Welcome to the third part of our ‘nutshell’ guide to the evolution of kitchens! We’ve travelled from ancient times right up to 19th century kitchens – as you can imagine, the arrival of indoor plumbing and gas cooking proved most influential to kitchen design! – and we’re about to embark on an exploration of kitchen development throughout the 20th Century.
As the socio-economic tendency was progressively toward streamlining and efficiency, so kitchens of the early 20th Century became increasingly separate. There was of course the ever-present practical need to isolate food smells from the rest of the premises, but nonetheless the idea of the kitchen as a ‘leisure’ space was further away than ever before.
The kitchen was a place of work: where the modern matriarch – by now often working at least part-time to supplement her family income – would prepare meals and carry out domestic duties in a brisk manner. Industrialisation also inspired a trend for professionalism in the household: domestic duties were to be considered a true profession. Time was of the essence and so efficiency was crucial. Enter the Frankfurt kitchen. Often seen as a forerunner of contemporary fitted kitchens, this was one of the first complete kitchens designed with a clear goal: encompassing great value, low cost, and maximum productivity. The slim double-file space typically measured 1.9m by 3.4m, which was not merely a reflection of urban living (and frequent space restrictions) but also this trend for professional efficiency: a narrow, tightly-packed kitchen meant that the number of steps taken to reach the left side (containing a stove and a sliding door) from the sinks and cabinets (on the right side of the kitchen) was minimal.
Everything but the kitchen sink…
Mass-marketing informed kitchen trends throughout the 20th century; the advent of the Frankfurt kitchen introduced fitted kitchens to a wide audience, and the accessibility of cheap units ensured popularity. Furthermore by the 1950s the craze for electrical gadgets in the kitchen was well underway due to the growing global propensity for mass production. Kitchens began to expand to provide space for gadget after gadget, as early forms of toasters, blenders and even microwave ovens were sold for fairly low prices. But what about that old-fashioned staple of the traditional kitchen, the lowly sink?
In fact, it was in the early 20th Century that the humble sink really came into its own. There were increased emphases on sanitation and time-saving devices; as such, the popular freestanding sink developed into a double basin (the twin bowls greatly improving hygiene), which were typically made of cast iron and coated with enamel. Rolled rims and rounded corners created a refined, streamlined appearance and the smaller surface area meant less space for harbouring germs and dirt. Drop-in sinks – and therefore the extended countertop – became the most popular style from the 1940s onwards, as did the materials porcelain or stainless steel.
Extractors and Ergonomics
Running water: check. Gas: check. Electricity: check. Modern appliances (including sink): check. But what about this design that positioned the kitchen as the efficient ‘motor’ of the house, rather than the welcoming heart of the home?
We must not forget that though food storage had been improved thanks to the modern refrigeration system, cooking smells were still a big issue. Though cooking equipment had come a long way since the sooty, toxic-smoke-producing fires of the Middle Ages, in the mid-20th century kitchens were still fairly odourous places – a place separate from the living area of the house. Not a place to linger.
The perfection of the extractor hood in the 1980s was therefore a massive breakthrough. This allowed kitchens to develop into ‘open’ spaces and reintegrate into the living area. The creation of quick and easy meals – convenience or frozen foods – also decreased the necessity for long cooking times; equally if there was a special meal to be prepared (and therefore more time to be spent in the kitchen), cooks appreciated the chance to socialise with guests at the same time.
Ergonomics became more important than ever as the fluidity of the kitchen increased. The famous ‘work triangle’ scheme gave way to the more contemporary concept of zones: zones could include prep stations, second sinks, baking stations, and expanding the work triangle into a rectangle to encompass microwaves or second ovens/grills. This fluidity meant that the kitchen gradually became a reflection of household personality: the number of gadgets, persons, and types of food preferred in a household would all directly influence the size and shape of the kitchen needed (and obviously above that there were other factors such as income and age).
As a result, we can really see the kitchen as we know it begin to blossom; with technology finally at a sufficient level for the kitchen to function most effectively, the kitchen could evolve from a space merely for food preparation into a characterful area. Consequently some clear patterns for kitchen design began to develop. Below are a few key examples:
The galley/double-galley kitchen: a narrow and often space-saving kitchen. The cabinets, sink, oven and fridge are in a line against one or two walls (one wall for a single galley, two walls for a double-galley).
The U kitchen: cabinets are on three sides, creating – as the name suggests – a U shape. The sink is typically at the base of the ‘U’.
The island kitchen: a more recent trend and very popular in contemporary kitchens. Either the sink or oven (or both) are placed in an island which can then also be used as a breakfast bar/dining space. In this kitchen, the cook can either perform the majority of the preparation or cooking (or both) facing into the room (rather than the wall). This arrangement is therefore ideal for entertaining.
In conclusion: how to achieve the perfect modern kitchen…
Well, we’ve looked at ancient kitchens. We’ve looked at 20th Century kitchens. We’ve looked at some in between.
Now it’s time to take what we’ve learnt and use it to create a formula for the perfect modern kitchen. Here it is…
First rule – there are no rules!
Modern kitchens are so fantastic largely because there is no formula. We’re no longer constrained by the limited technology or resources; even without access to great wealth or plentiful space it is possible to create an attractive, functional and welcoming space. Thanks to all the hardships endured by our ancestors and all the efforts of past pioneers, your kitchen can be whatever you want it to be. If we’ve learnt anything from our brief journey through kitchen evolution, I think that’s at the top of the list.
So what are you waiting for? Get planning!