Over the last 50 years, cooking has very much become a social affair. Guests who once sat snacking and chatting away on the couch are now convening in the kitchen and helping hosts prepare meals. But what brought on this shift that took us from the sofa to the stovetop? Modern design, social changes, and a rise in the popularity of cooking shows certainly elevated cooking from a tedious chore to an art that’s turned us average folk into serious chefs. Today, many homes have accumulated elaborate collections of pots, pans, peelers, smashers and a multitude of other cooking appliances and ingredients made for whipping up everything from Thai curries to complex French desserts. But it’s not just what’s in our drawers and pantries that has changed as a result of these trends, but also the physical design of the kitchen itself. A century ago, kitchens were relegated to the back of the house, but since then the have become focal points in our homes. So, how have architects and appliance designers adapted?
A late 1930s residential kitchen
HOW WE CAME TO THE MODERN KITCHEN
Back in the day, when the wealthy upper-class typically had servants, kitchens in mansions were built as separate rooms and located behind the main living areas, usually behind or at the back of a hall. The kitchen was by and large designed as a service area that needed to be completely divorced from eating and social areas. Industrialization and the rise of the middle class brought the kitchen closer to living quarters as working families were now living in tiny apartments that didn’t allow for much flexibility. As the working class grew rapidly, so did social housing and the kitchen had no choice but to adapt to these small spaces. However, a major milestone for the kitchen came when Margarethe Schütte-Lihotzky introduced her efficient kitchen design in Frankfurt during the mid 1920s. This kitchen measured approximately 6 ft x 11 ft and was designed with two goals in mind: First, to optimize kitchen work to reduce cooking time; and second, to lower the cost of building decently equipped kitchens. Though the kitchen was small—barely large enough for more than one person to work—it became the standard for most 20th century rental apartments.
One of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Homes; The Melvyn Maxwell and Sara Stein Smith House
The architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright played a big role in evolution of kitchen design in suburban residences. Wright’s Prairie School houses, and later his Usonian homes, are credited with being the first examples of the “open plan” with their living and dining areas forming virtually one uninterrupted space. Spatially and in terms of their construction, the Usonian houses were designed as a new and progressive model for independent living. Intended to be highly practical houses for middle-class clients, and designed to be run without servants, the Usonian brought the kitchen from the back of the house and adjoined it with the home’s main dining space. These spaces in turn flowed into the main living areas, putting in place the necessary elements needed to evolve and eventually open up the kitchen to the home completely. And because these homes featured new approaches to construction that allowed more mechanization, efficiency, and lower construction costs, unsurprisingly, Wright’s Usonian open plan model set forth a new style for suburban housing that to this day still informs the design of modern homes both in and out of the city.
The evolution into an open plan kitchen also had significant social implications. This new distribution of space democratized the home in such a way that women were no longer confined to the kitchen and men began to assume more of a care-taking role in the home. The stigma of cooking as a domestic chore for women faded, and food preparation was reinvented as both “fine art” and a sign of affluence.
Fisher & Paykel kitchen
THE INFLUENCE OF TELEVISION & THE INTERNET
Julia Child certainly had much to do with America’s food culture revolution. When she appeared on our living room TV sets in the 60s, she showed us that regular folk too could cook up a deliciously “perfect” potato pancake or a complex bourguignon. Though more than 50 years have passed since Child took television by storm, her influence has endured for generations changing what it means to eat well in America. Her pioneering ways also influenced and inspired countless food TV shows and food blogs throughout the years, further upgrading the culture of food in America—cooking and recipe sharing have evolved into a passion that’s to be cultivated between friends and family.
Today, it’s difficult to find a soul out there who hasn’t tried their hand making a new dish they’ve seen on television or found on the internet. But it’s not only our love of cooking meals from scratch that has grown, but experimenting with new foods and techniques (really, who would have ever thought that molecular gastronomy would become a thing?!). There are now even apps and websites dedicated to connecting foodies that want to get together and cook new things, or simply collaborate on or share new ideas. Pinterest for one has become a haven for foodies to share new recipes and photos of their latest creations. Today, cooking is a creative and social act, rather than work, and homeowners want well-equipped, open kitchens that can also function as a “stage” to show off their culinary prowess to guests.
As NYC-based, residential architect James Cleary told us in an interview: “30 years ago, people generally would not have had their dinner party guests join them in the kitchen while the meal was being prepared, but today it would seem odd not to gather there. With this change in status there’s been a parallel physical change—opening the kitchen up to the living and dining spaces—to the point today where these three ‘rooms’ frequently all share one space.”
Our evolving palettes have also required that we own more utensils, pans and ingredients than ever before. And as a result there are new requirements for storing, handling and prepping in the kitchen. All in all, people are spending more time in this space and doing more complex things. And like architects, appliance designers are responding accordingly.
Cheryl Forberg’s Fisher & Paykel kitchen in Napa, CA
DESIGNING APPLIANCES FOR TODAY’S KITCHEN
Like the layout of a kitchen, modern habits have also driven changes in the design of appliances. Technology entered the kitchen around 1940, and as a standard they would come equipped with electrified small and large kitchen appliances such as blenders, toasters and microwave ovens. By the 1980s, the perfection of the extractor hood allowed open kitchens to be connected with living spaces (seen in both in residential homes and apartments).
Today, needs have become much more complex, and kitchen appliances need to be flexible and able to perform multiple functions that its users can understand in an intuitive way. “In the professional kitchen, it is the chef that is the master, whereas in the home kitchen, the technology sometimes has to work harder to make us look good,” says Mark Elmore, Head of Industrial Design at Fisher & Paykel Appliances. “The amateur at home can have little knowledge and, with more children engaging with food, health and diet, the technology needs to be simple, obvious and suitable for small, large and elderly hands.”
In addition, the ‘work triangle‘ previously dominated in kitchen design when it came to the placement of appliances—it was a concept based on creating the most efficient time-and-motion layout between the the oven, the fridge and the sink for one person to work. However, as kitchens have grown larger, and more people begin to occupy the space at once, appliance manufacturers have had to reevaluate how to respond to our new habits, and this has meant separating the components of various appliances to fit both the architectural design of spaces and how we interact in them.
Fisher & Paykel DishDrawers
Many modern appliance makers have put a lot of work into learning every detail about who will be using their designs. Much research is now being invested in observing real people, watching how they work and how they live and interact with the various design aspects of the kitchen, appliances and storage. And this is not just limited to ergonomics, but also the psychological and sociological aspects of how the different components work together when someone puts them use. For example, at Fisher & Paykel, their team of engineers, designers, technicians and product testers worked hard to design a much larger and technologically advanced built-in oven to suit the way we cook today.
“Our customers wanted to be able to roast a large leg of lamb and still have space for a dish of potatoes, and we saw them struggling to fit them both in at the same time,” says Lauren Palmer, Chief Designer Fisher & Paykel Appliances. “We wondered if we could make an oven that had a large internal cavity—larger than any other comparable oven—without compromising the cooking quality, evenness and efficiency. As we recorded insights into how people cooked, we thought of ways we could solve each problem. Our engineers went back to basics. Rather than tweaking the existing design of our ovens to work a little better, we started at the beginning.”
What they created was a 90L oven with 77L of useable cavity that provides optimum cooking whether you pop a dish on the top or the bottom rack. The oven also replaces the typical heavy, hot oven door with a cool-touch lighter version that people could safely open and close with one hand. A superior pyrolytic cleaning function also allows for more time spent baking, cooking and enjoying the fruits of your labor than scrubbing and scouring.
Compared to the kitchen of yesteryear, the modern kitchen is a technological powerhouse here to both make our lives easier and enrich it. The kitchen is no longer designed for the efficiency of one person. Today’s kitchen is a place to be creative and to gather with our loved ones—they are the heart of our homes.
Fisher & Paykel has been designing products since 1934 and has grown into a global company operating in 50 countries and manufacturing in the USA, Mexico, Italy, Thailand and New Zealand. Our design heritage is founded on a pioneering spirit and a culture of curiosity that has challenged conventional appliance design to consistently deliver products tailored to human needs