their office is now a few blocks away.) At first, Ms. Chia made do with Ikea cabinets and heavy industrial mixing bowls bought on the Bowery.

Eventually, she and Mr. Desai rebuilt their kitchen out of Corian, a nonporous solid surface that they chose because it was luminous and sculptural but also “indestructible.” (Their son, Deven, had just turned 7, and their daughter, Lila, 2.) “We used ourselves as guinea pigs,” she said.

All storage is hidden under the counters, leaving the wall a seamless expanse of light, save for a long shelf with tiny holes for wooden spoons. She stacks spices there when she’s cooking, and afterward just washes the Corian down.

“Something can be beautiful, but it really has to be functional,” she said. She tilted one of the mixing bowls, the ring slipping easily around her thumb. “Little nuances in design can make a huge impact.”

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