The Past

With its Day-Glo-orange countertops and fluorescent lights, the kitchen of the first This Old House project was typical of its era. So was the stove: a 30-inch black porcelain range with four 8,000-Btu gas burners and a gas-fired oven. The overhead microwave with built-in ventilation was a marvel of its time. That's pretty much what the standard kitchen of 1979 had to offer. But change was in the air. By the end of the '70s, a handful of trends were emerging that would redefine the way people cooked.

    Convection ovens Like microwave ovens, convection ovens cook fast: 25 to 30 percent faster than conventional cooking methods. But unlike microwaves, which can leave food bland and rubbery, convection ovens—which use fans to evenly circulate heat around the oven cavity—sacrifice none of the flavor.

    Downdraft ventilation Until the downdraft cooktop was introduced, stoves were almost always against a wall, where they could be vented to the outdoors. Downdrafts, which vent through the floor, kick-started the move toward island design. Eventually, overhead range hoods followed, leading to the sculptural, chimney-style hoods seen today.

    Smooth cooktop There's no way to keep pots from spilling or boiling over, but owners of the first smooth cooktops didn't care. Cleaning was as easy as a swipe of the glass that covered concealed electric burners. The only downside to the early models was that the glass turned yellow—a problem solved a few years later with the invention of ceramic surfacing.

    Pro stoves As far back as 1979, serious cooks were installing restaurant equipment at home. Trouble was, the high-heat stoves weren't yet safe for residential use—a problem soon to be remedied.

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