The Evolution of the Civilized Kitchen

Walk down this wacky memory lane and watch the kitchen evolve from humble and strictly functional to sleek and modern. And don't forget a little flower power along the way.
By: Mark McCauley
5938238-69108_kitchen_s4x3

5938238-69108_kitchen_s4x3

Please, let's all gather in the kitchen for a few short seconds and have a moment of silence for the re-inventor of your kitchen, one Dr. Buckminster Fuller. Thank you. The following is a quote from the great sage (not the spice), himself. See if any of it applies to the kitchen you are standing in at this very moment: "To make the world work for 100 percent of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or to the disadvantage of anyone."

In the beginning: This is your kitchen. It was birthed in the mid-'40s and has come to fruition over the past 60 years and, through many morphs and stylistic changes, it still requires the same qualities as Uncle Buck decreed. Your kitchen needs to function for 100 percent of the people in the home, and the occasional guest(s). It must operate at great rapidity (hence microwave ovens and other nuclear devices in your kitchen).

Your kitchen should not create ecological offense. It's not necessary to think of this in global terms (although you should), but in the sense that your home should be relatively free of germs and bacteria, many of which find a nice, warm little home in your kitchen if you don't watch out.

And, the kitchen has to function without disability to anyone, including but not limited to: the cook. There indeed are all kinds of people in your home, some young, some old, some in-between, tall ones, short ones and, hopefully, not overly wide ones. They're all hanging out in your kitchen baby; it's not all about you. In short, your kitchen is the heart of the home.

The 1940s: This was not always the case in the days before Mr. Buckminster's kitchen decree. Before the 1940s kitchens were adjuncts to the homes and often viewed as savage workspaces, utility being their sole function. They were often dull, dark, dreary and forgotten areas of the home. Dr. Fuller changed all that, by placing a much greater emphasis on the kitchen as indeed a part of the home. His World's Fair exhibit of the kitchen future got everybody thinking: Gee, the kitchen could be a nice place!

The 1950s: This amazing concept got a jump-start in the 1950s when the post-war building boom created new opportunities for kitchen designers. The '50s saw the kitchen become the shining star of the home. The sparkling bright image of the '50s homemaker, pictured in her sparkling, bright new, spic-and-span, white-appliances-as-far-as-the-eye-could-see, slick-as-a-whistle kitchen. Here, she effortlessly, in poodle skirt and high heels, whipped up another gem of a meal for the family. Generally pot roast, but we won't go there.

The era of the Dream Kitchen had arrived, ending drudgery and toil forever and presenting a brave new world of convenience and some mighty good eating to boot, if one excludes the pot roast.

The 1960s: This evolved into the '60s kitchen and flower power. The ubiquitous '60s large petaled flower combined with those ever popular harvest gold appliances (whodathunkit, color on a stove!), lime greens and the widespread use of that new flooring technology, linoleum. Cheap and easy to clean, linoleum ruled.

Another major stylistic advancement came with the fashionable '60s Spanish motif, requiring that everything in the kitchen have a wrought iron handle so we could all feel as if we were cooking in the galley of a Spanish Galleon. Burnt orange tile covered the floors and countertops, and we all felt right at home in our Spanish haciendas. This represented a new concept in the kitchen: the notion of various "styles."

The 1970s: By the end of the '70s (dark brown cabinets, happy smiley faces, lots of yellow), we decided that "decay" was the thing, so we busted everything and went for the "exposed" look. After clearing the falling brick particles from your clam chowder, you could sit and watch the walls degenerate and stare at those oh-so-beautiful metal pipes criss-crossing the ceiling, looking for all the world as if someone forgot to put in the ceiling. And, just so it didn't look like we were all that primitive, we brought in those slick black glass-covered appliances to prove that we were space age after all.

Mark McCauley is the senior interior designer at Darleen's Interiors in Naperville, Ill.

More Info

Keep Reading

Next Up

Designing Your Kitchen the Feng Shui Way

A kitchen can have all the latest bells and whistles but still feel not quite right. Experts suggest its energy, called chi, might be at fault.

The Basics of Kitchen Layout

In remodeling, first decide where to place the sink, range, dishwasher and refrigerator.

Gather 'Round: The Family-Focused Kitchen

An Internet connection, concrete counters and storage down the hall make Rick Glickman's kitchen design perfect for a friendly family.

How to Avoid the Biggest Kitchen Mistakes

Professional designers have all "been there done that" and are more than glad to share their advice on how to avoid the most common kitchen mistakes.

Function: One of the Five Building Blocks of Kitchen Design

Learn about the five building blocks of kitchen design in this excerpt from Joan Kohn's It's Your Kitchen.

See Why People Are Obsessed With the HGTV Smart Home 2016 Kitchen

The pictures are out, and the reviews are in. What do you think of this super smart kitchen?

'Lifestyle Design' in the Kitchen and Bath

Find out how homeowners use their space before designing it.

L-Shaped Kitchens

Reclaim your unused corner space with the right L-shaped kitchen design.

Kitchen Layout Options and Ideas

With a large range of design factors to consider, choosing a kitchen layout has never been more fun.

Transforming a '50s Kitchen

Designer Karen Feldheim lets in more natural light and divides a long line of appliances to modernize a dated kitchen.

Follow Us Everywhere

Join the party! Don't miss HGTV in your favorite social media feeds.