Thursday, September 27, 2007

Why Is My Kitchen So Small and Cut Off?

Ellen Sturm Niz, K+BB editor, asks in her post Are Big, Open Kitchens Green?

While recently lamenting the cramped cooking quarters in my 1950’s New York City apartment, I wondered why designers in that post-war period wanted to close off the kitchen?

Early American kitchens were at the center of living in much smaller homes.

In homes of the wealthy, kitchens were the province of servants. As such they were built modestly, with pine and fir trim and beadboard walls.

In those days, it was the servants themselves who had the open kitchens in their own small homes or quarters.

Later, as the middle class rose in the Industrial Revolution and servants were no longer employed in most gracious homes, the woman of the house moved into the same kitchen her servants had occupied.

The Great Depression simply reinforced such customs.

The kitchen didn't change with the loss of servants, just the cook changed. And she served her family just as the servants had done before.

Post WWII saw a huge home building boom as soldiers returned from the war, married, and started families.

Builders continued building kitchens as they had for several generations, and women who had worked in the factories returned to their previous habits, albeit a little wiser.

The woman of the house was the only one who usually cooked, and the kitchen was still not considered a "public space", where entertaining took place. That designation was reserved for the living room and dining room. The kitchen, at most, hosted family breakfasts and children, or close friends and relatives.

There were some exceptions, like Frank Lloyd Wright and Joseph Eichler, who designed and built open kitchens. But for the masses the closed kitchen habit was hard to break. I wonder myself if it might have had to do with women wanting a "place of their own" in small houses.

As houses have grown in the last 15-20 years we have undergone a revolution in our thinking about kitchens and their place in our homes. The walls have come tumbling down, family rooms have been built, islands reign, and the kitchen has come out of the shadows.

We have come full-circle and the kitchen has been opened up and re-integrated into family living space.