We’ve all heard the cliché, the heart of the home is the kitchen, meaning that family gathers there to spend time with one another. This wasn’t always the case, however. Through to the early 1900’s the kitchen was a space devoted to toil. It was not a room one wanted to spend time in. Often the room was a place for servants at the back of the house, but for less affluent, the wife of the family was confined to the space all day, cooking for the entire household.
The Industrial Revolution helped transform the role of the kitchen, not so much by providing new food preparation gadgets, but rather by prompting a major social shift towards efficiency and timesaving. Society soon recognized the need for addressing the housewife’s problem of spending too much time in an uncomfortable kitchen.
The kitchen was now a focus of study for architects and designers. The goal to achieve a space optimized for productivity brought about many innovations in interior design. One example is the Frankfurt kitchen from 1926. Architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky designed the Frankfurt kitchen for a social housing project in Frankfurt, Germany to address the country’s post-World War I housing shortage. The narrow double-file kitchen was inexpensive and optimized a small space. It was the beginnings of the MCM Kitchen. The principles quickly spread to the rest of the Western world.
Gropius House in Massachusetts provides another early example of the revolution in kitchen design with its own efficient culinary space. Walter Gropius, an architect and thought leader in the modernist movement, designed the house in 1937. The home’s kitchen is galley style, and incorporated design concepts from the Frankfurt kitchen. The layout was chosen for minimizing the amount of steps the cook would need to take while preparing meals, thus improving efficiency and reducing fatigue.
As the middle class began to strengthen with the changes in society, so did their buying power. Middle class families did not have the money to employ servants but could afford appliances and ingenious contraptions to help them prepare meals more efficiently, reducing cooking and cleaning times. Other modern conveniences in food resulted from housewives’ developing desire for quick meal preparation. The kitchen became a place for culinary magic where family and guests found entertainment in the new dishes the lady-, sometimes even the man-, of-the-house was cooking up.
The kitchen evolved into a place for spending time with others. The eat-in kitchen became popular, offering either a bar for serving children and entertaining afternoon guests, or space for the whole family to gather for meals at a small table. The dining room was often still in a separate space, reserved for more formal occasions. Mid-century architects introduced the Open Concept design, bringing the kitchen into full view of all the other common areas of the house. The kitchen was now the heart of the home. The social shifts that brought about its liberation would cement its significance in family life through to present day.
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Sarah Roullard Le
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