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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