One of the best ways to view designs of a certain time period is through the lens of the domestic kitchen. Inspired by an ever-changing world, new technology, and influential trends, kitchen designs have gone through some pretty dramatic transformations throughout history. Everything from laminate cabinetry, black and white checkered tile, and colorful appliances have graced our homes and paved the way for each coming generation of style.
We believe that by looking into the history of kitchen designs we are able to not only observe cycles of trends but get a better understanding of how certain styles developed and more accurately predict what’s on the horizon. From the 1920’s to today, we are going to give you a brief look into the history of the domestic kitchen!
1920's - 1930's: Art Deco and the Post-War Era
The 1920’s and 1930’s was a decade of design largely influenced by the end of World War 1 as people sought to create homes that inspired hope and posterity while showcasing advanced technology of the future. Kitchens in this time period developed new styles using technology and materials that were previously unavailable during wartime. Art deco was also popular during the 1930’s, inspired by skyscrapers and new city landscapes. Homeowners were in awe of the changing world around them and sought to emulate that city style in their own homes, especially through their kitchen designs!
A staple of the 1920’s – 1930’s kitchen was tile, tile, TILE! Tile was believed to be more sanitary than materials used in the past as it was nonabsorbent and could be easily wiped off. Tile was also a great way for the average homeowner to express their unique style and lean into the popular Art Deco trend through geometric designs with colorful, angular patterns. This is also the era where we start to see kitchen designs lean away from “boring” wood flooring and into colorful or patterned linoleum flooring. Most notably, the iconic black and white checkerboard.
As for color scheme, this era was vibrant, and cheerful, much like the post-war mindset! Popular color choices included cherry red, pink, blues, white, bright yellow, and a wide range of green tones. The vibrant color scheme wasn’t limited to tile or cabinetry, but also made its way to appliances! In this decade we start to see the rise of enameled appliances such as refrigerators and stoves.
The 1920’s and 1930’s was also the start of the shift from a kitchen being a “woman’s workspace” to a place of both labor and leisure. While this mindset still had a long way to go and develop in the coming decades, we did start to see a shift through the incorporation of breakfast nooks in this era’s kitchen designs. A little kitchen recess often with two built-in benches and a table, breakfast nooks were the perfect gathering places for families throughout the day—not just in the morning.
1940's: Keeping it simple
Whether it’s clothing, art, or kitchen design, trends seem to follow a pendulum’s swing and that couldn’t be more accurate to the 1940’s. A shift from the colorful Art Deco designs of the past, the 1940’s kitchen took a far more traditional approach to kitchen design which sought to achieve a more cozy, homey vibe. There was less emphasis on the futuristic chrome, and more organic motifs—like flowers, fruit, and roosters. There was also no sparing of decorative embellishments, such as gingham-patterned curtains adorning the window above the sink or knickknacks that filled empty shelf spaces.
Bold, vivid colors were popular during the 1940s through the use of two-toned kitchens. Many designs of this era used tile on the countertops - one color for the main area and a second as the border and trim.
As for cabinetry, many upper cabinets reached the ceiling and soffits were used for cabinets that didn’t. To add a little decorative flair, wallpaper was often applied to the soffits as a way of adding more color or texture to the space. Cupboards, larders, and hutches were standalone storage units that were decorative additions to the kitchen.
1950's - 1960's: The Atomic Age
Influenced by the innovation and futuristic motifs of the Atomic Age, kitchen designs in the 50’s and 60’s reflected the popular midcentury style and were inspired by the dawn of space travel. Starburst and explosive asterisk patterns were a common motif of stars and galaxies shown on our televisions. This was also an era where conservative stylings took a back seat as families were able to afford more extravagant homes and live out the “American Dream”.
The 50’s were a time where people wanted to emulate “the future” in their home designs. We see this through light wood cabinetry, Formica countertops, and chevron-shaped drawer pulls. Designs sought to highlight the newest technology and appliances, proudly displaying them instead of tucking them away. Steel kitchen cabinets were very common in the 1950s, as manufacturers looked for ways to convert steel factories that produced weapons for the war into factories focused on domestic purposes.
Those steel cabinets appeared to be short lived as they fell away to wood as the material of choice for kitchen cabinetry in 1960. Colored appliances were still quite prevalent, but the favored colors began to shift, from pastels to more bold, hearty colors like harvest yellow and avocado green, which matched better with wood tones.
The newest and most exciting innovation of this decade was the introduction of the dishwasher! Though this new appliance was advertised in the 50’s and 60’s it didn’t become a staple in American homes until the 1970’s.
1970's: The Heart of the Home
The 1970’s was the true catalyst to the idea of kitchens being the “heart of the home.” Nationwide nesting and a deeper shift in kitchens being a place of relaxation and leisure resulted in dramatic changes in this decade’s kitchen designs.
Kitchens used to be small and closed off from the rest of the home but in this era became a focal piece. Open kitchens were on the rise, reflecting a more casual lifestyle and usage. Now instead of being a space hidden and tucked away, the kitchen became an integral part of the home, needing to harmonize with the rest of the house.
The 70’s kitchen design still revolved around the use of wood. Color schemes during this time were a muted rainbow of earthy colors. Even through muted tones, these pops of color stood out against the wood. This decade was unrivaled in its use of color and pattern. While we laugh at the gaudy designs of this decade, in their prime these kitchens were the epitome of style.
In this era, we saw people starting to reflect their own personal style in their kitchen designs. Still abiding by popular trends, homeowners embellished their spaces with hanging plants, unique light fixtures, and macrame wall hangings to show their unique style. Another way to express their individuality was through laminate cabinets, countertops, and bold, colorful tile backsplashes.
1980's - 1990's: Postmodern Delight
The pendulum swung again in the 1980’s and 1990’s away from the whimsical colors and patterns of the 70’s toward something much sleeker and more modern but with a homey, country twist. The elegant mixture of gleaming metals with rough exposed brick, lighter woods, and wicker kept kitchens from feeling too stuffy or uptight. Brass hardware was also common in this time because it gave spaces a warm and rustic feel.
Kitchens continued to expand and started adopting more open and airy floorplans. The newly massive ’80s kitchens saw the return of the pantry, which had been replaced decades before by built-in cabinets.
Not only was the size of the kitchen expanding, refrigerators and appliances also became much larger in this decade. Big French door refrigerators with bottom drawer freezers were increasingly popular, now being featured in stainless steel and white. Integrated with the surrounding cabinetry design, appliances incorporated the sleek lines of Italian design and were designed to blend into the space rather than stand out.
2000's - 2010's: The Age of the Island
As kitchens continued to expand, the island that we have all come to know and love was born!
Early 2000’s homeowners sought out kitchens with a larger workspace, more storage, and additional seating for casual conversation. The kitchen island fit that bill, becoming a center point of kitchen designs and staple in homes for generations to come. Not only was the island great for expanding a kitchen’s workspace, but it also could be customized with storage and seating to fit individual homeowners’ needs. The island made time spent in the kitchen more casual as people now had a space to congregate and helped bridge the gap between cook and guest as people could sit around the workspace and engage in conversation.
In this decade, we see Americans gravitating toward classic Italian design and seeking to incorporate it in their homes. The most notable design elements of this time are warm color palettes, terracotta tile, and lots of wood – predominately honey oak. This is also a time when people started to lean a little bit more into decorative features such as bottles filled with olive oil and preserved peppers and lemons, as well as Mediterranean artwork, ceramic chickens, and wine cork displays. Another popular aspect of this time was exaggerated woodwork on cabinetry such as scrolling designs, pillars, and even whittled fruit and vines.
This era of design was particularly interesting because it was during the rise of HGTV and home makeover shows. These shows brought inspiration and ideas right to the American living room making homeowners bolder in their design choices. The rise of HGTV was also a catalyst to DIY. But that is a topic for another day!
Now: A Blast from the Past
Design has come a long way from the 1920’s to what it is today in 2023. While certain trends are very prevalent, the modern kitchen is far more custom than ever before. Heavily influenced by social media and the internet, inspiration is always right at our fingertips and has led to kitchens that touch many ends of the design spectrum.
One of the most common design influences on the modern kitchen has been the farmhouse style brought to us by Magnolia and McGee. With bright, neutral color palettes, glossy marble, gold and brass hardware, and warm woods, the farmhouse kitchen is the perfect combination of rustic and chic. Another popular kitchen staple of these kitchens is the farmhouse sink, barn doors, shiplap walls, and exposed wood beams.
On the other end of the spectrum, we are seeing a return to color as people incorporate it in their designs through cabinetry color, tile, and appliances. Green cabinetry has been particularly common in the modern kitchen but is now taking a backseat to bold blues and greys. We are also seeing a lot of two-toned cabinetry, which has helped create depth and intrigue in kitchen designs.
Many of today’s designs are incorporating elements of design from past decades and giving them a modern twist: midcentury modern inspired spaces, colored appliances reminiscent of the 1950’s, and geometric tile of the atomic age paired with sleek stylings of the early 2000’s. It’s not uncommon to combine elements of different eras all in the same design!
The beauty of modern kitchen design is that you can make it whatever you want it to be. We love how people draw inspiration from life, art, and past decades to create truly unique spaces.
Whether your kitchen is colorful, neutral, small, or large, functionality is the name of the game as today’s cabinetry emphasizes storage and a streamlined workspace. Customized with homeowners’ unique lifestyles and needs in mind, custom cabinetry is designed to utilize every inch of available space. The modern kitchen also takes into account different stages of life in its design, promoting accessibility to all ages. For example, drawer pull-outs are a great way for family members young and old to access kitchen items that would otherwise be hard to reach. As for style, Shaker cabinet doors are most common in today’s kitchens, with cabinet designs that stretch from countertop to ceiling.
Today’s kitchens are big fans of banquettes, little built-ins, and cozy corners to invite human interaction. Modern designs also emphasize sunshine, allowing large windows to bring the outside indoors. After all, the most important part of your kitchen is that you actually enjoy being in it.
The domestic kitchen has always been a clear window into what life has looked like throughout history. From post-war posterity to advancing technology and the wonder of space travel, humans have always drawn inspiration from the past, a hopeful future, and the changing world around them to create truly unique designs, each beautiful. When looking back throughout history, we can notice style’s cyclical tendencies and inclination to always revert back to what once was – but style is a fickle thing, and even if it’s only skin deep, the domestic kitchen will continue to change.
What will the next decade bring in terms of design? We might have an inclination, but with a constantly changing world around us we might never really know until we get there. All we do know is that like decades past, we are in for inspiring trends and some pretty spectacular kitchens.