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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!
One old-fashioned trend I would LOVE to see is the return of the Butler’s Pantry. Not only are they charming, but they are practical as well. So while most of us own more china and dishware than our forebears ever did, we are all hiding it in cabinets and storing it in garages when a Butler’s Pantry would be such a better (and prettier) solution!”
– Sheila Irwin of Maison de Cinq
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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).
I'd love to see the return of smaller kitchens. With minimalism and functionality taking center stage when it comes to homes, petite kitchens can be very practical while still creating an open concept. Implementing the right design and features, homeowners will still get everything they're asking for in this smaller space.”
- Elizabeth Rishel of Within the Grove
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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.
I would love to see the craze of all-white kitchens end. Eeek! I know that is so against the trend right now, but I'm kind of over it! All white kitchens are stunning, but they aren't practical. The kitchen is the heart of the home, and it shouldn't be a place you're afraid to step foot in because it's too pristine. I would love to see more functionality, life, and color in kitchen designs- mixes of warm and vibrant wood grains, with bright colored dishes, and appliances and hardware that have some personality to them.”
- Natalie Dalpias of The Creative Mom
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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.
A trend that should not ever come back is a busy pot rack over the island....It gives the appearance of a cluttered and messy kitchen. On the other hand, a classic trend that will always be in style is having a white kitchen with natural, wood finishes, such as butcher block or wood shelving.”
- Katie of The Rustic Boxwood
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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.
I would love to see the 1950s trend of brightly colored refrigerators make a big come back. All-white kitchens with subway tile and stainless steel accents are just ho hum. My love language? Appliances in turquoise, yellow, green, or pink! Why not design kitchens that are colorful and lively?”
- Kristy Robb of Robb Restyle
One trend I’d love to see come back from retro kitchens is the use of color! Sure white is safe, but using color on the fridge, lower cabinets, or backsplash makes the space unique to you. I’d like to see more style in the appliances. Why do they have to be so boxy with boring handles?! 1950’s kitchens definitely win for fridges and stoves with style and I wish modern day appliance makers would add more of the vintage elements!”
- Ashley Wilson of At Home with Ashley
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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.
I love a classic white kitchen. It's easy to add (and switch out) pops of color in other ways, including artwork, window treatments and counter accessories. I also love the addition of a few drawer banks in place of lower cabinets. Drawers provide easy-to-access storage to those pieces kept in the way back.”
- Meg Hemmelgarn of Green with Decor
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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!
I would love to see more modern cabinetry styles come back. I love a nice shaker style, glazed accented cabinet as much as the next person, but I’m ready to see more solid color, flat panel, fold up, sliding door, non-traditional cabinetry come back in our kitchens. The kind you’d see back in the 70s. I love the simplicity and unexpectedness of those modern styles...do the doors open out, open up, slide? So many possibilities! And also I love the straight lines and solid colors in a kitchen. It makes it feel so clean and uncomplicated.”
- Shara McCuiston of Woodshop Diaries
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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.
One kitchen trend I hope never comes back is white Thermafoil cabinets. They eventually peel over time and leave the homeowner with no choice but to replace.”
- Brittany Bailey of Pretty Handy Girl
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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.
What I would like to see make a come back is incorporating light wood & knotty pine for flooring and cabinetry designs. Especially now with the highly sought after open kitchen concept. The light wood and pine trend was the big rave in the 90s.”
- Jeffrey St. Arromand of Corcoran Real Estate
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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.
I would love to see the end of all stainless everything. Let’s bring some colour back to the space! Maybe not avocado appliances, but I would love to see a greater range of appliance finishes that allow to better coordinate with hardware. Good hardware is always in style though. I think contrasting shades/finishes are always a good look, but I’ve seen some lovely wood pieces entering the market too.”
- Ariel Garneau of PMQ for TWO
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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.
A favorite trend that I hope stays around for a while is mixing metals. I love the look of two-toned lighting and how it pairs with stainless appliances. I think that mixing metals gives you that "lived-in" feel as opposed to something you see everywhere.”
- Ashley Mayes of Bigger Than the Three of Us
I am loving navy blue cabinets with gold or brass hardware! It’s a beautiful yet classy trend that will stand the test of time in my opinion!”
- Brooke Ulrich of All Things Thrifty
The kitchen trends I’m loving lately are the variation of cabinet colors and mixed metal fixtures/hardware. I love the contrast of light upper cabinets with richer tones on the lowers and I love the texture and personality that mixed metal fixtures and hardware bring to a kitchen.”
- Lydia Nordhoff of Lydi Out Loud