This Architectural Digest slideshow raises a question: Do any of these homeowners actually cook? Lance Armstrong (that's his to the left--as always, click for a larger view)? Ted Turner? H. Ross Perot Jr. (or his wife Sarah)? The kitchens do include one for a professional chef, but I suspect most of these homeowners rely more on takeout and caterers than those gorgeous appliances and cutting boards.
Why build a big, fancy kitchen if you rarely cook? Why not be like 19th-century rich folks and make the kitchen as utilitarian and humble as possible, since it's for the servants after all?
The obvious reason is to show off when you entertain, and I'm sure status does play a role. There's a ratchet effect, too. If you don't have granite countertops and professional-grade appliances, you must be hopelessly out of it--or pathetically utilitarian--and you won't get top dollar if you sell your place.
But these photos do more than display rich people's showy luxuries. They're glamorous, evocative, emotionally resonant. They invite us into a different life. A kitchen isn't just a room. It's a symbol. Someone with the wherewithal to plan a dream kitchen can use the room to make an ideal tangible (at least until the photos are taken and entropy sets in).
Take Lance Armstrong's kitchen here. Look at all that seating. This is a kitchen for someone who dreams not of cooking but hanging out with friends and family. The cooking tools are incidental; slap some takeout down on the island, and you're good to go. Of course, like all styled-for-photography kitchens, the scene missing anything truly personal. (AD's caption says the photos displayed above the windows are personal, but they look generic to an outsider.) That impersonal quality makes the room a bit cold when you start thinking about the kitchen's owner but all the more glamorous for projecting yourself into the scene. If it fits your own ideals, there are no distractions to remind you that it's someone else's place.