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.