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From work space to crown jewel: the evolution of the kitchen

The kitchen has a long and complicated history. Although it has never been as popular as it is these days, if you think about it, it has always been an important part of the home. For centuries, it has been the place food is cooked, a spot for families to gather and until recently, the main source of the home’s heat. For all that, in all but the smallest houses in Europe and North America, the kitchen was hidden as far out of sight as possible.

The kitchen was a dark, smoky place tucked away in a far corner of the house or down in the basement. In some places, kitchens were even built in separate buildings to minimize cooking odors and the risk of fire. The kitchen was not the source of pride that it is today- it was a work space.

This 18th century kitchen may not have appliances or any of the modern conveniences, but it does have a turn-spit dog. This dog would run in a wheel near the hearth to keep the meat turning.

It was only after the middle of the twentieth century that the kitchen began to get some attention, several decades after the bathroom had its makeover.

Now, the kitchen is the centerpiece of the home. It is the space that attracts the most attention, and the one most homeowners consider worth the biggest investment. Often, it is a statement about the owners, their financial situation, taste and habits. Need proof?

At the very minimum, homeowners put out $5000, but the average budget is between $25,000 and $50,000.

So what changed? In the case of the kitchen, a lot had to do with advances in technology. First off, by the 1920s most people were cooking with gas stoves, which eliminated a lot of the danger of wood fire cooking and made kitchens much cleaner. At the same time, electric ovens arrived on the scene.

A bright, clean early 20th-century kitchen. This is an ad for Armstrong linoleum, a flooring material that is still used in kitchens today.

When the housing boom hit after World War II and kitchen appliances began to look sleeker and more modern, homeowners literally tore down walls to make sure their kitchens were on display. With that came significant changes to the ways houses are laid out, with open-concept plans taking off in the 60s and the 70s.

A 1953 ad points out the advantages of a dishwasher and food waste disposal system. This happy family is sure enjoying their organized and convenient kitchen!

We can't resist adding a few more vintage photos...

60s style with wood cabinets and a countertop range.

A Formica ad displaying a streamlined, modern 1960s kitchen with bright pops of primary colors.

Color and style trends hit the kitchen in this era as well. Given the amount of materials and choices involved in designing a kitchen- cabinets, tiles, flooring, appliances, sinks, faucets, the list goes on- and its central place in the home, it is no surprise it became a source of pride.

1970s design is definitely a love/hate thing. The wood paneling, blue counter and busy wallpaper certainly give the space character.

The 80s. Pink was in and glass blocks were all the rage. Homeowners are still tearing out or upgrading outdated 80s kitchens

Into the 90s, the kitchen became more than a space for displaying one’s taste and entertaining. Luxury appliances and materials facilitated home cooks’ dreams of preparing gourmet meals for family and friends. These days, restaurant-grade equipment is not uncommon in high-end kitchens.

Your basic appliances are no longer enough for the serious home chef: they can add wood-fire pizza ovens, rotisserie ovens, high-tech wine fridges, sous-vide equipment and espresso machines that cost more than most people spend on a whole kitchen reno! For the extra trendy, there are even appliances designed by luxury fashion brands like Dolce & Gabbana.

A sleek modern kitchen shows the latest trends- white shiplap, warm wood accents and gold hardware.

In 2018, kitchens are tech compliant and energy efficient, with fridges that text you when you’re out of milk and ovens that cut cooking time in half. It is a room of luxury even more than the bathroom, often where homeowners request the finest materials and most expensive equipment.

No matter what the client is looking for, a kitchen showroom is expected to be at the leading edge of design and technology trends. Hardware, appliances and accessories are available in so many finishes and styles, it can be hard to keep up. The best bet is to know your clientele and display the items that suit them best.


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