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5 min read

History of Buildings: The Evolution of Kitchens


5 min read

History of Buildings: The Evolution of Kitchens

KitchenHistory of Buildings: The Evolution of Kitchens

A space for gatherings and lively conversation, the kitchen has always been considered the heart of any dwelling. Since cooking is a time-consuming calling—and for that reason alone—it’s without a doubt why this particular part of a home has witnessed the most amount of change throughout the years. 

Whether it be for enhanced ergonomics or to perfect the appliances already in place, how has yesterday’s kitchen evolved into today’s design?

18th and 19th Century Kitchen Designs

18th Century Kitchen: Hearth-Focused

main fireplace

If a home with a chimney is no longer an absolute, it was entirely different at the time. The chimney was the main source of heat one used to avoid the throes of the winter cold, and it was often situated in the middle of the house or toward one of the extremities. 

Everything revolved around it, like meals and meal prep. Note that using a traditional fireplace (with a chimney) was really common during that time period, on the other hand, using a freestanding stove was beginning to take traction during the last quarter of the century, although the whole had already been possible for 50 years or so. 

Furniture and food preservation

As for furniture, it’s by all means, modest. The whole would often come down to a small cupboard (or pantry), as well as a table and chairs. During this time period, the kitchen also enclosed the main bathroom. As such, there was often a small cabinet where one would store razors, mirrors, and combs. 

If the dry food and non-perishables were stored in a pantry (typically vented), one obviously had to come up with an alternative to preserve meat.

The latter was stored in a large artisanal cooler (or icebox), within which were placed huge chunks of ice. The walls of the cooler were insulated with sawdust to maintain its internal temperature. The refrigerator’s ancestor was positioned near the front or back doors. Incidentally, note that meat was first salted or smoked to enhance its preservation. In certain instances, the icebox was even buried in the ground outside the home. When it comes to fresh foods, it was stored in pantries. And, for water supply, it came directly from a well. 

Silverware and everyday things


If our cutlery is now stored directly in a drawer, back then, they adorned the walls, suspended by way of little hooks. They were also, at times, kept near the hearth. A lot of dishes, lanterns, and even little lamps were laid about on narrow shelves lining the walls. In proximity to the chimney, one could spot a hutch or shelves, these were traditionally used to store other kitchen articles. 

Near the hearth, one also found a good amount of skewers to roast meat, a shovel for ash, a bucket, and pots. Our ancestors often used a pilaster (metal bar) onto which pots and pans were hung inside the fireplace. Fun fact, the use of bracket support (andirons) was also common. 

This kitchen apparatus is a horizontal wood or metal structure onto which wooden logs were laid. Said tool was used to support logs to allow the fire to breathe so it wasn't stifled. Also, let’s not forget about a churn, a tool used to beat milk to make butter. One also found a mangle iron, the clothing iron’s predecessor. 

19th Century Kitchen

woman cooking

If during the 19th century, food was preserved similarly to that of the previous century, changes were still being seen as far as the general kitchen went. The first of these changes concerned the area’s overall dimensions, and that of the dining room, which was a lot bigger now. 

More so, the room’s layout is all the more important. One would look to position the fireplace in a more strategic way, the same with the icebox and the sink. Thereby ensuring that the fireplace is located as close to the front door as possible to minimize the back and forth when bringing in wood.

What about the sink during this time period? It consists simply of a wooden box covered with sheet metal and a tank, or it was shaped out of a rock which drained toward the house. If refrigerators have yet to come about, food can now be stored in a cooler (or icebox) that’s made much more practical than the one previously used. 

The Evolution of Stoves and Stovetops

Using a freestanding stove continues to gain momentum as are its numerous benefits as a kitchen appliance. That being, this main feature in the kitchen becomes even bigger. The cast-iron stove is increasingly used and experienced its heyday between 1830 and 1880. 

Note that we owe the emergence of the first coal fireplaces and stoves to the British, though these appliances took a while to fit into our dwellings in a durable manner. That said, one had to wait until the second half of the 19th century to make it happen. Naturally, the electric stove will simply be a game changer. 

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Last modified 2023-11-07

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