THE 20th CENTURY WAS A TIME OF RADICAL CHANGE in kitchen design. As Nancy Carlisle and Melinda Nasardinov describe in America’s Kitchens, a focus on efficiency in the early part of the century transformed kitchens into compact units, with matching cabinets and built-in appliances topped with spans of countertop. Efficient kitchens were meant to reduce workloads, but their small size and usual location in the back of the house also distanced cooks from their families and guests. The open floor plans of the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s were a reaction against that isolation. As Nasardinov frames it, they “transformed kitchens from service spaces into social spaces” by blurring the boundaries between cooking, eating, and living areas.
Erica Donnis is an independent historian and museum consultant based in Burlington, Vermont. This is the second installment of her week-long look at America’s Kitchens — both the book and the national traveling exhibition.