By the early 1900s, household electricity and running water started to become a norm in the Western world. Industrialization brought the evolution of kitchen design to a new era.
Factories mass-produced fixtures, ever-more modern appliances, cabinetry, lighting, and storage units, and gas stoves were introduced.
But it wasn’t until the 1930s that the kitchen began to take on its modern shape. The kitchen configuration that we all know now, has its roots, like a lot of modern design, in the German school known as the Bauhaus.
For Bauhaus designers, beauty was not something to be added to a functional item in the form of extra frills; instead, it was achieved through careful choices of materials, proportions, textures, and colors for the functional features of the objects.
Wall-mounted cabinets are built in over a continuous countertop resting on more built-in cabinets between the sink and the cooker.
The faces of the cabinets are flush and smooth, apart from simple projecting knobs; there are no moldings, panels, or decorative elements that would collect dirt. The floors throughout are rubber, a linoleum substitute, so that all surfaces are easy to clean with a quick wipe.
An Austrian architect, Margarete Shutte-Lihotzy, revolutionized the Frankfurt Kitchen, a prototype for the modern kitchen, and introduced the “golden triangle” of cooker, fridge, and sink placed for maximum efficiency.
These features are commonplace today, but in the 1920s dedicated kitchens were rare outside upper-class households. Most poor and middle-class people had none of the modern appliances seen here.
They cooked on a stove in the living room, and used separate furniture for food storage and preparation, rather than an integrated design of built-in cupboards and countertops.
Kitchens of the 1940s were defined by their emphasis on sleekness, in part a reflection of the changing times, and in part out of necessity as World War II raged in the background.
Technology made huge leaps in kitchen gadgets like electric ranges and refrigerators, which were finally becoming commonplace.
Aesthetically, kitchens remained plain and simple, but people also began treating more utilitarian items as decor, such as having decorative storage containers or leaving bright colored small appliances out on the counter. Bold colors were in vogue, particularly red and blue to bring a patriotic tone to the kitchen.
On the one hand, kitchens were still fairly small. Linoleum was still widely used as a floor covering. Colors often hovered in the range of pastels. Iconographic shapes like scallops, sweeps, and curves were common.
By the 1950s, kitchens began to resemble modern kitchens. Kitchens started to become not only more functional, but more stylish as well. Although particle board had been invented, steel cabinets were more common.
They were factory-made and arguably marked the beginning of standardized kitchen design. Just as we can choose from a variety of standard cabinets today, homeowners could choose the steel cabinets they wanted from a variety of sizes and designs.
The 1950s saw the beginnings of the designer kitchen. Ergonomics became more important and the “kitchen triangle” became the standard kitchen design.
Pastel colors were popular in the era and linoleum floors were almost a requirement. Linoleum was a fairly new product then and homeowners liked having a seamless flooring material that was soft underfoot.
Linoleum floors came in a range of styles and colors, giving homeowners the opportunity of creating a stylish kitchen.
The 1950s also saw the beginning of the use of high-pressure laminates as kitchen benchtops. Because it was a new and revolutionary product, laminate benchtops were in demand even in high-end kitchens. When high-pressure laminates were not used, benchtops were often tiled.
Yet kitchens were still closed off rooms. The open plan kitchen, a concept by architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was still rare in the 1950s, but many mark the ‘50s as the decade that paved the way for their rise to popularity.
Phil Kean says that, “Contemporary kitchens, as well as much of the open and airy contemporary home designs of today, certainly must pay homage to the great influences of Frank Lloyd Wright and the advent of mid-century modern architecture.”
(Photo credit: Apartment Therapy / Phil Kean Kitchens / Wikimedia Commons / Pinterest / Flickr).