“… Planned in accordance with the ‘Balance of Storage’ principle…released to the public in 1934.”
How big does a kitchen really *need* to be? How many kitchen cabinets do you really *need*? Well, beginning around 1929, the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company began a five-year research study to investigate this question. In 1934 — after three years of testing their design principles — they released their study to the public. We first got a look at this fascinating research in the 1937 Whitehead Kitchens catalog that we recently featured — now, let’s take a closer look.
The “Balance of Storage” research
The catalog explains:
All Whitehead Work-Saving Kitchens incorporating Westinghouse appliances are planned in accordance with the “Balance of Storage” principle, which was developed by the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company after five years of research and released to the public in 1934. In three years of actual use, it has proven its reasonable accuracy as the kitchen storage equipment yardstick of proven value.
It is based on the sole constant factor in a house — the number of bedrooms. Briefly, it is as follows: The number of bedrooms establishes the normal occupancy of a residence. Normal occupancy is based on one person per bedroom for all except the master bedroom, which has two persons. The normal occupancy of a house, therefore, is one more person than the number of bedrooms. To obtain the actual number of persons to be provided for, however, two persons per house must be added to take care of the entertainment factor and the inevitable accumulation of materials. The actual occupancy, therefore, is three persons more than the number of bedrooms. For each of these total persons, 6 square feet of wall cabinet shelf area is required. The amount of base cabinet storage space is governed by the fact that base cabinets should be placed directly underneath all wall cabinets, with the exception of the space occupied by the major appliances. These two facts give us the following storage requirements for any residence.
This research was likely as another outcome of major scientific movements like Scientific Management, also know as Taylorism. How many kitchen cabinets do you need to really work efficiently? This research certainly seems to make sense to us, even today.
Why did kitchens get bigger?
In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the kitchens in most middle class houses were much smaller than what the mass of middle class of America would consider desirable today. As the post-WWII boom continued into the 1960s and beyond, kitchens continued to grow in size — often quite dramatically — for several reasons:
- For many years in many homes in America, the kitchen was a prep space — eating was done in the adjacent dining room. As dining habits became more informal, more families wanted to eat right in the kitchen. Eat-in kitchens — there was even a real estate shorthand “EIK” became a must-have. To fit the EIK, the kitchen had to expand. As this occurred, more cabinets were added around the now-larger perimeter (even if there wasn’t really stuff to fill them.) But of course, we found stuff to fill them, quickly enough…
- For many years in mid century America, there was home delivery of milk and groceries — daily, even, I believe. As this custom died out, homemakers needed to go to the store themselves to shop. To save trips, they began storing more groceries at home. So more storage was needed.
- After World War II, the number of “labor saving devices” in homes exploded. So then, we *needed* even more storage space. I keep putting needed in *needed*, because, do we really use this stuff? I recently read an article that said that Americans wear only 20% of the clothes they own, on a regular basis. I suspect that, similarly, we only use 20% of the pots and pans and glasses and mugs, etc., stored in our kitchen cabinets. So, in this sense — I bet the Westinghouse research still is relevant.
- Kitchens open to an adjacent great room became popular. The whole assembled space — bigger.
- And similarly, as affluence in America grew, we built houses that were bigger and bigger and bigger (a trend that only ended with the recent Great Recession). Bigger house? Bigger kitchen, of course — because pretty much a constant was, is and ever will be: The kitchen is the epicenter of the home… the very heart of the American Dream that is homeownership.
Readers — do you have “too many” kitchen cabinets?
That is, how actively do you use all the stuff in them — week in and week out?
Thanks to archive.org and the MBJ Collection for making this vintage catalog available.