The American Kitchen Through the Ages
Kitchens from decades past may seem quaint and outdated, but in fact their designs continue to influence the cookspace you live in and love right now
This week, as you coax your Brussels sprouts out of their climate-controlled produce drawer, mince your celery in a high-speed food processor, or call up a cranberry relish recipe on your iPad, take a moment to savor all the innovations that have gone into kitchens over the years. In homage to Thanksgiving, This Old House takes a look at the messages buried in kitchens past, from the white-porcelain spaces of the 1920s, to the...well, take a look.
Each era brings its own obsession to the table, and the sanitation-conscious 1920s were no different. The brand name on the sink in this ad says it all.
Message to Mom: Your floor should be clean enough to eat off.
Legacy: All-white kitchens with no place to hide a crumb
A worker bee is only as efficient as her workplace. That was the idea behind the popular Hoosier cabinet, which sped meal delivery with metal-lined flour bins, cookbook holders, a calendar, a grocery list wheel, and a flour sifter—plus handy nutritional charts.
Message to Mom: Time is money, so get organized.
Legacy: Cabinets with blind-corner pullouts, built-in spice racks, and Tupperware organizers.
The advent of electric appliances changed everything—and gave Depression-era homemakers hope. (Evenly cooked toast, anyone?)
Message to Mom: It's okay to add a little color and style to that fun place we call the kitchen.
Legacy: Brightly painted cabinets and accent pillows in the breakfast nook.
Before the invention of the icebox in the 19th century, shopping for provisions was a daily chore. Then someone figured out how to keep meat, butter, and milk fresh by putting it into an insulated box with a block of ice. By the 1930s, every kitchen had an icebox.
Message to Mom: Stock up a few days ahead and let the ice man do the daily hauling.
Legacy: The four-door stainless-steel fridge with adjustable temperature zones and in-door crushed-ice dispensers.
During wartime, everyone makes sacrifices. Along with victory gardens, homemakers ran small jam factories in their kitchens.
Message to Mom: "Homemade" is virtuous.
Legacy: Classes for locavores on how to can, and cookbooks devoted to putting up pickles.
After years of being relegated to the back of the house, post-war housing often placed the kitchen front and center. Decor moved toward bold colors and floral-pattern wallpaper.
Message to Mom: When your kitchen looks good, so do you.
Legacy: The U-shaped kitchen, with its sink-range-fridge work triangle and the cook at center stage.
Kitchens got lively in the '50s, with more color and unique design motifs.
Message to Mom: Happiness is a bright and cheery kitchen.
Legacy: Kitchen islands, double ovens, and separate cooktops.
As the 1960s segued into the '70s, women found they had better things to do than stand over a hot stove. No wonder kitchens lapsed into ambiguous spaces in weird colors like avocado and gold.
Message to Mom: Make love, not pot roast.
Legacy: Microwave ovens and delivery pizza.
With the advent of competitive cooking and the first generation of celebrity cooks on TV, kitchens took on a brighter and more well-equipped look.
Message to Mom: The kitchen is a great place to show off your skills.
Legacy: Cookbook shelves, pot racks, pegboards, Cuisinarts, and wine racks.
As McMansions grew, so did kitchens. Sometimes it was hard to find the fridge.
Message to Mom: The kitchen is the most important room in the house.
Legacy: Pro-style appliances, granite countertops, and cabinets worthy of the front parlor.
Smaller kitchens—harkening to the 1920s—are about to have a moment. But only if they're packed with the same high-grade equipment favored by macho chefs.
Message to Mom: Men can cook, so go read a book.
Legacy: Tall-guy, to-the-ceiling cabinets; high-speed ovens and induction cooktops; and built-in flat screens for watching Iron Chef.