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This American Kitchen: How the kitchen has changed over the past 100 years.
Decorative Cabinet Hardware
What’s a kitchen to you? A place to meal prep? A place to entertain? A place for your kids to do their homework against their will? Perhaps more than any other room in the home, the kitchen give us an honest look into American life. It tells us how society is developing and what we value. The modern kitchen is far removed from the kitchen people knew at the turn of the century. Let’s reminisce on the past 100 years and take a look at how kitchen layouts, colors and appliances have developed with American culture from functional to fashionable.
This American Kitchen
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Kitchens at the turn of the century weren’t exactly the decorative digs we’ve come to know and love. They were all about function and had very little frill. In a 1910s kitchen, you’d find the super-popular Hoosier cabinet, an all-in-one standalone work station where you would keep utensils and ingredients next to a preparation counter for easy access and increased efficiency. And thanks to an increased desire for sanitation, you’d also find porcelain sinks which were easier to clean wood or brick sinks. Thank goodness!
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Kitchens in the 1920s still weren’t particularly decorative (don’t worry, we’ll get there). Many people started outfitting their kitchens with gas or oil powered stoves which –– like the sinks or cabinets at the time –– were free standing appliances that weren’t attached to the wall. Refrigerators also started to gain popularity and replace iceboxes (wooden boxes lined with tin and filled with large blocks of ice).
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Even though the Great Depression peaked in the 1930s, we still see color and décor make an appearance in kitchen design, proving that Americans know how to find beauty in difficulty. Checkerboard patterned linoleum floors started becoming popular and were a sign of things to come.
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As soldiers begin returning home from war and women start spending more time in the kitchen, kitchens in the 1940s take a major step toward becoming the kitchens we recognize today. Built-in cabinets start replacing free standing cabinetry, and wall ovens and stainless steel sinks make their debut. People also start investing in modern appliances like refrigerators and gas-powered stoves, which were a result of war-time industrialization.
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In the 1950s, easy-to-maintain synthetic materials and new appliances like hand mixers and toaster ovens make their debut, giving women more time to focus on kitchen designs and home décor. The result? Floral wallpaper and an explosion of colorful appliances in mint green, light pink, and blue. Kitchens also become more social as they start moving toward the front of the house and closer to the living room. U-shaped kitchens and kitchen islands come on the scene in the 50s, too.
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Time-saving appliances such as dishwashers and garbage disposals become popular as more women start joining the workforce. There’s also another color explosion of orange, lime green and red as décor patterns become busier. You also start to see a move towards a “space age” design aesthetic with a lot of smooth curves and sharp angles being featured in everything from cabinet and drawer pulls, to the refrigerator shape itself.
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Neutral colors? What neutral colors? The 70s are groovy! Harvest gold, mustard and orange are the hot colors featured on everything from cabinetry to appliances. Natural materials like brick and wood start replacing the artificial laminates and plastics that were popular in the 60s. And we can’t fail to mention that microwave sales surpass the gas range sales for the first time. Things are heating up!
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We’re not sure when the saying “bigger is better” originated, but homemakers start taking it to heart in the 80s as kitchens start becoming noticeably bigger. We also say goodbye to the bright colors of the 60s and 70s and hello to neutral kitchen colors and contrasting color combinations. Matching oak cabinets and wood floors become popular, and people begin to use open shelving to display their specialty cookware for the first time.
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Kitchens in the 1990s continue to become bigger and more central to entertainment. This makes way for large kitchen islands that double as bars with stools for additional seating spaces. And open concept kitchens that are a must-have in every HGTV show these days? They were born in the 90s, like a lot of great things (think Nickelodeon and the Fresh Prince of Bel Air.) We also start to see a move toward stainless steel appliances.
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Kitchens in the 2000s migrate toward durability with heavy-duty materials and metallic finishes. Granite and marble countertops gain tremendous popularity, while brass hardware and lighting fixtures start being replaced by oil rubbed bronze fixtures that give kitchens a darker, more mature look. Kitchens also become more “techy” as new appliances such as hand mixers and food processors hit the market.
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A long way from the functional, no-frill kitchens of the 1910s, kitchens today are viewed as centers for social gatherings and a core element in creating a beautiful house. Range hoods, farmhouse style sinks and farmhouse tables have gained a lot of popularity, as have white kitchen cabinets and the use of kitchen backsplash tiles. Subtle details like cabinet knobs and cabinet pulls are also important elements in today’s kitchen décor.