How did the least desirable room in the house evolve to become the trophy showroom of the contemporary home?
The modern kitchen is a technological powerhouse designed to both make life easier and act as the social hub of the home. While it’s hard to believe that this wasn’t always the case, a quick look back at how kitchen design has evolved, suggests that it has adapted to changes in tastes, trends and technology more than any other room in the home.
In fact, the evolution of kitchen design over past centuries offers an interesting insight into our habits and lifestyles. Let’s take a closer look at how these once noisy, smelly, dangerous rooms have transformed into the luxurious kitchens we enjoy today.
Cooking in the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages cooking was performed over an open fire, either in a modest one-room home, or a great hall. For both rich and poor, the cooking area was the main source of light and heat. Soot and smoke were a constant problem until the 16th century when chimneys became widely used in the home to draw out the smoke, making it easier for everyone to breathe.
It was this development that first led to the kitchen becoming a separate room, as the brick chimneys and fireplaces were usually sited in the middle of the room, dividing it into two. One side was for receiving guests and conducting business and the other side was for cooking. The kitchen was born.
18th & 19th Century Kitchen
During this time the development of the kitchen was influenced by several factors, including the fashion for French cooking, which necessitated complicated dishes, extensive table settings and strict etiquette. Then there was the growing trade between Europe and the rest of the world, introducing new foods, tastes and trends.
For the wealthy, the kitchen was considered a service area to be placed at the back of the house, as far away from the dining and living rooms as possible. The job of the servants was not only to cook but to be responsible for the growing amounts of cutlery, crockery, gadgets and ovens. It was vital that no cooking smells, noise or mess tainted the rest of the house.
Design & Technology in 20th Century Kitchens
By the 20th century the impact of the Industrial Revolution had a huge effect on the heart of the home. New materials and production techniques saw the mass production of labour saving devices, which gradually began to replace the necessity for servants.
The Hoosier Cabinet offering freestanding kitchen storage took the United States by storm and the introduction of the gas oven provided homeowners with a more efficient and convenient source of energy.
One of the biggest milestones in kitchen design came in the 1920s, when Margarethe Schütte-Lihotzky introduced her small efficient kitchen, measuring just 6ft x 11ft, known as the Frankfurt Kitchen. Her objectives were to reduce the time spent in the kitchen by improving the layout – everything was within arm’s reach, making the design both efficient and ergonomic, along with reducing the cost of building a well-equipped kitchen.
Many Europeans were now living in small apartments which didn’t leave much room to house a kitchen, and this compact design utilised the ‘work triangle’ of cooker, fridge and sink, which went on to dominate kitchen design for decades to come.
It also helped to popularise the idea of the ‘fitted kitchen’ in the 1930s and 40s, with appliances integrated into the layout. More stylish matching appliances, the introduction of ventilation hoods and designed countertops, not only made the kitchen better organised, but also helped the space to become a source of pride.
The renewed interest in home cooking sparked by TV chefs, designer cookware, ‘must have’ appliances and utensils, along with the trend for home entertaining in the latter part of the 20th century, saw life gradually move back into the kitchen. Walls which once hid all of this away were removed to showcase our culinary space. The trophy kitchen had arrived.
21st Century Kitchen Design
While 20 years ago, it might have been unusual to host a dinner party in the kitchen, today it is the chosen venue for such gatherings. This has led to an opening up of the space and the kitchen/dining/living room is now at the top of most home buyers’ lists. Kitchen designers, whether designing luxury bespoke country house kitchens, or a compact galley kitchen, have risen to the challenge of this change in lifestyle.
As kitchens evolve to act more like lounge areas, cabinets and integrated appliances now look more like designer furniture and there have been many innovative ideas for storage and appliances. Hide-and-slide oven doors, pyrolytic cleaning functions, walk-in larders, double islands and smart technology allowing your fridge to order your shopping, are now all helping to make our 21st century lives easier and more enjoyable.
This article was brought to you by Dakota Murphey.
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