Today, most kitchens are the focal point of any family home. Open-planned spaces, island units and breakfast bars are the common ingredients used to make up a typical 21st century kitchen. Rewind 100 years though, and this wasn’t the case. Discover how the kitchen has evolved from humble beginnings to the heart of the home as The LuxPad explores the history of kitchen design…
Cooking in the Middle Ages was, like today, a sociable and communal affair. As the only source of light and heat, all activity revolved around a central fire which was often placed in the middle of a large communal room.
A significant problem for these communities were the vast swathes of smoke and soot produced by their constantly lit open fire. It was not until the 16th century that chimneys were widely adopted throughout households in Europe. So large were the chimneys that they effectively separated the room into two areas, one for cooking and one for living. The kitchen as we know it today had begun to take shape…
The economic and social changes that occurred across the 18th and 19th centuries meant the kitchen was now more in demand than ever before. Increased trade and a growing appreciation of foreign cuisines encouraged more elaborate styles of cooking. For the wealthy, food was seen as a clear symbol of status and so servants were employed to create these lavish meals with countless courses. Even for the less wealthy, new technologies such as the cast iron stoves boosted productivity and efficiency in the kitchen.
At this time, the kitchen space itself was regarded as a necessary evil. Despite the large numbers of servants required for cooking and cleaning, the rooms were often dark, cramped and relegated to the back of the home – far away from any entertaining spaces. It was a sign of poor hospitality for any sounds or smells from the kitchen to permeate the rest of the house.
If the pace of change in the 18th and 19th centuries was quick, then by the 20th century it was unstoppable. With Europe and America gripped by industrialisation, the kitchen was one of the rooms where this change was most noticeable. Factories were now producing everything from cotton to steel, and soon mass-produced appliances for the kitchen began to find their way into people’s homes. Crucially, cabinetry and storage units were produced in greater quantities and far cheaper than ever before. Most famous of these was the Hoosier Cabinet, a space-saving unit that was produced and distributed across America in the first half of the 20th century.
The introduction of gas stoves was another major development of the early 20th century. In previous decades households had relied on coal and charcoal to fuel their kitchen equipment, but gas was a much more convenient and efficient source of energy. Still, kitchens were viewed as a room that was only to be used for practicalities – socialising and entertaining were conducted elsewhere.
The 1920s was the decade which saw the most dramatic overhaul of the traditional 19th century kitchen, thanks to the efforts of one woman. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky was an Austrian born architect who was asked to help solve the post-war housing crisis that existed in many of Germany’s large cities. She wanted to design a kitchen that was practical, efficient and compact. Her revolutionary kitchen, known as the Frankfurt Kitchen, has been heralded as the prototype for modern-day, fitted kitchens. Its compact design meant everything was in arms reach, saving women valuable time on their domestic chores. It also gave birth to the idea of the ‘golden triangle’, in which the cooker, fridge and sink are ideally placed for maximum efficiency.
From the 1940s, integrated kitchens dramatically altered the look and feel of the space. Gone were the free-standing Hoosier cabinets and in their place came rows of gleaming, fully fitted cupboards, work surfaces and appliances. While the earlier decades of the 20th century concentrated on ergonomics and practicalities in the kitchen, the 1940-1980 period saw an emphasis on aesthetics. Homeowners became more demanding – matching appliances, utensils and cabinetry were common requests. In short, kitchens were now a room that homeowners wanted to be proud of.
The 1950s English Rose kitchen quickly became the pinnacle of interior fashion. With sleek cabinetry, built in white goods and a streamlined style – it was everything the 1950s housewife wanted it to be. Its hefty price tag only added to its luxury appeal. In fact, such was the allure of the English Rose kitchen, that imitations quickly began to spring up across Europe. By the 1960s and 70s, cheaper kitchens built from MDF replaced their sturdier predecessors, and nearly all English Rose kitchens were sent to the scrapheap. Today however, the English Rose kitchen is hailed as an iconic design of its time. Its revival in popularity has sparked many a contemporary kitchen designer to produce their own versions.
Today, kitchens have evolved to become the heart of the home. A culmination of the centuries that came before, kitchens are now designed to be one of the hardest working rooms in the house. Homeowners want their kitchens to be spacious, light, practical and stylish, with space for cooking, entertaining, relaxing and working.
But what is in store for the future of kitchen design? Gadgets like self-cleaning ovens, boiling water taps and instant ice machines are already a common feature of contemporary kitchens. Even more high-tech are the smart kitchen devices that are a hot topic of conversation in the technology space right now. From fridges that re-order your milk for you when it can sense you’re running low, to knives and forks that send a signal to you to eat more slowly, the internet of things revolution is just around the corner. Bon appétit!