History of the modern day kitchen
The evolution of the kitchen is linked to the invention of the cooking range or Hob and the development of water infrastructure capable of supplying water to private homes. Until the 18th century, food was cooked over an open fire. Technical advances in heating food in the 18th and 19th centuries, changed the architecture of the kitchen. Before the advent of modern pipes, water was brought from an outdoor source such as wells, pumps or springs.
The houses in Ancient Greece were commonly of the atrium-type: the rooms were arranged around a central courtyard for women. In many such homes, a covered but otherwise open patio served as the kitchen. Homes of the wealthy had the kitchen as a separate room, usually next to a bathroom (so that both rooms could be heated by the kitchen fire), both rooms being accessible from the court. In such houses, there was often a separate small storage room in the back of the kitchen used for storing food and kitchen utensils.
In the Roman Empire, common folk in cities often had no kitchen of their own; they did their cooking in large public kitchens. Some had small mobile bronze Hobs, on which a fire could be lit for cooking. Wealthy Romans had relatively well-equipped kitchens. In a Roman villa, the kitchen was typically integrated into the main building as a separate room, set apart for practical reasons of smoke and sociological reasons of the kitchen being operated by slaves. The fireplace was typically on the floor, placed at a wall—sometimes raised a little bit—such that one had to kneel to cook. There were no chimneys.
Early medieval European longhouses had an open fire under the highest point of the building. The "kitchen area" was between the entrance and the fireplace. In wealthy homes there was typically more than one kitchen. In some homes there were upwards of three kitchens. The kitchens were divided based on the types of food prepared in them. In place of a chimney, these early buildings had a hole in the roof through which some of the smoke could escape. Besides cooking, the fire also served as a source of heat and light to the single-room building. A similar design can be found in the Iroquois longhouses of North America.
In the larger homesteads of European nobles, there kitchens were sometimes in a separate sunken floor building to keep the main building, which served social and official purposes, free from indoor smoke.
The first known ovens in Japan date from about the same time. The earliest findings are from the Kofun period (3rd to 6th century). These ovens called kamado, were typically made of clay and mortar; they were fired with wood or charcoal through a hole in the front and had a hole in the top to provid the hob, into which a pot could be hanged by its rim. This type of Hob remained in use for centuries to come, with only minor modifications. Like in Europe, the wealthier homes had a separate building which served for cooking. A kind of open fire pit fired with charcoal, called irori, remained in use as the secondary Hob in most homes until the Edo period (17th to 19th century). A kamado was used to cook the staple food, for instance rice, while irori served both to cook side dishes and as a heat source.
18th century cooks tended a fire and endured smoke in this Swiss farmhouse smoke kitchen.
The kitchen remained largely unaffected by architectural advances throughout the Middle Ages; open fire remained the only method of heating food. European medieval kitchens were dark, smoky, and sooty places, whence their name "smoke kitchen". In European medieval cities around the 10th to 12th centuries, the kitchen still used an open fire hearth in the middle of the room. In wealthy homes, the ground floor was often used as a stable while the kitchen was located on the floor above, like the bedroom and the hall. In castles and monasteries, the living and working areas were separated; the kitchen was sometimes moved to a separate building, and thus could not serve anymore to heat the living rooms. In some castles the kitchen was retained in the same structure, but servants were strictly separated from nobles, by constructing separate spiral stone staircases for use of servants to bring food to upper levels. An extant example of such a medieval kitchen with servants' staircase is at Muchalls Castle in Scotland. In Japanese homes, the kitchen started to become a separate room within the main building this being the first sign of todays kitchen
With the advent of the chimney, the hearth moved from the center of the room to one wall, and the first brick-and-mortar hearths were built. The fire was lit on top of the construction; a vault underneath served to store wood. Pots made of iron, bronze, or copper started to replace the pottery used earlier. The temperature was controlled by hanging the pot higher or lower over the fire, or placing it on a trivet or directly on the hot ashes. Using open fire for cooking (and heating) was risky; fires devastating whole cities occurred frequently.
Leonardo da Vinci invented an automated system for a rotating spit for spit-roasting: a propeller in the chimney made the spit turn all by itself. This kind of system was widely used in wealthier homes. Beginning in the late Middle Ages, kitchens in Europe lost their home-heating function even more and were increasingly moved from the living area into a separate room. The living room was now heated by tiled Hobs, operated from the kitchen, which offered the huge advantage of not filling the room with smoke.
Freed from smoke and dirt, the living room thus began to serve as an area for social functions and increasingly became a showcase for the owner's wealth. In the upper classes, cooking and the kitchen were the domain of the servants, and the kitchen was set apart from the living rooms, sometimes even far from the dining room. Poorer homes often did not have a separate kitchen yet; they kept the one-room arrangement where all activities took place, or at the most had the kitchen in the entrance hall.
Woodcut of a kitchen
A kitchen interior, c. 1565
The medieval smoke kitchen (or Farmhouse kitchen) remained common, especially in rural farmhouses and generally in poorer homes, until much later. In a few European farmhouses, the smoke kitchen was in regular use until the middle of the 20th century. These houses often had no chimney, but only a smoke hood above the fireplace, made of wood and covered with clay, used to smoke meat. The smoke rose more or less freely, warming the upstairs rooms and protecting the woodwork from vermin.
In the Connecticut, as in other colonies of New England during Colonial America, kitchens were often built as separate rooms and were located behind the parlor and keeping room or dining room. One early record of a kitchen is found in the 1648 inventory of the estate of a John Porter of Windsor, Connecticut. The inventory lists goods in the house over the kittchin and in the kittchin. The items listed in the kitchen were; silver spoons, pewter, brass, iron, arms, ammunition, hemp, flax and other implements about the room.
In the southern states, where the climate and sociological conditions differed from the north, the kitchen was often relegated to an outbuilding, separate from the big house, the mansion, for much of the same reasons as in the feudal kitchen in medieval Europe: the kitchen was operated by slaves, and their working place had to be separated from the living area of the masters by the social standards of the time. Separate summer kitchens were also common on large farms in the north. These were used to prepare meals for harvest workers and tasks such as canning during the warm summer months.
Technological advances during industrialization brought major changes to the kitchen. Iron Hobs, which enclosed the fire completely and were more efficient, appeared. Early models included the Franklin Hob around 1740, which was a furnace Hob intended for heating, not for cooking. Benjamin Thompson in England designed his "Rumford Hob" around 1800. This Hob was much more energy efficient than earlier Hobs; it used one fire to heat several pots, which were hung into holes on top of the Hob and were thus heated from all sides instead of just from the bottom. However, his Hob was designed for large kitchens; it was too big for domestic use. The "Oberlin Hob" was a refinement of the technique that resulted in a size reduction; it was patented in the U.S. in 1834 and became a commercial success with some 90,000 units sold over the next 30 years. These Hobs were still fired with wood or coal. Although the first gas street lamps were installed in Paris, London, and Berlin at the beginning of the 1820s and the first U.S. patent on a gas Hob was granted in 1825, it was not until the late 19th century that using gas for lighting and cooking became commonplace in urban areas.
A typical Hoosier cabinet of the 1920s.
Before and after the beginning of the 20th century, kitchens were frequently not equipped with built-in cabinetry, and the lack of storage space in the kitchen became a real problem. The Hoosier Manufacturing Co. of Indiana adapted an existing furniture piece, the baker's cabinet, which had a similar structure of a table top with some cabinets above it (and frequently flour bins beneath) to solve the storage problem. By rearranging the parts and taking advantage of (then) modern metal working, they were able to produce a well-organized, compact cabinet which answered the home cook's needs for storage and working space. A distinctive feature of the Hoosier cabinet is its accessories. As originally supplied, they were equipped with various racks and other hardware to hold and organize spices and various staples. One useful feature was the combination flour-bin/sifter, a tin hopper that could be used without having to remove it from the cabinet. A similar sugar bin was also common.
The urbanization in the second half of the 19th century induced other significant changes that would ultimately change the kitchen. Out of sheer necessity, cities began planning and building water distribution pipes into homes, and built sewers to deal with the waste water. Gas pipes were laid; gas was used first for lighting purposes, but once the network had grown sufficiently, it also became available for heating and cooking on gas Hobs. At the turn of the 20th century, electricity had been mastered well enough to become a commercially viable alternative to gas and slowly started replacing the latter. But like the gas Hob, the electric Hob had a slow start. The first electrical Hob had been presented in 1893 at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, but it was not until the 1930s that the technology was stable enough and began to take of.
Industrialization also caused social changes. The new factory working class in the cities was housed under generally poor conditions. Whole families lived in small one or two-room apartments in tenement buildings up to six stories high, badly aired and with insufficient lighting. Sometimes, they shared apartments with "night sleepers", unmarried men who paid for a bed at night. The kitchen in such an apartment was often used as a living and sleeping room, and even as a bathroom. Water had to be fetched from wells and heated on the Hob. Water pipes were laid only towards the end of the 19th century, and then often only with one tap per building or per story. Brick-and-mortar Hobs fired with coal remained the norm until well into the second half of the century. Pots and kitchenware were typically stored on open shelves, and parts of the room could be separated from the rest using simple curtains.
In contrast, there were no dramatic changes for the upper classes. The kitchen, located in the basement or the ground floor, continued to be operated by servants. In some houses, water pumps were installed, and some even had kitchen sinks and drains (but no water on tap yet, except for some feudal kitchens in castles). The kitchen became a much cleaner space with the advent of "cooking machines", closed Hobs made of iron plates and fired by wood and increasingly charcoal or coal, and that had flue pipes connected to the chimney. For the servants the kitchen continued to also serve as a sleeping room; they slept either on the floor, or later in narrow spaces above a lowered ceiling, for the new Hobs with their smoke outlet no longer required a high ceiling in the kitchen. The kitchen floors were tiled; kitchenware was neatly stored in cupboards to protect them from dust and steam. A large table served as a workbench; there were at least as many chairs as there were servants, for the table in the kitchen also doubled as the eating place for the servants.
World War II cooking and dining trends
The urban middle class imitated the luxurious dining styles of the upper class as best as they could. Living in smaller apartments, the kitchen was the main room—here, the family lived. The study or living room was saved for special occasions such as an occasional dinner invitation. Because of this, these middle-class kitchens were often more homely than those of the upper class, where the kitchen was a work-only room occupied only by the servants. Besides a cupboard to store the kitchenware, there were a table and chairs, where the family would dine, and sometimes—if space allowed—even a fauteuil or a couch.
Gas Hob, 1940s
Gas pipes were first laid in the late 19th century, and gas Hobs started to replace the older coal-fired Hobs. Gas was more expensive than coal, though, and thus the new technology was first installed in the wealthier homes. Where workers' apartments were equipped with a gas Hob, gas distribution would go through a coin meter.
The trend to increasing gasification and electrification continued at the turn of the 20th century. In industry, it was the phase of work process optimization. Taylorism was born, and time-motion studies were used to optimize processes. These ideas also spilled over into domestic kitchen architecture because of a growing trend that called for a professionalization of household work, started in the mid-19th century by Catharine Beecher and amplified by Christine Frederick's publications in the 1910s.
A stepstone was the kitchen designed in Frankfurt by Margarethe Schütte-Lihotzky. Working class women frequently worked in factories to ensure the family's survival, as the men's wages often did not suffice. Social housing projects led to the next milestone: the Frankfurt Kitchen. Developed in 1926, this kitchen measured 1.9 m by 3.4 m (approximately 6 ft 2 inby 11 ft 2 in, with a standard layout. It was built for two purposes: to optimize kitchen work to reduce cooking time and lower the cost of building decently equipped kitchens. The design, created by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, was the result of detailed time-motion studies and interviews with future tenants to identify what they needed from their kitchens. Schütte-Lihotzky's fitted kitchen was built in some 10,000 apartments in the housing projects erected in Frankfurt in the 1930s.
The initial reception was critical: it was so small that only one person could work in it; some storage spaces intended for raw loose food ingredients such as flour were reachable by children. But the Frankfurt kitchen embodied a standard for the rest of the 20th century in rental apartments: the "work kitchen". It was criticized as "exiling the women in the kitchen", but post-World War II economic reasons prevailed. The kitchen once more was seen as a work place that needed to be separated from the living areas. Practical reasons also played a role in this development: just as in the bourgeois homes of the past, one reason for separating the kitchen was to keep the steam and smells of cooking out of the living room.
In rural areas, the older technology using coal or wood Hobs or even brick-and-mortar open fireplaces remained common throughout. Gas and water pipes were first installed in the big cities; small villages were connected only much later.
The idea of standardized was first introduced locally with the Frankfurt kitchen, but later defined new in the "Swedish kitchen" (Svensk köksstandard, Swedish kitchen standard). The equipment used remained a standard for years to come: hot and cold water on tap and a kitchen sink and an electrical or gas Hob and oven. Not much later, the refrigerator was added as a standard item. The concept was refined in the "Swedish kitchen" using unit furniture with wooden fronts for the kitchen cabinets. Soon, the concept was amended by the use of smooth synthetic door and drawer fronts, first in white, recalling a sense of cleanliness and alluding to sterile lab or hospital settings, but soon after in more lively colors, too. Some years after the Frankfurt Kitchen Poggenpohl presented the "reform kitchen" in 1928 with interconnecting cabinets and functional interiors. The reform kitchen was a forerunner to the later unit kitchen and fitted kitchen.
Unit construction since its introduction has defined the development of the modern kitchen. Pre-manufactured modules using mass manufacturing techniques developed during World War II greatly brought down the cost of a kitchen. Units which are kept on the floor are called "floor units", "floor cabinets", or "base cabinets" on which a kitchen worktop, originally often formica and often now made of granite, marble, tile or wood is placed. The units which are held on the wall for storage purposes are termed as "wall units" or "wall cabinets". In small areas of kitchen in an apartment, even a "tall storage unit" is available for effective storage. In cheaper brands, all cabinets are kept a uniform color, normally white, with interchangeable doors and accessories chosen by the customer to give a varied look. In more expensive brands, the cabinets are produced matching the doors' colors and finishes, for an older more bespoke look.
A trend began in the 1940s in the United States to equip the kitchen with electrified small and large kitchen appliances such as blenders, toasters, and later also microwave ovens. Following the end of World War II, massive demand in Europe for low-price, high-tech consumer goods led to Western European kitchens being designed to accommodate new appliances such as refrigerators and electric/gas cookers.
Parallel to this development in tenement buildings was the evolution of the kitchen in homeowner's houses. There, the kitchens usually were somewhat larger, suitable for everyday use as a dining room, but otherwise the ongoing technicalization was the same, and the use of unit furniture also became a standard in this market sector.
In the former Eastern bloc countries, the official doctrine viewed cooking as a mere necessity, and women should work "for the society" in factories, not at home. Also, housing had to be built at low costs and quickly, which led directly to the standardized apartment block using prefabricated slabs. The kitchen was reduced to its minimums and the "work kitchen" paradigm taken to its extremes: in East Germany for instance, the standard tenement block of the model "P2" had tiny 4 m² kitchens in the inside of the building (no windows), connected to the dining and living room of the 55 m² apartment and separated from the latter by a pass-through or a window.
Starting in the 1980s, the perfection of the extractor hood allowed an open kitchen again, integrated more or less with the living room without causing the whole apartment or house to smell. Before that, only a few earlier experiments, typically in newly built upper-middle-class family homes, had open kitchens. Examples are Frank Lloyd Wright's House Willey (1934) and House Jacobs (1936). Both had open kitchens, with high ceilings (up to the roof) and were aired by skylights. The extractor hood made it possible to build open kitchens in apartments, too, where both high ceilings and skylights were not possible.
The re-integration of the kitchen and the living area went hand in hand with a change in the perception of cooking: increasingly, cooking was seen as a creative and sometimes social act instead of work. And there was a rejection by younger home-owners of the standard suburban model of separate kitchens and dining rooms found in most 1900-1950 houses. Many families also appreciated the trend towards open kitchens, as it made it easier for the parents to supervise the children while cooking and to clean up spills. The enhanced status of cooking also made the kitchen a prestige object for showing off one's wealth or cooking professionalism. Some architects have capitalized on this "object" aspect of the kitchen by designing freestanding "kitchen objects". However, like their precursor, Colani's "kitchen satellite", such futuristic designs are exceptions.
Another reason for the trend back to open kitchens (and a foundation of the "kitchen object" philosophy) is changes in how food is prepared. Whereas prior to the 1950s most cooking started out with raw ingredients and a meal had to be prepared from scratch, the advent of frozen meals and pre-prepared convenience food changed the cooking habits of many people, who consequently used the kitchen less and less. For others, who followed the "cooking as a social act" trend, the open kitchen had the advantage that they could be with their guests while cooking, and for the "creative cooks" it might even become a stage for their cooking performance.
The "Trophy Kitchen" is equipped with very expensive and sophisticated appliances which are used primarily to impress visitors and to project social status, rather than for actual cooking.
The ventilation of a kitchen, in particular a large restaurant kitchen, poses certain difficulties that are not present in the ventilation of other kinds of spaces. In particular, the air in a kitchen differs from that of other rooms in that it typically contains grease, smoke and odours.
The Frankfurt Kitchen of 1926 was made of several materials depending on the application. The built-in kitchens of today use particle boards or MDF, decorated with veneers, in some cases also wood. Very few manufacturers produce home built-in kitchens from stainless-steel. Until the 1950s, steel kitchens were used by architects, but this material was displaced by the cheaper particle board panels sometimes decorated with a steel surface.
Domestic kitchen planning
Domestic (or residential) kitchen design per se is a relatively recent discipline. The first ideas to optimize the work in the kitchen go back to Catharine Beecher's A Treatise on Domestic Economy (1843, revised and republished together with her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe as The American Woman's Home in 1869). Beecher's "model kitchen" propagated for the first time a systematic design based on early ergonomics. The design included regular shelves on the walls, ample work space, and dedicated storage areas for various food items. Beecher even separated the functions of preparing food and cooking it altogether by moving the Hob into a compartment adjacent to the kitchen.
Christine Frederick published from 1913 a series of articles on "New Household Management" in which she analyzed the kitchen following Taylorist principles, presented detailed time-motion studies, and derived a kitchen design from them. Her ideas were taken up in the 1920s by architects in Germany and Austria, most notably Bruno Taut,Erna Meyer, and Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky. A social housing project in Frankfurt (the Römerstadt of architect Ernst May) realized in 1927/8 was the breakthrough for her Frankfurt kitchen, which embodied this new notion of efficiency in the kitchen.
While this "work kitchen" and variants derived from it were a great success for tenement buildings, home owners had different demands and did not want to be constrained by a 6.4 m² kitchen. Nevertheless, kitchen design was mostly ad-hoc following the whims of the architect. In the U.S., the "Small Homes Council", since 1993 the "Building Research Council", of the School of Architecture of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was founded in 1944 with the goal to improve the state of the art in home building, originally with an emphasis on standardization for cost reduction. It was there that the notion of the kitchen work triangle was formalized: the three main functions in a kitchen are storage, preparation, and cooking (which Catharine Beecher had already recognized), and the places for these functions should be arranged in the kitchen in such a way that work at one place does not interfere with work at another place, the distance between these places is not unnecessarily large, and no obstacles are in the way. A natural arrangement is a triangle, with the refrigerator, the sink, and the Hob at a vertex each.
This observation led to a few common kitchen forms, commonly characterized by the arrangement of the kitchen cabinets and sink, Hob, and refrigerator:
A single-file kitchen (or one-way galley) has all of these along one wall; the work triangle degenerates to a line. This is not optimal, but often the only solution if space is restricted. This may be common in an attic space that is being converted into a living space, or a studio apartment.
The double-file kitchen (or two-way galley) has two rows of cabinets at opposite walls, one containing the Hob and the sink, the other the refrigerator. This is the classical work kitchen.
In the L-kitchen, the cabinets occupy two adjacent walls. Again, the work triangle is preserved, and there may even be space for an additional table at a third wall, provided it does not intersect the triangle.
A U-kitchen has cabinets along three walls, typically with the sink at the base of the "U". This is a typical work kitchen, too, unless the two other cabinet rows are short enough to place a table at the fourth wall.
A G-kitchen has cabinets along three walls, like the U-kitchen, and also a partial fourth wall, often with a double basin sink at the corner of the G shape. The G-kitchen provides additional work and storage space, and can support two work triangles. A modified version of the G-kitchen is the double-L, which splits the G into two L-shaped components, essentially adding a smaller L-shaped island or peninsula to the L-kitchen.
The island kitchenis a more recent development, typically found in open kitchens. Here, the Hob or both the Hob and the sink are placed where an L or U kitchen would have a table, in a free-standing "island", separated from the other cabinets. In a closed room, this does not make much sense, but in an open kitchen, it makes the Hob accessible from all sides such that two persons can cook together, and allows for contact with guests or the rest of the family, since the cook does not face the wall any more. Additionally, the kitchen island's counter-top can function as an overflow-surface for serving buffet style meals or sitting down to eat breakfast and snacks.
In the 1980s, there was a backlash against industrial kitchen planning and cabinets with people installing a mix of work surfaces and free standing furniture, led by kitchen designer Johnny Grey and his concept of the "Unfitted Kitchen".
Modern kitchens often have enough informal space to allow for people to eat in it without having to use the formal dining room. Such areas are called "breakfast areas", "breakfast nooks" or "breakfast bars" if the space is integrated into a kitchen counter. Kitchens with enough space to eat in are sometimes called "eat-in kitchens".