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From Ice Box to Sub-Zero: The Evolution of The Kitchen From 1900 - 2012 (Photos)

What's your favorite decade?

My kitchen isn’t the biggest kitchen in the world.

I don’t have a garbage disposal, and if you’re used to having one and then you don’t, well, it can be kind of a pain slugging all your wet food bits to the garbage every ten minutes.

I know, I know… “White girl problems.”

But don’t get me started on our refrigerator. It’s this small, white number with no handles (they’re these groove things at the top of the door) and the shelves in the door are always falling apart. Always. Like, every time we open the door there is a 75% chance that all the condiment in the door are going to come crashing down.

Mostly though, I love our kitchen, cheap linoleum floor and all. It’s cozy, has nice cabinets, a pleasing paint color and all the appliances match. What more could a mom in the 21st century ask for, right?

It got me to thinking about the kitchens of yesteryear and what they meant to the families that occupied them. Kitchens haven’t always been the heart of the home, the way they are now. At the dawn of the twentieth century kitchens were utilitarian work rooms where mom spent most of her day. This was before electricity was widely available, before running water and modern appliances.  Kitchens were dark, heated by wood-burning stoves which is also where mom did most of the cooking. There was an area for cooking and a simple table, but the idea of the kitchen being a separate room to cook, entertain and gather wasn’t around.

So, if you’ve watched one too many episodes of House Hunters and are bemoaning your lack of stainless steel appliances and a huge island with marble counter-tops (perfect for entertaining!), then come back in time with me and take a look at what the moms before us were dealing with.

Of course, depending on your income, kitchens of each era varied, but I tried to pick images that typify a decade as opposed to focusing on wild and wacky trends of different years.

 


  • 1900 1 of 13
    1900
    The kitchen is considered a "workroom" and is often very small and simple. According to antiquehomestyle.com, "There is typically a sink with a counter or drainboard on either side, a wood-burning or gas range, and table. Some cabinetry might be built in, but not usually. Shelving is often open and free-standing cupboards are common." By 1900, nearly all houses have cooking stoves. To people who remember hearth cooking, these appliances were wonderful. All day long women monitor and adjust their stoves, adding fuel, adjusting dampers to control heat to the oven or water tank, stirring the pot of beans, or hauling water to keep the hot water tank full. Many houses only have one heated room; and during the winter much of the house goes unused as people huddle near the the kitchen stove. Fridges as we know them today are unheard of in 1900. Iceboxes of all sizes are made of everything from wood to metal and are how people keep their food cool. The iceboxes are often located on a back porch or hallway with a door to the outdoors to provide the iceman and milkman easy access. The first electric toaster went on the market in 1909. Before this, bread was toasted in a metal apparatus placed over an opening in the cook-stove.
    Photo credit: freewebs.com
  • 1910 2 of 13
    1910
    In the 1910s, middle-class kitchens begin to resemble the kitchens of today. They contain a sink, stove and icebox, but are still located in the workroom of the home. Note the ironing board and the sewing machine. The modern kitchen in the 1910s contained the latest electric appliances: waffle irons (1918), refrigerators (1911), ranges (1906) and rudimentary sink dishwashers (1914). Although electricity is still expensive, it is gradually coming down in price. According to nostalgiacafe.com, during the 1910s, the number of homes wired for electricity grew steadily: 16 percent in 1912, 20 percent in 1917 and 35 percent in 1920. However, most homes have only enough wiring to power their electric lights. When electricity is needed for a small appliance they plug it into a light fixture or a special wall outlet. Wall outlets have been around since at least 1897, but they don't become common until the late 1910s. At this point, one or two special outlets are considered enough for the average home.
    Photo credit: wichitaphotos.org
  • 1910 (The Cookstove) 3 of 13
    1910 (The Cookstove)
    In the 1910 kitchen the stove is still doing double or triple duty. They are usually made of cast-iron and serve to cook and heat both water and the home. Because they heat the home these heavy stoves often served to gather people in the kitchen even though the kitchen isn't traditionally the social gathering point in the home. According to montanaheritageproject.com, "The kitchen stove is the center of the house. It's the "big ticket" and "high tech" dream of many young couples. Expensive models have many fancy attachments such as tanks to heat water and smaller ovens on top for heating pies.
    Photo credit: corbisimages.com
  • 1920 4 of 13
    1920
    In the 1910s, larger electric appliances (vacuum cleaners, washing machines, refrigerators) require higher power levels. Some homeowners began to install additional heavy-duty wiring to support them. By now, several home refrigeration units are on the market but most people are still using iceboxes. That's why you probably heard your grandparents call their refrigerator an icebox. It's what they grew up with. The 1920s was a decade of tremendous design change. In addition to linoleum floors, rugs like this one became popular because they are so much easier to maintain. During the early and mid-20s, lighter colors are often used. By the end of the decade people began to experiment with colored cabinetry. Slowly, the kitchen is being considered as more than just a "workroom."
    Photo credit: countrywomanmagazine.com
  • 1930 5 of 13
    1930
    The peak of kitchen taste in the 1930s is a range that looks like a sideboard, dresser, or cabinet—anything but an appliance.This is also the decade the "Shelvadore" refrigerator is introduced. It's the first fridge to use the door to hold food. This idea is incorporated in virtually all modern refrigerators. Although kitchens are considered as more than just a workroom, any kind of style is still unheard of. The typical 1930s kitchen still has antiseptic white (walls were usually painted white or cream to match sinks, iceboxes and cooking stoves) and relied on stand-alone cabinets, and featured few, if any, electrical appliances.
    Photo credit: flickr.com
  • 1940 6 of 13
    1940
    After World War II, the American kitchen undergoes a dramatic revolution in both form and function. Maybe because the war is finally over, people feel like brightening things up a bit. An old ad reads "There are more ways than one to color scheme you kitchen." Bold primary colors are starting to appear in the kitchens of some stylish folks. Two-tone kitchens are becoming popular in the latter '40s. Bright cherry and white is a common look, blue and yellow is a snazzy option. And electric stoves are becoming affordable for the middle class. Although color is starting to appear in kitchens toward the end of the decade, most are still white or cream. Many people are now proud owners of refrigerators and frozen food storage becomes widely used. Sheets of linoleum are still covering most floors but cabinetry is starting to be build into walls.
    Photo credit: pinterest.com
  • 1950 7 of 13
    1950
    Kitchens of this era are galley or tight U-shaped with painted cabinets. A 1950s kitchen usually consists of a refrigerator (according to keepitcool.com, refrigeration technology takes off in this decade when innovations like automatic defrost and automatic ice makers first appear) an electric range stove top and an oven. As a reaction to years of antiseptic whites, bright, fun colors like yellow and red and green and blue are everywhere. Color isn't just on walls and floors either. Fridges, sinks and ovens come in shades of blues and pinks and bright yellows and greens. Depending on your age, this is probably what your parents' kitchen looked like as they grew up. Linoleum and Formica are the most widely used flooring and counter-top materials on the market. Chrome is among the most common appliance materials of the decade. It is a material that decorates kitchen tables and chairs, clocks, drawer handles and other decorative pieces. Kitchens are also being opened up so they aren't just tiny foxholes in the pit of a home, they are turning into mom's "command center" where housewives perform chores and still interact with family members in adjoining rooms.
    Photo Credit: flickr.com
  • 1960 8 of 13
    1960
    This is an era of liberation for women. Many time-saving appliances like disposals and dishwashers are introduced in this decade, allowing women to work outside of the home and still cook and clean in a timely fashion. Most refrigerators of the decade have the freezer compartment below the refrigerator, a trend that is gaining popularity again today and both electric and gas stoves are regularly built. Many homes aren't designed with space for dishwashers so portable ones are created that you can attach to the faucet and then roll out of the room when done. Still, what a pain! Appliances come in nearly every color in the rainbow and wood is becoming a popular option for cabinetry. Kitchens now have electric stoves and plenty of storage but are still pretty small by today's standards. Chrome and Formica are still all the rage and kitchens are slowly opening up to the rest of the home..
    Photo credit: midcenturyliving.blogspot.com
  • 1970 9 of 13
    1970
    Another breakthrough era for women. Gone is the June Cleaver era where moms are meant to be in the kitchen baking bread from scratch. And it's a good thing, too, because kitchens from this time period are U-G-L-Y. No wonder microwaves are perfected during this era; nobody wanted to spend any time in the kitchen. Bright red and orange counter tops are the fashion (hello Carol Brady!) Heavy, dark cabinetry with ornate handles is stylish and lighting still isn't considered an essential part of kitchen ambiance. Plus, check out those sweet dropped ceilings. Appliances come in colors like harvest gold, avocado green and copper tone bronze. Other earth tones that were used for kitchen décor were brown, mustard yellow, rust brown and all shades of orange. Knickknacks take over to give kitchens of the decade a cluttered feel. Remember mushrooms, owls and little forest friends in your childhood kitchen? How about the big wooden fork and spoon? What about matching 3-piece canister sets? Macrames and hanging spider plants are everywhere. Linoleum is still the flooring of choice. But hey! According to gallawa.com, by 1975, sales of microwave ovens would, for the first time, exceed that of gas ranges.
    Photo credit: flickr.com
  • 1980 10 of 13
    1980
    It's hard to know how much influence the creation of the microwave had on women finally being able to be a force to be reckoned with in the work force, but I gotta figure it helped quite a bit. Now, instead of just mom's domain, kitchens are viewed as the heart of the home, where everyone in the family gathers together. This leads to an increase in size. Even so, lighting is still not good in these kitchens with fluorescent lights featured beneath dropped, paneled ceilings. Often lighting is dim and not placed efficiently or aesthetically. People have yet to start taking a personal interest in the design of their kitchen so layouts aren't the greatest either. The psychedelic look from the 1970s is replaced with a more conservative ambiance, filled with solid woods in warm hues. Architects begin to devote a lot of study to the best layouts and homeowners really take an interest in decorating by starting to match appliances with counter-tops and flooring. Appliances are generally black, white or ivory. Butcher block Formica counters become popular in a variety of hues and furniture becomes much more practical, with a return to solid wooden dining tables and chairs. With the new interest in decorating, wallpaper and wallpaper borders are everywhere.
    Photo credit: calfinder.com
  • 1990 11 of 13
    1990
    The kitchen of 1990s is not viewed as just a place to cook food anymore. It's also viewed as the social gathering place for the family and a place to entertain friends and relatives. Thus, it is designed to ensure that the comfort of the occupants is a priority. Kitchens are large, often flowing into a family room area with vaulted ceilings and open-plan kitchens start to take off. Colors and cabinet stains are lighter with homeowners experimenting with painting cabinets. The typical 1990s kitchen has an island — the great new home addition — that allows the host/cook to entertain while preparing meals. Appliances are still mostly white or black but tile or wood floors start to take off. All in all, this is a decade of experimentation.
    Photo Credit: roomzar.com
  • 2000 12 of 13
    2000
    The creation of cable channels like HGTV shows homeowners how they can pretty much create their dream kitchen on their own. Decor becomes simple, without clutter, lighting is a huge factor, and the stainless steel appliance becomes the must-have for any great kitchen although some people begin disguising their fridges/dishwashers behind cabinetry to create a more comfortable, less kitchen-y vibe. Marble or granite countertops are all the rage as homeowners begin using their kitchens as a way to show their status. The linoleum floors that stood the test of time for many decades in America have nearly all been replaced with wood or tile. Gadgets for the aspiring chef in your family are also very popular and items like rice steamers, bread makers, and other time-saving devices are typically seen on counter-tops. Large islands with nearly commercial-grade gas stoves built-in are considered the ideal for the cooking and entertaining culture of homeowners.
    Photo credit: stockhomeplans.com
  • 2012 13 of 13
    2012
    This is a kitchen for the whole family. This is an era of the collected eclectic look. Anything goes so long as it's sleek and uncluttered and defines the modern style of decorating — unless someone is shooting for creating a specific style of kitchen. Counter-tops aren't just all about marble and granite, homeowners are branching out into many contemporary finishes available, including stainless steel, concrete and slate. Unique tile back-splashes rise in popularity and, if you've watched even one episode of House Hunters, you know that all large appliances must be stainless steel or brushed nickel or the home cannot be purchased. Giant, restaurant-worthy gas stoves with overhead vents dominate the best kitchens and lighting is an essential part of decor. Dropped lighting over islands, recessed lighting in cabinetry. Anything goes as far as decor so long as it's done well, although according to several decorating mags or sites like sheknows.com, there is a decline in dark, cherry wood and light and bright is in. Also, who woulda thunk it — hip, snazzy wallpaper makes comeback.
    Photo credit: sheknows.com

 

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