Musings on a 1920s kitchen

Just thinking out loud here...

After looking at numerous photos of kitchens from the early to mid 1900s, I'm trying to figure out what, exactly, has changed.  Most folks now value a large kitchen with lots of counter space and even more storage.  Much of our food comes prepackaged.  We have lots of leftover containers.  We like appliances for everything: coffeemakers, blenders, microwaves, toaster ovens, and mixers, just to name a few.  The fridge stores condiments, plus the usual dairy products, meats, veggies, and leftover food.  We like dishwashers, plus sinks that have at least 2 compartments.  Many kitchens now have seating for at least 4 people, house computers and workstations, and sometimes even televisions.

In the 1920s, kitchens were often small, with limited built in storage, and maybe a table for a work space.  Most food was made fresh, from scratch.  The staples were stored in a "Hoosier" cabinet or a built-in cupboard.  Most "appliances" were hand-cranked, like small mixers or meat grinders.  Work space consisted of a table or maybe a small countertop.  Refrigerators were smaller and stoves were larger.  Sinks were wide, shallow, and had massive drainboards.

The ony reason I can think of for kitchens to be bigger and have more storage now is for convenience.  We (as a society) cook fewer meals and spend less time doing it.  Why do we need more space?  With prepackaged foods gaining popularity, we needed somewhere to put them.  Since we don't like to do things by had any more, we need appliances in abundance.  And why should we hide our pretty small appliances away when we can have them conveniently sitting on the counter waiting for use?

I don't want to kill the resale value of our house (assuming we ever move), but I also need to assess the type of cooking that we do.  We don't use many prepackaged foods, but I often buy things in quantity.  We keep the staples on-hand: baking basics, spices and seasoning, pastas, cereals, some canned goods, and several types of crackers.  I seem to use the same few pots and pans for everything.  We've been phasing out plastic leftover containers, but the glass ones don't nest as well.  I have too many appliances that I don't use.  We own a blender that I think we've used twice.  Our food processor gets used once or twice a year to chop onions and celery.  I do use the electric hand mixer a lot.  The food mill is used for pasta sauce, but I only make 1 or 2 big batches per year.  The toaster oven and microwave seriously hog our counter space.  I have a drawer full of utensils that never get used. 

I already knew that we don't want a "modern" kitchen.  For one thing, we don't have the space, but we also just don't live in such a way that the kitchen is the gathering space.  We don't entertain too often, and we make simple meals that don't require hours of prep.  When I do cook larger meals, though, I wish I had more prep space.  A work table would be wonderful.  We could also get by with less storage.  Eh, I need to get through the upstairs first, but after looking at kitchen pics at the Library of Congress, I just started obsessing again...!


Jenny Kerr said...

My BFF who lives in NY just found that same sink on craigs list for $10 with no chips, she's trying to see if the guy still has it. SHe said if he does she could bring it with her to Indiana if I want it. lol... wasn't the style I was looking for but can't look a gift horse in the mouth!

dynochick (Jan) said...

I am going through the same problem. I've come to the conclusion I have to find a happy medium between historically correct and what would enhance the value of my home.

I do think that we have bigger kitchens these days because normally both parents work, both spouses cook, and the kitchen has just turned into the social gathering spot because of a kitchen's natural warmth and cozyness. Also because most parents are usually multi tasking, i.e. cooking and helping with homework, the kitchen needs to be more roomy.

I think the way we are going to go is cabinets that look orignal to the era, hide modern appliances with cabinet fronts, and go with a decor that looks appropiate but is not so permenent that the next owner can't change a few things and make it work for them.

Good luck with your design.

Anonymous said...

In older kitchens, the kitchen table was also used as a work space. I agree that the kitchen is now a gathering place, hence it is larger. Mom

Sandy said...

I loved the picture of that "old-timey" kitchen. Brought back quite a few memories! My kitchen is only 10 1/2 x 7 1/2!

Josh said...

Great post! That old photo with the sink over the radiator was really fascinating. I've been trying to make sense of evidence that the original kitchen sink and radiator in my house were on the same wall-- that photo captured it in a way I hadn't considered.

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