Kitchens Through the Eras
Now firmly the heart of the home, kitchens have changed considerably throughout the decades. Towards the beginning of the century, kitchen were purely practical, before becoming the family’s favourite room in the house as we teetered towards the 2000s. Influenced by fashions and the discovery of new materials, every era has its own distinct style. We’ve compiled a list from the 1940s, right through to today’s contemporary design. Read on!
The 1940s heralded a spate of new technology; fridges, toasters, electric kettles, prompting the creation of the Holy Trinity of kitchen design, the ‘work triangle’. Comprising of sink – stove – fridge, the idea was to make these three areas easily accessible to maximise workflow, with experts citing that this ‘triangle’ experiences the most activity in a kitchen.
Wartime kitchens placed practicality above prettiness, and were designed for optimum functionality with plain features. In a departure from previous eras, fitted cabinets became the norm, although pantries remained popular alongside small kitchen tables for breakfasting.
After the conservativism of wartime, mid-century kitchen design turned full circle, and colourful kitchens entered the scene. Cue an onslaught of bright, pastel-hued appliances, checked linoleum flooring and chrome detailing. Fun and frivolity was the name of the game, with motif wallpapers surrounding metal cabinets, which were filled with vivid plastic tableware.
The ‘U’ kitchen layout was the most popular, with fitted prefab kitchens a common choice amongst homeowners. Kitchen gadgets began to appear on countertops in a big way, including the first Kenwood Electric Mixer, as well convenience white goods such as electric washing machines and dishwashers.
The swinging sixties was a period of extreme change, and this was reflected in the kitchen design, with the beginning and end of the decade showcasing two very different design styles.
After the explosion of colour in the 50s, the start of the 60s saw a slightly more muted, but still contrasting tones in floral or psychedelic patterns. Wooden cabinets were popular, and laminate countertops were the height of sophistication. The late 60s moved towards space-age design, with handless furniture for a smooth, futuristic finish and bolder colours, in citrusy shades such as orange, green and orange.
After the headache of overtly garish colours, the 70s chose a more muted route, but kept the ‘mis-matched’ element of the earlier decade. Kitchens leaned towards an earthy colour palette; mustard golds, avocado greens and burnt orange. There was a love-affair with wood, with all kitchen furniture made from the natural material. As for flooring, it wasn’t unusual to see shag-pile, although the more common choice was vinyl – lots and lots of vinyl.
And there were gadgets galore; the SodaStream, the Breville toasted sandwich maker, pressure cookers and the Swan Teasmade all made their debut onto kitchen counters in the 1970s.
The 80s ushered in calmer, tranquil designs, which were in a complete contrast to earlier decades. Kitchens became lighter and brighter, with an abundance of beige. ‘Modern’ style was the top design trend, featuring light-coloured, laminate cabinets with wooden trims, tiled floors and accent colours in mauve, teal, blue or yellow.
The laminate countertops of the 1950s were replaced by tiles or Formica, all in shades of white or beige, and were often enhanced by overhead track lighting. Open-plan living started to tentatively emerge as a design option, although the ‘U’ shaped kitchen format remained the go-to kitchen layout of choice.
Late 20th century style was defined by extreme simplicity, with the era synonymous with minimal design. All white kitchens reached the pinnacle of popularity, often accompanied by light wooden accents in knotted blonde pine, and black granite countertops. On the other side of the spectrum, bold earthy colours were also ‘in’, appearing in the form of terracotta tiles, hunter green features and Japanese, ‘zen’ inspired style.
There was a decisive shift in the kitchen’s functionality, as it began a gradual transition into more than just a cooking space, becoming a social hub of activity, as well as a place to cook and eat. 1990s kitchen design reacted accordingly, and there was a strong influx of ‘L’ shaped layouts, open-plan spaces and kitchen islands to encourage multi-functionality.
Today, kitchens make the most of the space available, large or small, with innovative storage solutions, clever design tricks and multifunctional elements to truly cement it as the heart of the home. Open-plan living has become the most desired style, creating spaces which can host a whole breadth of activity, from entertainment to socialising, as well as cooking and eating. This has given rise to the kitchen island defining 21st century style, as it provides additional worktop space, more storage and extra seating for families.
The definitive style term is ‘transitional’, meaning that today’s kitchens draw inspiration from across five eras. Although contemporary kitchens favour simpler designs, they often have subtle features to add warmth, such as curved cabinets or accented lighting. Creativity with material is encouraged; concrete, brass, stainless steel and glass are common. A neutral palette is the colour scheme of choice, with creams, greys, taupe and beige popular amongst homeowners.
Technological touches also play a big part in modern living, and can be found in instant hot-water taps, pop-up kitchen outlets and integrated extractor hoods.