Monthly Archives: January 2014

A Short History: Kitchens, Part III

1950s KitchenBy the end of World War I, most American households were equipped with “modern” conveniences, such as running water, gas stoves, and all the gadgets and tools that mail-order catalogs could fill their homes with. Though these time-saving tools were all designed to make the task of food preparation simpler and more efficient, what it really did was add more clutter and a bit of confusion. The inclusion of new gargantuan appliances – stoves, iceboxes, etc. – necessitated changes in the layout to make kitchen operations manageable. It seemed only natural that a realignment was necessary.

One of the better-known reimaginings was introduced during the 1920s in the form of the “Frankfurt Kitchen,” conceptualized and created by Margerete Schüte-Lihotzky, a Viennese architect. Inspired by Fredrick Taylor’s Scientific Management theory (“Taylorism”) that considered the efficiency of time and movement within a space, Lihotzky designed a compact kitchen space with specific placement of the sink, stove, cabinets, aluminum storage bins, and workspaces. Even a fold-down ironing board was incorporated into the design. The time-motion studies were carefully conducted to maximize the use of a small work environment, with most needed items within arms’ reach. If you take a look at the layout, you’ll see similarities to the galley kitchen we’re all familiar with. The problem with it, though was that it was maybe just a little too compact – it was designed to only accommodate one adult in the room, but even so it seemed a little cramped.

Flash forward to the 1940s. Not much had changed in the way of kitchen design during the previous decade (a little thing called the Great Depression hindered progress a bit). Further motion studies were conducted and the idea of the Kitchen Working Triangle was born. This model was based on the idea of creating three standard zones: cooking (range), preparation (sink/dishwasher), and food storage (refrigerator). Balancing the distance between each zone/workstation was key – each side of the triangle should be no less than 4 ft, or any more than about 9 ft, with minimal interference by obstacles and foot traffic intersecting. This idea is still in use today.

There was another emerging trend during the 1940s, though. Previously the kitchen was wholly set apart from dining and living areas, in its own separate room. Following World War II, new housing was quickly being built to accommodate the multitudes of couples hoping to become homeowners and start raising families. These homes were mainly ranch-style homes, with somewhat open floor plans ideal for entertaining guests. During this time the kitchen started breaking out of its shell and opening itself to other rooms, or at least offering an area in which to dine – the beginning of the “eat-in kitchen.” The kitchen was finally becoming a social space, joining the rest of the home.

Finally, the 1950s. I don’t think it’s any big secret that commercialism was a major driving force thru this decade and beyond. Do yourself a favor and check out some videos on YouTube of 1950s television commercials advertising everything you could ever want or need in a new, modern kitchen: cabinets, formica countertops, electric ranges, automatic dishwashers, water heaters…you name it. Who would want to keep their old, outdated kitchen, when they could upgrade and have the newest, top of the line products designed to make their kitchen work for them, in turn making more time to kick back and relax? At the same time, the introduction of more convenient pre-packaged and frozen dinners meant that less time was needed for preparation of meals, and as a result kitchens started becoming a little lax in their level of efficiency.

This, of course, continues today. We still pay attention to the placement of our appliances and obsess over new ways to make use of the space that we have. (I mean seriously, have you checked out Pinterest lately? You don’t have to look too far to see this.) It is now a centerpiece of our home, a warm and inviting space open to the rest of the home so we can entertain freely and not miss a moment of time with our families. What other differences do you see between “then” and now?

Be sure to check out Part I and Part II of this series!

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC


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A Short History: Kitchens, Part II

1909 Sears CatalogYou walk through your front door. Hang up your coat, throw the keys on the counter that serves as the “catch-all,” look through the pile of mail on the desk, then you instinctively look in the fridge. (It’s what we do when we walk into the kitchen, even if we’re not hungry, right?) Your son walks in and grabs a box of Easy Mac out of the pantry and zaps it in the microwave for a quick after-school snack, while your daughter has break-and-bake chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven, emitting a heavenly aroma that fills the house. Ahhhhh…

Our experience now is such a staunch contrast to where we left off in last week’s post.

Up until the end of the 19th Century, the kitchen was about the last place in the house that you wanted to be. It was hot, it was smelly, and unless you were willing to pull up your sleeves and lend a hand doing house chores, you really had no business being in the kitchen. But things improved, thanks to some outside forces that allowed kitchens to advance.

Industrialization during the 19th century – especially the last quarter – was a huge instrument for change. Here’s a smattering of what advancements were brought about to better our lives:

  • Improvements in agricultural practices meant increased yield and lower food prices
  • Improvements in technology (such as coolers and canning goods) preserved food for longer and giving them more mobility
  • Improvements in transportation (roads, waterways, and especially railroads) meant more variety was able to be distributed across the continent

This was REVOLUTIONARY. Could you imagine being in the landlocked Midwest and finally having access to seafood?

As a result of all this, households of the Victorian era indulged in multiple course meals with foods and flavorings that they may have had limited access to previously. Of course, to prepare these grand meals on their fine dishes and utensils, many households employed servants to take care of preparation and clean-up. Running water inside the home would have made their jobs much easier, and so many homes arranged for water lines to be connected to their buildings – particularly at the rear, where the kitchen was typically located. Scullery maids were able to keep busy with their dishwashing with this convenience.  (Sometimes they were launderers as well; thus, the scullery kitchen is often considered the precursor to our laundry rooms, which are still usually located adjacent to the kitchen.)

While Victorian kitchen technology by no means brought waffle makers or smoothie-makers into our homes, there were some great advances to be noted: the ice box, the can opener (crude, but still technically a can opener), and a variety of more functional cooking ware. Gadgets and appliances weren’t the only parts of this kitchen revolution. Some Victorian homes were equipped with electricity that, in big ways as well as small, made the experience extraordinary.

One story from my experience comes to mind. I worked as a docent, giving tours of the Adams House in Deadwood, South Dakota, a charming Queen Anne with all the elegance and “modern conveniences” from its time still intact. One feature that I liked to point out to my guests was something unseen, but that made kitchen and dining service operations run seamlessly. As the kitchen staff prepared dishes back in the kitchen, the guests of the home sat eating and conversing in the dining room. It would be terribly rude to interrupt a course of the meal or cut conversation short with the arrival of the next round of dishes. To avert this problem, the homeowner had a button installed on the floor at the head of the table; one step on the buzzer alerted the kitchen staff that that was the appropriate time to enter the dining room with the next course.

Efficiency of the kitchen was first and foremost on the minds of the era’s homeowners. Kitchen operations were expected to operate like a well-oiled machine, and any kind of tool made available to make its operations run smoothly were welcomed and sought out in the home. Mail-order services such as Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck were especially adept at wooing consumers with time-saving products featured in their catalogs. Stoves, laundry sinks, and an endless list of gadgets were available to Americans in even the most remote locations. The inclusion of many of these items, too, made us realize that we needed to rethink how we design our kitchens to maximize their potential.

Next week we’ll continue with Part III of this series. Spoiler alert: TV Dinners are in our future!

In case you missed it, be sure to read Part I as well!

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC


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A Short History: Kitchens Part I

Beecher Kitchen ModelOn any given day across the United States, as Americans gather together in their homes, what is the one room they almost instinctively land? How much of your time is spent in a kitchen? Sitting down with a cup of coffee and the newspaper in the morning, then in the afternoons kids sprawl their homework all across the kitchen table while dinner is prepared. Our kitchens are a bit like Grand Central Station nowadays, the first place that everyone goes to connect with their friends and family. But that’s not how it’s always been.

For much of history, the task of cooking was relegated to the outdoors, where the smoke and odors from rotting scraps could be kept out of living spaces, improving the chances for a healthy household. Fireplaces with chimneys really didn’t appear in lower- to middle-class households in Britain until about the 16th and 17th centuries, an improvement that finally allowed households to begin baking in their homes. Further improvements came with the introduction of wood- and coal-burning stoves.

Though kitchens were steadily making their place within a home, there were environmental factors to consider, as well. An indoor kitchen was welcome in northern climates, where indoor food preparation also provided the added benefit of heat for the home; often this was located in a cellar beneath the house (especially true of wealthier homeowners), so that the household still benefited from the warmth without the odors infiltrating the living space. In warmer regions, however, the heat produced by indoor kitchens could be stifling during the sweltering summer months; a “summer kitchen” in an adjacent building was fairly common, particularly in the American South.

In 1843, Catherine Beecher wrote A Treatise on Domestic Economy, and later published The American Woman’s Home with sister Harriet Beecher Stowe (author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin). With these two works the sisters emphasized efficiency within the household, and with the kitchen becoming the natural starting point for household chores it was of even greater importance that its organization and maintenance was thorough. To improve efficiency and to keep a “neat and cheerful kitchen,” the Beechers offered the following suggestions:

-Scald the sink with hot water once a day
-Always have water warming on the fire
-“A clock is a very important article in the kitchen, in order to secure regularity at meals.”
-Wash dishes and pans weekly with one of 3 dish rags hanging on nails above the sink: “one for dishes not greasy, one for greasy dishes, and one for washing pots and kettles.”

They even established rules for washing dishes, and suggested that they be written out legibly and posted above the sink as a subtle reminder of what works best. Further, they outlined what the ideal kitchen should look like, the layout showing the most effective placement for storage, utensils, cook/prep space, etc.  This model published in The American Woman’s Home in 1869 (shown in the photo at top) shows a step in the right direction for the modern kitchen, with plenty of storage, even surfaces, even a stove and deep basin sink.

But what elements do you notice are missing from this picture that you see as essential to a cozy and functional kitchen? Obviously no refrigerator or microwave, no blenders and toasters. And you would have noticed no kids sitting at the kitchen table with their homework, or even dining in the kitchen – “eat-in kitchens” were unheard of back then, too.  We’ve still got a long way to go before we see the kitchen as we see it today. Next week, we’ll talk about how industrialization, philosophies, and commercialization each altered the state of our kitchens.

Be sure to check out Part II and Part III of this series!

Liana Twente

Past to Present Research, LLC


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The New Nostalgic


For history-loving homebuyers, old is good.  Dreams of buying a Queen Anne Victorian — even the DIY type — can bring flutters to the soul of an adventurous shopper.  They slow down at the sight of stone-clad porch posts, inviting visions of living today in the past through a wooden beamed and trimmed Arts and Crafts.  So excited about planning where exactly the lilac trees will go in front of the turn-of-the-century farm home they just put an offer on, they can’t sleep.

As a Realtor that specializes in historic aged properties, I love this fantastic group of buyers.  I know what they want and what they don’t want.  And usually, outside of the kitchen and bath(s), they don’t want updates.  These are the people that aren’t impressed with vinyl siding and windows, non-conforming additions, and really any “remodels” that take away from the original home.

Here’s the new oddity.  Homes that are in that 30-65 year old range have been typically beaten up if they still show any sign of their originality.  However the eldest of the group has just graduated to nostalgic.  It just might be time to put the brakes on updating those beautiful 1940’s through ‘60s homes.

To be fair to everyone, I really do get it.  There is something about our childhoods that we love to recollect but would never want to recreate.  I will never have a home with shag carpet.  I will never have a raining oil lamp or wooden ducks with thin metal wings on my wall.  They will live happily forever in my memory of the 1970s and honestly I’m fairly adamant about leaving them there.

The age of the home has everything to do with the age of the buyer.  Everything to do with a time that home represents.  We’re human, and we are constantly connecting to something even if we aren’t aware why.  Beyond the fact that many of these homes are now eligible for designation on the National Register of Historic Places, they also represent a time that I think we are finding a connection to.

So leave the dark wood paneling up, leave the brick in the kitchen, don’t cover up the built in bookshelves.  Embrace the light of those amazing Mid-Century Modern windows! The next new wave in historic home buying has begun.

Audrey L Elder

Past to Present Research, LLC  &

Keller Williams Platinum Partners

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Posted by on January 3, 2014 in Uncategorized


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