A brief evolution of the home kitchen

As long as people have enjoyed hot meals, they've needed a place to prepare them. Even in the early days, when humans rubbed alongside prehistoric beasts, they’d carefully separate out an area just outside the cave in which to enjoy each others company (as well as the aforementioned beasts). Ever since those days, the kitchen has evolved drastically, reflecting the social, technological and cultural trends of the time. What are these trends exactly? Well, join us for a ride in the Squarepeg time machine, we’ll show you.

The Kitchen as we know it

Before the advent of the traditional kitchen layout, cooking took place over open fires - either placed in the centre of a one-room home or a large hall or a bigger structure. While this was an adequate solution, it had the slight drawback of not allowing smoke and soot to escape from the room - a constant bother for the lungs and eyes.

In response to this, chimneys began to make an appearance throughout the middle ages; the first mention of an English one appearing in 1185. However, people were either too poor to install them or seemingly used to lungfuls of soot, and the chimney did not gain widespread traction in homes until the start of the 16th century. It’s this move that proved to be the genesis of the modern kitchen, for chimneys of the time were huge walled structures that cut the large halls in half. The result was a space formed of two distinct areas; a reception room for guests and a separate kitchen used to prepare and cook appalling medieval stews.

Welcoming the stove

As the 18th century got into full swing, so did the use of metal stoves. Not only were these a great way of heating the home, many of them also provided a surface on which pots and pans could be placed, providing a consistent and decidedly less smoky source of heat for the chefs of the day. Even Benjamin Franklin got in on the act, inventing the Franklin stove in 1742. Admittedly it was more of a precursor to central heating than any oven, being used to spread heat around the home as opposed to out the chimney. However, it demonstrated the shift towards the kitchen as a multi-use space occuring at the time.

Very soon, stoves began to develop. One of the first examples was the Oberlin stove, a rather interesting looking contraption that, looked at closely, semi-resembled the modern day oven. Powered by burning wood, it had hobs, a main door, a hot water reservoir, and a dedicated roaster - complete with rotating spit. This was a huge commercial success, allowing all sorts of meals to be whipped up in record time. Unfortunately it’s time in the sun was short lived. For although it received great acclaim, it was soon usurped by new-fangled gas and electric stoves. The future had arrived.

Popularising the classic kitchen

The main benefit of gas and electric ovens were that they no longer had to house areas for burning wood or coal. This allowed electric ovens especially, to be much smaller than their predecessors. Gas had been the preferred method as soon as it had replaced traditional stoves in the late 1800s, and in countries such as Italy remains the oven of choice to this day. However, by 1920 Americans had fallen in love with the electric version, taking it into the heart of households up and down the land. Kitchen design had come a long way in the intervening years and the room was no longer constrained by chimney placement. This gave rise to a whole variety of new styles, from small galley style kitchens to expansive modernist kitchens in the suburbs.

A slight pause

The start of world war two signalled the end of an era for kitchen design, in the west especially. Indeed, as the shadow of war faded from people’s memories they began to look forward to a life of plenty. Nowhere was this more apparent than America during the late 1950s. Unburdened by strict rationing, the classic refrigerator became more and more commonplace in the homes of the middle class and by the 60s was a fixture in many homes.

Design tastes were changing too. Classical muted tones were thrown out in favour of bright pastels and vibrant decorations, ridgid cabinets were swapped for those with gentler curved edges, even much loved ovens were replaced by those that combined futuristic aesthetic with function. After a decade of belt-tightening and practicality, people could finally embrace style.

Continuing the trend

As the sixties wore on, people moved from pastels to earthier browns and block colours. Thrown into the mix were geometric and floral patterns, very much reflective of the flower-power vibes of the day. Things went drastically downhill in the 1970s however. While kitchen technology had slowly been improving, interior decoration had clearly regressed, with the predominant colour scheme of the day being heavy browns, oranges and the occasional speck of olive green crockery.

Quickly moving on, things could only improve. The eighties were defined by a minimal yet bold approach. Contrasting patterns such as black and white checks were complimented by ‘pops’ of vibrant red or neon yellow, creating a sleeker space than before. This period also saw households embrace much of the technology that still forms the kitchen today. Affordable microwaves, toastie makers, coffee machines and even the sodastream all made their way into the assorted cupboards of millions around the world.

Entering the modern day

It all began to settle down as the kitchen entered the nineties. Lipstick reds slowly disappeared in favour of more natural wooden tones and while many kept their checks, floors were gradually replaced by more harmonious patterns and tones. It becomes difficult to define the typical nineties kitchen, mainly because this was the era of individuality. All of a sudden people weren’t bothered about keeping up with the Joneses. In fact they saw what Mr and Mrs Jones had planned in-store and did the direct opposite.

White-walled country inspired kitchens were particularly popular during this time, a look that remains in vogue to this day. Many people embraced a whole range of different styles though, caught up in a wave of nineties consumerism that eagerly encouraged variety and choice in design.

Welcoming the new millennium

The dawn of the new millenia wasn’t marked by any grand shift in design. If anything, people began to realise the importance of efficiency and minimalism - using ever-evolving slimline technologies to increase their dining and living areas. Granite, a feature that had become a must-have in high-end nineties kitchens, began to find its way into the homes of the middle-classes too, a testament to its enduring style and practicality.

They say that fashion goes in circles, and it appears that recently the kitchen has done the same. In much the same way that early styles were quite literally the heart of the home, the modern kitchen is central to pretty much everything. As more and more people embrace open-plan layouts, kitchens have become cooking, dining and living spaces - with the multipurpose island central to this all.

If nineties kitchens were difficult to define then the modern kitchen is an even bigger enigma; from scandinavian chic, to traditional shakers, to pared-back modernist elegance; anything goes. Not only are people embracing all sort of styles, they’re creating their own too, designing stunning spaces that reflect their individual values. It’s something we embrace at Squarepeg too, working with our customers to create bespoke kitchens that won’t go out of style. We’re proud to be writing the next chapter in the history of the home, if you’d like to find out more please get in touch! We’d love you to join us.
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