In the West, a modern residential kitchen is typically equipped with a stove, a sink with hot and cold running water, a refrigerator and kitchen cabinets arranged according to a modular design. Many households have a microwave oven, a dishwasher and other electric appliances. The main function of a kitchen is cooking or preparing food but it may also be used for dining, food storage, entertaining, dishwashing and laundry.
The evolution of the kitchen is linked to the invention of the cooking range or stove and the development of water infrastructure capable of supplying water to private homes. Until the 18th century, food was cooked over an open fire. Technical advances in heating food in the 18th and 19th centuries, changed the architecture of the kitchen. Before the advent of modern pipes, water was brought from an outdoor source such as wells, pumps or springs.
The houses in Ancient Greece were commonly of the atrium-type: the rooms were arranged around a central courtyard for women. In many such homes, a covered but otherwise open patio served as the kitchen. Homes of the wealthy had the kitchen as a separate room, usually next to a bathroom (so that both rooms could be heated by the kitchen fire), both rooms being accessible from the court. In such houses, there was often a separate small storage room in the back of the kitchen used for storing food and kitchen utensils.
In the Roman Empire, common folk in cities often had no kitchen of their own; they did their cooking in large public kitchens. Some had small mobile bronze stoves, on which a fire could be lit for cooking. Wealthy Romans had relatively well-equipped kitchens. In a Roman villa, the kitchen was typically integrated into the main building as a separate room, set apart for practical reasons of smoke and sociological reasons of the kitchen being operated by slaves. The fireplace was typically on the floor, placed at a wall—sometimes raised a little bit—such that one had to kneel to cook. There were no chimneys.
Early medieval European longhouses had an open fire under the highest point of the building. The “kitchen area” was between the entrance and the fireplace. In wealthy homes there was typically more than one kitchen. In some homes there were upwards of three kitchens. The kitchens were divided based on the types of food prepared in them. In place of a chimney, these early buildings had a hole in the roof through which some of the smoke could escape. Besides cooking, the fire also served as a source of heat and light to the single-room building. A similar design can be found in the Iroquois longhouses of North America.
In the larger homesteads of European nobles, the kitchen was sometimes in a separate sunken floor building to keep the main building, which served social and official purposes, free from indoor smoke.
The first known stoves in Japan date from about the same time. The earliest findings are from the Kofun period (3rd to 6th century). These stoves, called kamado, were typically made of clay and mortar; they were fired with wood or charcoal through a hole in the front and had a hole in the top, into which a pot could be hanged by its rim. This type of stove remained in use for centuries to come, with only minor modifications. Like in Europe, the wealthier homes had a separate building which served for cooking. A kind of open fire pit fired with charcoal, called irori, remained in use as the secondary stove in most homes until the Edo period (17th to 19th century). A kamado was used to cook the staple food, for instance rice, while irori served both to cook side dishes and as a heat source.
The kitchen remained largely unaffected by architectural advances throughout the Middle Ages; open fire remained the only method of heating food. European medieval kitchens were dark, smoky, and sooty places, whence their name “smoke kitchen”. In European medieval cities around the 10th to 12th centuries, the kitchen still used an open fire hearth in the middle of the room. In wealthy homes, the ground floor was often used as a stable while the kitchen was located on the floor above, like the bedroom and the hall. In castles and monasteries, the living and working areas were separated; the kitchen was sometimes moved to a separate building, and thus could not serve anymore to heat the living rooms. In some castles the kitchen was retained in the same structure, but servants were strictly separated from nobles, by constructing separate spiral stone staircases for use of servants to bring food to upper levels. An extant example of such a medieval kitchen with servants’ staircase is at Muchalls Castle in Scotland. In Japanese homes, the kitchen started to become a separate room within the main building at that time.
With the advent of the chimney, the hearth moved from the center of the room to one wall, and the first brick-and-mortar hearths were built. The fire was lit on top of the construction; a vault underneath served to store wood. Pots made of iron, bronze, or copper started to replace the pottery used earlier. The temperature was controlled by hanging the pot higher or lower over the fire, or placing it on a trivet or directly on the hot ashes. Using open fire for cooking (and heating) was risky; fires devastating whole cities occurred frequently.
Leonardo da Vinci invented an automated system for a rotating spit for spit-roasting: a propeller in the chimney made the spit turn all by itself. This kind of system was widely used in wealthier homes. Beginning in the late Middle Ages, kitchens in Europe lost their home-heating function even more and were increasingly moved from the living area into a separate room. The living room was now heated by tiled stoves, operated from the kitchen, which offered the huge advantage of not filling the room with smoke.
Freed from smoke and dirt, the living room thus began to serve as an area for social functions and increasingly became a showcase for the owner’s wealth. In the upper classes, cooking and the kitchen were the domain of the servants, and the kitchen was set apart from the living rooms, sometimes even far from the dining room. Poorer homes often did not have a separate kitchen yet; they kept the one-room arrangement where all activities took place, or at the most had the kitchen in the entrance hall.
The medieval smoke kitchen (or Farmhouse kitchen) remained common, especially in rural farmhouses and generally in poorer homes, until much later. In a few European farmhouses, the smoke kitchen was in regular use until the middle of the 20th century. These houses often had no chimney, but only a smoke hood above the fireplace, made of wood and covered with clay, used to smoke meat. The smoke rose more or less freely, warming the upstairs rooms and protecting the woodwork from vermin.
In the Colony of Connecticut, as in other states of New England during Colonial America, kitchens were often built as separate rooms and were located behind the parlor and keeping room or dining room. One early record of a kitchen is found in the 1648 inventory of the estate of a John Porter of Windsor, Connecticut. The inventory lists goods in the house over the kittchin and in the kittchin. The items listed in the kitchen were; silver spoons, pewter, brass, iron, arms, ammunition, hemp, flax and other implements about the room.
In the southern states, where the climate and sociological conditions differed from the north, the kitchen was often relegated to an outbuilding, separate from the big house, the mansion, for much of the same reasons as in the feudal kitchen in medieval Europe: the kitchen was operated by slaves, and their working place had to be separated from the living area of the masters by the social standards of the time. Separate summer kitchens were also common on large farms in the north. These were used to prepare meals for harvest workers and tasks such as canning during the warm summer months.
Technological advances during industrialization brought major changes to the kitchen. Iron stoves, which enclosed the fire completely and were more efficient, appeared. Early models included the Franklin stove around 1740, which was a furnace stove intended for heating, not for cooking. Benjamin Thompson in England designed his “Rumford stove” around 1800. This stove was much more energy efficient than earlier stoves; it used one fire to heat several pots, which were hung into holes on top of the stove and were thus heated from all sides instead of just from the bottom. However, his stove was designed for large kitchens; it was too big for domestic use. The “Oberlin stove” was a refinement of the technique that resulted in a size reduction; it was patented in the U.S. in 1834 and became a commercial success with some 90,000 units sold over the next 30 years. These stoves were still fired with wood or coal. Although the first gas street lamps were installed in Paris, London, and Berlin at the beginning of the 1820s and the first U.S. patent on a gas stove was granted in 1825, it was not until the late 19th century that using gas for lighting and cooking became commonplace in urban areas.
The urbanization in the second half of the 19th century induced other significant changes that would ultimately change the kitchen. Out of sheer necessity, cities began planning and building water distribution pipes into homes, and built sewers to deal with the waste water. Gas pipes were laid; gas was used first for lighting purposes, but once the network had grown sufficiently, it also became available for heating and cooking on gas stoves. At the turn of the 20th century, electricity had been mastered well enough to become a commercially viable alternative to gas and slowly started replacing the latter. But like the gas stove, the electric stove had a slow start. The first electrical stove had been presented in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, but it was not until the 1930s that the technology was stable enough and began to take off.
Industrialization also caused social changes. The new factory working class in the cities was housed under generally poor conditions. Whole families lived in small one or two-room apartments in tenement buildings up to six stories high, badly aired and with insufficient lighting. Sometimes, they shared apartments with “night sleepers”, unmarried men who paid for a bed at night. The kitchen in such an apartment was often used as a living and sleeping room, and even as a bathroom. Water had to be fetched from wells and heated on the stove. Water pipes were laid only towards the end of the 19th century, and then often only with one tap per building or per story. Brick-and-mortar stoves fired with coal remained the norm until well into the second half of the century. Pots and kitchenware were typically stored on open shelves, and parts of the room could be separated from the rest using simple curtains.
In contrast, there were no dramatic changes for the upper classes. The kitchen, located in the basement or the ground floor, continued to be operated by servants. In some houses, water pumps were installed, and some even had kitchen sinks and drains (but no water on tap yet, except for some feudal kitchens in castles). The kitchen became a much cleaner space with the advent of “cooking machines”, closed stoves made of iron plates and fired by wood and increasingly charcoal or coal, and that had flue pipes connected to the chimney. For the servants the kitchen continued to also serve as a sleeping room; they slept either on the floor, or later in narrow spaces above a lowered ceiling, for the new stoves with their smoke outlet no longer required a high ceiling in the kitchen. The kitchen floors were tiled; kitchenware was neatly stored in cupboards to protect them from dust and steam. A large table served as a workbench; there were at least as many chairs as there were servants, for the table in the kitchen also doubled as the eating place for the servants.
The urban middle class imitated the luxurious dining styles of the upper class as best as they could. Living in smaller apartments, the kitchen was the main room—here, the family lived. The study or living room was saved for special occasions such as an occasional dinner invitation. Because of this, these middle-class kitchens were often more homely than those of the upper class, where the kitchen was a work-only room occupied only by the servants. Besides a cupboard to store the kitchenware, there were a table and chairs, where the family would dine, and sometimes—if space allowed—even a fauteuil or a couch.
Gas pipes were first laid in the late 19th century, and gas stoves started to replace the older coal-fired stoves. Gas was more expensive than coal, though, and thus the new technology was first installed in the wealthier homes. Where workers’ apartments were equipped with a gas stove, gas distribution would go through a coin meter.
In rural areas, the older technology using coal or wood stoves or even brick-and-mortar open fireplaces remained common throughout. Gas and water pipes were first installed in the big cities; small villages were connected only much later.
The trend to increasing gasification and electrification continued at the turn of the 20th century. In industry, it was the phase of work process optimization. Taylorism was born, and time-motion studies were used to optimize processes. These ideas also spilled over into domestic kitchen architecture because of a growing trend that called for a professionalization of household work, started in the mid-19th century by Catharine Beecher and amplified by Christine Frederick‘s publications in the 1910s.
A stepstone was the kitchen designed in Frankfurt by Margarethe Schütte-Lihotzky. Working class women frequently worked in factories to ensure the family’s survival, as the men’s wages often did not suffice. Social housing projects led to the next milestone: the Frankfurt Kitchen. Developed in 1926, this kitchen measured 1.9 m by 3.4 m (approximately 6 ft 2 inby 11 ft 2 in, with a standard layout. It was built for two purposes: to optimize kitchen work to reduce cooking time and lower the cost of building decently equipped kitchens. The design, created by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, was the result of detailed time-motion studies and interviews with future tenants to identify what they needed from their kitchens. Schütte-Lihotzky’s fitted kitchen was built in some 10,000 apartments in the housing projects erected in Frankfurt in the 1930s.
The initial reception was critical: it was so small that only one person could work in it; some storage spaces intended for raw loose food ingredients such as flour were reachable by children. But the Frankfurt kitchen embodied a standard for the rest of the 20th century in rental apartments: the “work kitchen”. It was criticized as “exiling the women in the kitchen”, but post-World War II economic reasons prevailed. The kitchen once more was seen as a work place that needed to be separated from the living areas. Practical reasons also played a role in this development: just as in the bourgeois homes of the past, one reason for separating the kitchen was to keep the steam and smells of cooking out of the living room.
Poggenpohl led innovation in the kitchen area by presenting the “reform kitchen” in 1928 with interconnecting cabinets and functional interiors. The reform kitchen was a forerunner to the later unit kitchen and fitted kitchen. Poggenpohl presented the form 1000, the world’s first unit kitchen, at the imm Cologne furniture fair in 1950.
The idea of standardized was first introduced locally with the Frankfurt kitchen, but later defined new in the “Swedish kitchen” (Svensk köksstandard, Swedish kitchen standard). The equipment used remained a standard for years to come: hot and cold water on tap and a kitchen sink and an electrical or gas stove and oven. Not much later, the refrigerator was added as a standard item. The concept was refined in the “Swedish kitchen” using unit furniture with wooden fronts for the kitchen cabinets. Soon, the concept was amended by the use of smooth synthetic door and drawer fronts, first in white, recalling a sense of cleanliness and alluding to sterile lab or hospital settings, but soon after in more lively colors, too.
Unit construction since its introduction has defined the development of the modern kitchen. Pre-manufactured modules using mass manufacturing techniques developed during World War II greatly brought down the cost of a kitchen. Units which are kept on the floor are called “floor units”, “floor cabinets”, or “base cabinets” on which a kitchen worktop, originally often formica and often now made of granite, marble, tile or wood is placed. The units which are held on the wall for storage purposes are termed as “wall units” or “wall cabinets”. In small areas of kitchen in an apartment, even a “tall storage unit” is available for effective storage. In cheaper brands, all cabinets are kept a uniform color, normally white, with interchangeable doors and accessories chosen by the customer to give a varied look. In more expensive brands, the cabinets are produced matching the doors’ colors and finishes, for an older more bespoke look.
A trend began in the 1940s in the United States to equip the kitchen with electrified small and large kitchen appliances such as blenders, toasters, and later also microwave ovens. Following the end of World War II, massive demand in Europe for low-price, high-tech consumer goods led to Western European kitchens being designed to accommodate new appliances such as refrigerators and electric/gas cookers.
Parallel to this development in tenement buildings was the evolution of the kitchen in homeowner’s houses. There, the kitchens usually were somewhat larger, suitable for everyday use as a dining room, but otherwise the ongoing technicalization was the same, and the use of unit furniture also became a standard in this market sector.
General technocentric enthusiasm even led some designers to take the “work kitchen” approach even further, culminating in futuristic designs like Luigi Colani‘s “kitchen satellite” (1969, commissioned by the German high-end kitchen manufacturer Poggenpohl for an exhibit), in which the room was reduced to a ball with a chair in the middle and all appliances at arm’s length, an optimal arrangement maybe for “applying heat to food”, but not necessarily for actual cooking. Such extravaganzas remained outside the norm, though.
In the former Eastern bloc countries, the official doctrine viewed cooking as a mere necessity, and women should work “for the society” in factories, not at home. Also, housing had to be built at low costs and quickly, which led directly to the standardized apartment block using prefabricated slabs. The kitchen was reduced to its minimums and the “work kitchen” paradigm taken to its extremes: in East Germany for instance, the standard tenement block of the model “P2” had tiny 4 m² kitchens in the inside of the building (no windows), connected to the dining and living room of the 55 m² apartment and separated from the latter by a pass-through or a window.
Starting in the 1980s, the perfection of the extractor hood allowed an open kitchen again, integrated more or less with the living room without causing the whole apartment or house to smell. Before that, only a few earlier experiments, typically in newly built upper-middle-class family homes, had open kitchens. Examples are Frank Lloyd Wright‘s House Willey (1934) and House Jacobs (1936). Both had open kitchens, with high ceilings (up to the roof) and were aired by skylights. The extractor hood made it possible to build open kitchens in apartments, too, where both high ceilings and skylights were not possible.
The re-integration of the kitchen and the living area went hand in hand with a change in the perception of cooking: increasingly, cooking was seen as a creative and sometimes social act instead of work. And there was a rejection by younger home-owners of the standard suburban model of separate kitchens and dining rooms found in most 1900-1950 houses. Many families also appreciated the trend towards open kitchens, as it made it easier for the parents to supervise the children while cooking and clear up spills. The enhanced status of cooking also made the kitchen a prestige object for showing off one’s wealth or cooking professionalism. Some architects have capitalized on this “object” aspect of the kitchen by designing freestanding “kitchen objects”. However, like their precursor, Colani’s “kitchen satellite”, such futuristic designs are exceptions.
Another reason for the trend back to open kitchens (and a foundation of the “kitchen object” philosophy) is changes in how food is prepared. Whereas prior to the 1950s most cooking started out with raw ingredients and a meal had to be prepared from scratch, the advent of frozen meals and pre-prepared convenience food changed the cooking habits of many people, who consequently used the kitchen less and less. For others, who followed the “cooking as a social act” trend, the open kitchen had the advantage that they could be with their guests while cooking, and for the “creative cooks” it might even become a stage for their cooking performance.
The “Trophy Kitchen” is highly equipped with very expensive and sophisticated appliances which are used primarily to impress visitors and to project social status, rather than for actual cooking.
The ventilation of a kitchen, in particular a large restaurant kitchen, poses certain difficulties that are not present in the ventilation of other kinds of spaces. In particular, the air in a kitchen differs from that of other rooms in that it typically contains grease, smoke and odours.
The Frankfurt Kitchen of 1926 was made of several materials depend on the application. The built-in kitchens of today use particle boards or MDF, decorated with veneers, in some cases also wood. Very few manufacturer produce home built-in kitchens from stainless-steel. Until the 1950s steel kitchen were used by architects, but thsi material was displaced by the cheaper particle boards sometimes decorated with a steel surface.
Domestic kitchen planning
Domestic (or residential) kitchen design per se is a relatively recent discipline. The first ideas to optimize the work in the kitchen go back to Catharine Beecher‘s A Treatise on Domestic Economy (1843, revised and republished together with her sister Harriet Beecher Stowe as The American Woman’s Home in 1869). Beecher’s “model kitchen” propagated for the first time a systematic design based on early ergonomics. The design included regular shelves on the walls, ample work space, and dedicated storage areas for various food items. Beecher even separated the functions of preparing food and cooking it altogether by moving the stove into a compartment adjacent to the kitchen.
Christine Frederick published from 1913 a series of articles on “New Household Management” in which she analyzed the kitchen following Taylorist principles, presented detailed time-motion studies, and derived a kitchen design from them. Her ideas were taken up in the 1920s by architects in Germany and Austria, most notably Bruno Taut, Erna Meyer, and Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky. A social housing project in Frankfurt (the Römerstadt of architect Ernst May) realized in 1927/8 was the breakthrough for her Frankfurt kitchen, which embodied this new notion of efficiency in the kitchen.
While this “work kitchen” and variants derived from it were a great success for tenement buildings, home owners had different demands and did not want to be constrained by a 6.4 m² kitchen. Nevertheless, kitchen design was mostly ad-hoc following the whims of the architect. In the U.S., the “Small Homes Council”, since 1993 the “Building Research Council”, of the School of Architecture of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was founded in 1944 with the goal to improve the state of the art in home building, originally with an emphasis on standardization for cost reduction. It was there that the notion of the kitchen work triangle was formalized: the three main functions in a kitchen are storage, preparation, and cooking (which Catharine Beecher had already recognized), and the places for these functions should be arranged in the kitchen in such a way that work at one place does not interfere with work at another place, the distance between these places is not unnecessarily large, and no obstacles are in the way. A natural arrangement is a triangle, with the refrigerator, the sink, and the stove at a vertex each.
This observation led to a few common kitchen forms, commonly characterized by the arrangement of the kitchen cabinets and sink, stove, and refrigerator:
The block kitchen (or island) is a more recent development, typically found in open kitchens. Here, the stove or both the stove and the sink are placed where an L or U kitchen would have a table, in a freestanding “island”, separated from the other cabinets. In a closed room, this does not make much sense, but in an open kitchen, it makes the stove accessible from all sides such that two persons can cook together, and allows for contact with guests or the rest of the family, since the cook does not face the wall anymore. Additionally, the kitchen island’s countertop can function as an overflow-surface for serving buffet style meals or sitting down to eat breakfast and snacks.
In the 1980s, there was a backlash against industrial kitchen planning and cabinets with people installing a mix of work surfaces and free standing furniture, led by kitchen designer Johnny Grey and his concept of the “Unfitted Kitchen”.
Modern kitchens often have enough informal space to allow for people to eat in it without having to use the formal dining room. Such areas are called “breakfast areas”, “breakfast nooks” or “breakfast bars” if the space is integrated into a kitchen counter. Kitchens with enough space to eat in are sometimes called “eat-in kitchens”.
Other kitchen types
Restaurant and canteen kitchens found in hotels, hospitals, educational and work place facilities, army barracks, and similar establishments are generally (in developed countries) subject to public health laws. They are inspected periodically by public-health officials, and forced to close if they do not meet hygienic requirements mandated by law.
Canteen kitchens (and castle kitchens) were often the places where new technology was used first. For instance, Benjamin Thompson‘s “energy saving stove”, an early-19th century fully closed iron stove using one fire to heat several pots, was designed for large kitchens; another thirty years passed before they were adapted for domestic use.
Today’s western restaurant kitchens typically have tiled walls and floors and use stainless steel for other surfaces (workbench, but also door and drawer fronts) because these materials are durable and easy to clean. Professional kitchens are often equipped with gas stoves, as these allow cooks to regulate the heat more quickly and more finely than electrical stoves. Some special appliances are typical for professional kitchens, such as large installed deep fryers, steamers, or a bain-marie. (, steamers — not to be confused with a pressure cooker — are beginning to find their way into domestic households, sometimes as a combined appliance of oven and steamer.)
The fast food and convenience food trends have also changed the way restaurant kitchens operate. There’s a trend for restaurants to only “finish” delivered convenience food or even just re-heat completely prepared meals, maybe at the utmost grilling, a hamburger, or a steak.
The kitchens in railway dining cars present special challenges: space is constrained, and, nevertheless, the personnel must be able to serve a great number of meals quickly. Especially in the early history of railways this required flawless organization of processes; in modern times, the microwave oven and prepared meals have made this task much easier. Galleys are kitchens aboard ships or aircraft (although the term galley is also often used to refer to a railroad dining car’s kitchen). On yachts, galleys are often cramped, with one or two burners fueled by an LP gas bottle, but kitchens on cruise ships or large warships are comparable in every respect with restaurants or canteen kitchens. On passenger airliners, the kitchen is reduced to a mere pantry, the only function reminiscent of a kitchen is the heating of in-flight meals delivered by a catering company. An extreme form of the kitchen occurs in space, e.g., aboard a Space Shuttle (where it is also called the “galley”) or the International Space Station. The astronauts’ food is generally completely prepared, dehydrated, and sealed in plastic pouches, and the kitchen is reduced to a rehydration and heating module.
Outdoor areas in which food is prepared are generally not considered to be kitchens, even though an outdoor area set up for regular food preparation, for instance when camping, might be called an “outdoor kitchen”. Military camps and similar temporary settlements of nomads may have dedicated kitchen tents.
In schools where home economics (HE) or food technology (previously known as “domestic science“) are taught, there will be a series of kitchens with multiple equipment (similar in some respects to laboratories) solely for the purpose of teaching. These will consist of six to twelve workstations, each with their own oven, sink, and kitchen utensils.
Kitchen types by region
Kitchens in Japan are called Daidokoro (??;lit. “kitchen”). Daidokoro is the place where food is prepared in a Japanese house. Until the Meiji era, a kitchen was also called kamado (???; lit. stove) and there are many sayings in the Japanese language that involve kamado as it was considered the symbol of a house and the term could even be used to mean “family” or “household” (similar to the English word “hearth”). When separating a family, it was called Kamado wo wakeru, which means “divide the stove”. Kamado wo yaburu (lit. “break the stove”) means that the family was bankrupt.
Lupton, E. and Miller, J. A.: The Bathroom, the Kitchen, and the Aesthetics of Waste, Princeton Architectural Press; 1996; ISBN 1-56898-096-5.