With the growing popularity for a more farmhouse or cottage-like kitchen, we seem to be embracing elements of the old into new and sleek technology to create beautiful and stylish kitchens. With each antique oven or one of a kind refrigerator I begin to wonder about the history of these pieces and the styles popularized in the centuries they arrived from. Thus began the deep dive into the history of kitchens and how they went from a barely habitable, undefined space to a beautiful gathering space for friends and family.
Our story begins at a date still unknown to historians but possibly up to 400,000 years ago, with the discovery of fire from the genus Homo. The discovery of fire, and the ability to start one, brought early humans protection and warmth. Eventually, the practice of creating fire was used to cook food, and this preparation of meals brought communities together for mealtime. It is believed that from this habit came the celebration of banquets and the appreciation of food. As time progressed, the practice of holding prestigious banquets increased, but the preparation of food was gradually marginalized.
The first recorded space for handling and preparing food was in ancient Egypt, where they made bread and cakes inside of homes on wood stoves. Next in line is ancient Greece, where the defined space for cooking was on outdoor patios attached to their homes: and ancient Romans cooked their meals in communal spaces located in city centers. These meal preparation spaces were primarily based upon fire and smoke management due to the lack of exhaust technology. Because these spaces had low ventilation, the celebratory banquets would be distant from the food preparation to prevent the smoke from impeding on the event, and the kitchen would be left behind in small, forgotten areas for servants to use. As the Catholic church grew in popularity, the ideas of large banquets and gluttony became frowned upon, and collective preparation spaces for large meals became less and less frequent.
New technology arrived in the 19th century that led to the kitchen becoming a defined space in the home. The invention of the chimney brought the room indoors and created a much safer environment for those to use domestically. Following this came the iron stove, piped gas, and early refrigerators that transformed the kitchen from a preparation room to cook, to a workspace to store, prepare, and cook meals. The influx of new technology grabbed the attention of production lines during the industrial revolution, as companies researched ways to optimize processes through different kitchen configurations.
At the beginning of the 20th century, much of this research was conducted by women. Christine Fredericks and Mary Pattinson conducted a study in 1922 that concluded the layout of the kitchen furniture and appliances is an important factor in optimizing time when cooking. In 1926, the Frankfurt Kitchen became popular in Germany and Russia. This design was created by Austrian architect Margarete Schütte Lihotzky and made its way into a social housing project in Frankfurt, Germany, which caught the attention of the Soviet Union government to use when building new industrial towns. This model transformed smaller living spaces by optimizing and standardizing the layout of the kitchen while maintaining a small footprint.
Following World War II, the modern kitchen begins to take shape. The 1950’s brought color and appealing design into the space, as the room travelled from being shoved in the back of many homes, to a more forefront location near other living spaces. The feminist movement in the 1960’s brought time saving appliances to kitchens like dishwashers, garbage disposals, and refrigerators with freezers. The 60’s also brought in the ever-so-infamous linoleum to the kitchen, as an inexpensive and easy to clean material. The 1970’s popularized the microwave, and the 1980’s made kitchen islands mainstream. The 1990’s began the popularization of an open concept kitchen and living space.
The 21st century has brought a revival of mealtime and food preparation as a collective and social activity. Today we treat kitchens as the heart of the home, and we want our kitchens to be functional showstoppers for hosting and everyday use.
Killebrew, Kimberly. “The Evolution of the American Kitchen.” The Daring Gourmet, 14 Jan. 2020, https://www.daringgourmet.com/the-evolution-of-the-american-kitchen/.
Martino, Giovana. “The History of Kitchens: From the Great Banquets to the Built-in Furniture.” ArchDaily, ArchDaily, 18 Mar. 2022, https://www.archdaily.com/978388/the-history-of-kitchens-from-the-great-banquets-to-the-built-in-furniture.
Scott, Andrew C. “When Did We Discover Fire? Here's What Experts Actually Know.” Time, Time, 1 June 2018, https://time.com/5295907/discover-fire/.