History of kitchen – from 1970s to present day

History of kitchen – from 1970s to present day


History of kitchen - from 1970s to present day


From a fondness
for Formica in the 1970s
and Aga aspirations in the 1980s to the latest
high-tech, multifunctional cookspaces
, kitchen trends have always reflected
social and cultural movements.

In the
1970s, \”kitchen designer\” was a profession
that had yet to be
invented. Kitchens were smaller than they are today and were often positioned
at the back of the house. Most were intended for just one person to work in,
with cabinets along the walls and perhaps a window near the sink. British firm
Wrighton produced typical, if fancy, kitchens, coating its units in colourful
plastic finishes. If there was room for a table, it was likely to be a small
and not very solid one. The electric kettle took off, toasters popped, and hot
pots and fondue sets brought convenience and even glamour to cooking. Dinner
parties still took place in the dining room, not the kitchen, though.

All that
changed when the ideal of the farmhouse kitchen
– the model for many
contemporary cookspaces – took hold in the 1980s. A large wooden table that
could be used for entertaining was a key feature, and Agas soared in
popularity. Smallbone built its business around aspirational country-house
style, and the barriers between the functional kitchen and more sociable areas
began to break down. The kitchen became the new living room, a fluid space in which
all kinds of activities could happen – from watching television to relaxing on
the sofa – with cooking taking place in a designated \”culinary zone\”.
A central island that contained an oven and areas for chopping and pan storage
became essential, as it put the cook back in the heart of the room. Instead of
working opposite a wall, he or she could enjoy face-to-face conversations and
watch over children playing or doing homework.

As well as
the Smallbone fantasy, the 1980s brought high-tech German luxury thanks
brands such as Bulthaup and Poggenpohl. Luxury-appliance companies such as
Gaggenau and Miele superseded homely British Cannon cookers. Toasters went from
dowdy to Dualit, while super-wide American Sub-Zero fridges became popular.

The 1990s
saw the arrival of bigger and better kitchen spaces in more homes
. Alongside
Smallbone, Mark Wilkinson offered elaborate wooden units and central islands.
Chalon enjoyed success with a pared-back, distressed version of the unfitted
cooking space and, for flashier tastes, chandeliers were introduced to
kitchens. Fridges were given retro styling in a choice of pretty colours by
Smeg – the kitchen equivalent of the revamped Mini and Beetle cars. Most
significantly, though, from the 1980s onwards, the majority of women began to
work outside of the home, allowing them less time to devote to meal
preparation. Cooking therefore moved from being an everyday activity practised
by a solitary woman to a self-conscious – and optional – ‘lifestyle’
performance inspired by celebrity chefs.

During the
2000s, the kitchen industry
– which had barely existed when I started out in
the 1970s – mushroomed. Suddenly, there were kitchen companies on every high
street, with low-cost offerings from Ikea and building suppliers improving in quality
and style. Cooking became established as a spectacle and recreation activity,
rather than a humdrum daily routine, and the number of cooks in the average
family increased. Many of my male clients began to develop an interest in
cooking: cue Gaggia espresso machines, \”appliance garages\” (kitchen
compartments designed for housing small electrical gadgets) and comprehensive
knife collections by the likes of Global Knives.

life has become a great deal more fragmented and complicated in the past 40
years, but also, I think, much more fun. The seeming contradiction of peoplebuying larger kitchens but doing less cooking is explained by our changing needs:
today, we seek not just food, but also comfort, warmth, an emotional connection
and a sense of togetherness from this most hardworking of rooms. The parlour
has died, the dining room is on life support and – despite the advent of
large-screen televisions – even the sitting room has failed to satisfy as an
all-purpose family space. Gone are the days when people sat together watching
the same programme or reading books in company. We live in a speeded-up,
spontaneous culture of media meshing, Spotify, grazing and drinking at random
times. The new, flexible kitchen is the ideal zone for all of these activities.

design has evolved along with our requirements.
Part of the rationale for the
fitted kitchen was efficiency and hygiene; these things still matter, but can
be achieved without acres of shiny plastic surface that always requires wiping.
Powerful extractor fans remove cooking smells in new, multipurpose spaces.
Meanwhile, dedicated work surfaces – restricted in size but carefully shaped –
can be an efficient aid to orderly cooking: depending on their intended use,
these can be made from a range of materials that include stone, timber,
concrete, stainless steel and composites such as Corian. The key to modern
kitchen planning, though, is the central island, which brings a number of
food-related activities into the middle of the room, making for a more sociable
environment. The modern island is multilevel, with zones for cooking and
preparation and a raised-height foodbar for serving and snacking.

Changes in
cooking habits have implications for kitchen design, too.
Spearheaded by Alice
Waters in California, the slow-food movement -which embraces the use of fresh
ingredients that can be prepared properly, but not laboriously, at home – could
do away with the need for microwaves. Another rising trend is for breadmaking
and pickling, also known as home fermentation. To reflect this development,
kitchens will need to include cooler areas for storing earthenware jars and
containers, as well as more surfaces for kneading bread.

Future trends
are notoriously difficult to get right. Past predictions – flying cars, food in
pill form – are wide enough of the mark to serve as warnings. Nonetheless, I
think we can expect more nostalgia in kitchen design: a growth in popularity,
for example, of mid­century-modern furniture styles. Some Italian manufacturers
have already tapped in to the trend for steampunk – an aesthetic that blends
form with function, blurring the division between the utilitarian and the

I am also
working on ideas for the \”4G\”
(four- generation) kitchen of the
Designed around the needs of multiple generations sharing the same
home, this offers a potential solution to the dual challenge of caring for
elderly relatives and supporting younger family members who cannot afford to
buy their own properties in an era of high housing costs. We will increasingly
have to factor the needs of an ageing population in to our designs: older
people tend to prefer to sit down while they prepare a meal, so I am looking at
developing improved mechanisms for adjusting the height of work surfaces.
Alongside this research, I am investigating the use of new materials created by
recycling and the feasibility of cookers and ovens controlled by apps. I find
catering for these kinds of cultural changes the most exciting design challenge
of all.

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