The Short Story of Your Kitchen

From “The History of the Kitchen” in Kitchen Planning, 2013 John Wiley & Sons



While the history of the kitchen can be attributed to all of aspects of life and human development, the general lending of trends to the kitchen spaces is apparent in every century and even decade.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the kitchen design is its history, and how it has developed over the years to appease incoming trends, new technologies and societal norms, political movements and more. In this article we’ll examine the brief history of the kitchen, and the story of how it’s come to be in 2018.

At its most basic value, the kitchen offers a place to cook food, something everyone needs to sustain life. But there was also a time that the kitchen offered another necessity; heat. The history of the modern kitchen begins with a family’s need for both food and warmth, having also served as the sole heat source for the entire home until the late seventeenth century. (Kitchen Planning) From this studied information it’s assumed that most family living and activities took place in the one room that contained the fireplace, the kitchen. And because it was also usually the most comfortable room in the home, it was used for bathing as well.

It wasn’t until the late 18th Century that “Summer Kitchens” were established. This. Where kitchens were separated and fireplaces received their own chimneys, allowing cooking in hot weather without heating up the entire house.

Three hundred years before Summer Kitchens, however, the first known kitchen separated from the living area was in the thirteenth-century Flanders, what is now Belgium. Horizontal shelves were placed throughout the kitchen for storage, and this design style eventually progressed into display dressers from the same region.

*Fun Fact: In 15th Century Europe, the number of shelves on a dresser or in the kitchen was an indicator of social rank.

When the colonists arrived in North America, they brought with them many design styles from Europe, primarily the use of heat in the kitchen as the central source in the entire household. To achieve this, large walk-in fireplaces were built into the kitchens. They contained all the tools necessary to cook, using massive wrought andirons with racks spread throughout.

These colonial kitchens were incredibly dirty and dangerous for the cook. Whom, unless it was a particularly wealthy household, was the housewife and mother.


The long skirts and dresses of the women would brush up against the ember in the walk-in fireplace and catch on fire. Because of this hazard, burns became the second most common cause of death among women, second only to childbirth. (Kitchen Planning).

If one lived in a wealthy household, the kitchen was reserved for the help, and usually built on a lower level or at times in a completely separate building.

Artistic design and decorative elements in the kitchen did not come about because of creative minds, but rather as a result of preservative measures. Paint began appearing in the second quarter of the 18th century, used to preserve the wooden panels that enclosed the kitchen. As paint became more popular, stenciling, marbling and graining techniques became more and more common.

As for most kitchen styles today, they’re driven by two major trends taken from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The industrialization of the 19th & 20th centuries gave us both social and technological advances, resulting in aspects of the kitchen to be modernized with the goal of efficiency. Appliances were upgraded in such efficiency but downgraded in size, making way for more areas to incorporate decorative design, or increased table and counter space.


Another interesting aspect to the changing kitchen trends is the introduction of political society and democracy in North America. With the rise of the middle class, permanent servants became less and less common, leaving more work for the female of the household to manage and tend too. This could be considered as a catalyst in the advancement of many kitchen appliance and design styles, all in the quest for safety, efficiency and simplicity.




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