How American Kitchens Have Changed Throughout The Decades
What did your childhood kitchen look like? Did it have wooden cabinets and funky wallpaper? Or was it more traditional, with embroidered curtains and paisley? Some people could guess which decade you were born in based on your childhood kitchen. If you can’t discern the difference, check out how American kitchens have changed and evolved throughout the past century.
1910s: Free-Standing Furniture Everywhere
In the 1910s, kitchens did not have the built-in appliances or cupboards that we know today. Sinks were separate from the wall, often on four legs, to increase circulation and prevent mold. Cabinets became popular during this time, but they were all free-standing.
Linoleum prints were available in a wide variety of shapes and colors, from florals to diamonds to faux tiles. Ventilation and running water were beginning to improve, but it would take many Americans a while to update their kitchens.
1920s: Paint The Cabinets
In the 1920s, designers began adding a lot of color to their kitchens. They painted the cabinets, added floral drapes, and laid down vibrant linoleum and rugs.
Since most appliances were still free-standing, there was very little counter space. A bulky, multi-task cooking stove consumed most of the space. Built-in cabinets and sinks appeared in new kitchens, but for many Americans, those were still free-standing. Dishwashers were still not seen in the average person’s home.
1927: Introducing The Refrigerator
Although the refrigerator was invented in 1911, most Americans did not get one in their homes until 1927. Before then, they had an icebox, which was kept cold by large blocks of ice.
In the late 1920s, kitchens began to run on electrical devices. Toasters and waffle irons became cooking luxuries, which many people kept on their dining room tables. Sanitation was the goal of the decade, and many Americans switched to built-in sinks and gas ranges.
1930s: Taking A More Modern Shape
In the 1930s, kitchens began to become modernized, thanks in part to the German modern design school Bauhaus. Stoves and sinks were built into countertops, which were much longer than their 1920s counterparts. Some cabinets were built-in, but there was also a booming free-standing cabinet market.
Fewer and fewer households had servants, so owners spent more time in their kitchens. Designers focused on efficiency. Stoves were tucked under counters, ironing boards folded out of the wall, and sinks were placed close to stoves.
1935: Bring In Art Deco
When the Great Depression ended, Americans could once again focus on aesthetics. Art Deco, which initially came from the ’20s, returned with a modern twist. Checkerboard linoleum floors became all the rage, while colors grew richer.
Dark blues, reds, and golds appeared in many kitchens. Chrome furniture also became popular, especially tables and stools. Pendant lights and colorful knobs were not necessities, but some people installed them to make their kitchen look nicer and more modern.
1940s: The Self-Cleaning Kitchen Of Tomorrow
In 1939, House Beautiful teamed up with Procter & Gamble to create a “self-cleaning kitchen,” also called “the kitchen of tomorrow.” This kitchen was designed for easier cleaning. Mainly, the kitchens had wider floors so that people could vacuum them.
Stainless steel sinks and continuous countertops were designed to appear streamlined and be easier to sanitize. Although many still had their old layouts, future kitchens were no longer shoved into a corner–they were laid out for convenience.
1943: The Folkloric Kitchen
Furniture in the 1940s still had an old-school, folkloric feel to it. Kitchens were the same way. Many people displayed vintage dishes on open shelves, hung pinch pleated or embroidered curtains, or placed plants around their windows.
Some cabinets and china hutches had painted paisley designs, and some even had them stained on glass. Couches and benches were often striped or plaid, and some were built into the wall to create a dining area.
1947: The “New Kitchen”
In 1947, designers advertised a “new kitchen” which included many conveniences. Many kitchens included stools for people to sink while cooking or using the sink. A small table was inserted for prep work. Some had “mixing corners,” or a space on the corners of cabinets for mixing and baking.
Retro colors returned in the late 1940s. Pastel green, red, gold, and pink lined the countertops and cabinets. Linoleum floors came in a variety of funky patterns and colors.
1950s: Advertising To The American Housewife
In the 1950s, many women transitioned from working during the war to becoming housewives. Advertisements were geared toward making the woman and family’s life easier. Furniture became smaller and often had multiple uses.
This is where the stereotypical retro kitchen came in: pastel colors, “cabinettes” that hung on the walls, candy-colored stoves, and refrigerators. Speaking of the refrigerator, it was upgraded in the ’50s, with glass shelves and crisper compartments. Ovens, sinks, and stovetops were all built into the counters and walls.
1955: Kitchens With Dining Spaces
As mid-century furniture became smaller and more functional, dining rooms merged into kitchens. Many Americans were living in smaller homes and apartments, so they placed tiny dining tables around or in their kitchen.
Others saved even more space through bars. In I Love Lucy, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo ate at their countertop every morning. This wasn’t the only show that mainly took place in a kitchen; much of American home life centered around the kitchen, and advertisers took note.
1957: Kitchen Appliances Reached Luxury Status
As more and more designers created kitchen designs and appliances, they competed for business. Magazines advertised the newest designs, which were often more expensive. The kitchen was no longer just a workplace; it was a mark of status.
Steel cabinets were “in” during this decade, only to disappear in the 1960s. Devices like the green bean slicer and cake breaker were not only used for niche tasks, but were also showed off to friends and family. Many ’50s appliances are no longer common today.
1960s: Groovy And Gold
When the 1960s rolled around, bright and pastel colors faded into earth tones. Avocado green and gold became common kitchen colors. Homeowners no longer felt the need to paint over all of their wood.
In the ’50s, designers delighted in a wide variety of furniture materials, from acrylic to steel. But the ’60s abandoned the sparkle and shimmer. Kitchens relied more on natural lighting, and many had larger floor plans and longer counter spaces.
1961: The Return Of Wood
Although wooden furniture remained popular in the early 1950s, it didn’t return to kitchens until the ’60s. Kitchen cabinets and stools often retained a dark wood. Appliances even began switching from chrome and stainless steel to wood.
The pegboard was another kitchen accessory that became popular during the 1960s. You don’t see too many of those in kitchens nowadays.
1966: Bold, Funky Wall Art
Although wallpaper occasionally appeared in kitchens throughout the 20th century, its popularity skyrocketed in the ’60s. As in the ’50s, geometric designs were “in,” but so were florals, paisley, rainbows, and leaves.
Newer kitchens were designed in a U-shape, which not only provided more cabinet space but also allowed for a wide variety of wall decorations. Built-in fans and refrigerators became commonplace during this decade, which provided more floor space and flexibility in working throughout the kitchen.
1967: Microwaves And Dishwashers
In the mid-20th century, microwaves were mainly used for businesses and wealthier Americans. But in 1967, the first microwave company, Raytheon, pushed products that were designed for the average household. Microwaves were no longer a luxury item; they were almost as common as toothpaste.
In the late 1960s, dishwashers also began to appear in American kitchens. They would become common throughout North America in the 1970s. Designers began building dishwashers into counters, raising the value of ’70s homes.
1969: Solid-Colored Laminate
A telltale sign of late ’60s and early ’70s design is solid-colored laminate. Unlike the marble, tile, and granule counters that we see today, 1960s kitchens included bold color wherever possible.
While the upper or lower cabinets were wood, the laminate counters were green, yellow, blue, grey, or white. Some kitchens even combined wood paneling with bricks that were pained in the same color. Instead of simple walls and funky counters, ’60s kitchens had simple counters and funky walls.
1970s: Unique, Dizzying Designs
In the 1970s, homeowners no longer wanted streamlined kitchens. they wanted kitchens to reflect their homes and their personalities. While wallpapers rose in popularity during the ’60s, the industry exploded in the ’70s.
Wallpaper came in paisley, plaid, stripes, floral, geometric shapes, and more. Backsplashes also became commonplace, many of which included tiles with different colors and designs. Wood cabinets and solid countertops remained, although many people painted their cabinets, too. Every kitchen looked different in the 1970s.
1975: Open, Country-Style Kitchens
As kitchens became larger and more open, designers started incorporating elements that were originally only seen in other rooms. For instance, plants transitioned from the living room to the kitchen. Open shelving used baskets, bowls, and greenery as decor.
Since kitchen islands were now more common, homeowners turned the ceiling above the island into storage. Pots, pans, and other cooking utensils hung from the ceiling. Hanging fruit baskets and mounted spice racks also adorned the walls. The displayed cooking utensils offered a countryside vibe.
1977: A Glowing Color Palettte
Formica, a type of laminated composite, was the most popular material of the ’70s. This came in a wide variety of colors, and near the end of the decade, neon and electric colors appeared in magazines.
Picture all the colors of a retro disco: acid yellow, fire orange, grape, raspberry, and forest green. Kitchen tables, appliances, and even glassware came in these colors. But these bold prints did not last long.
1980s: Returning To Industrial
Kitchens from the 1980s were more industrial than the ’50s and ’60s. Since more women worked full time, the kitchen stopped becoming a family hub and returned to a workspace. As a result, the room became more industrial, like we see today.
The living room and kitchen became separate again, but some kitchens had built-in benches and bars to conserve space. Homeowners cared more about functionality than they did about decor, wallpaper, or fancy colors.
1981: Pantries And Massive Kitchen Islands
The 1980s saw the return of the pantries. From the ’50s through the ’70s, pantries disappeared in favor of built-in cabinets. But as kitchens shrank, pantries returned to prove much-needed storage.
Instead of cabinets, designers focused on massive kitchen islands. Some of these islands included sinks, trash compartments, and even stoves. The island offered several uses from seating to cooking space. No longer did people focus on funky colors and designs; functionality took precedence, even in large kitchens.
1982: Tiles And Terra Cotta
By the end of the ’70s, solid laminate disappeared from many kitchens. Tile counters and backsplashes became all the rage, although mirrored backsplashes were popular for a while, too. Floors were also tiled or checkered to imitate the look.
Many ’80s kitchens reverted back to earth tones. Terra cotta floors, medium-hued woods, and grey and blue cushions made the kitchen appear calmer. The style of ’80s kitchens would evolve a few times throughout the decade.
1985: Black, White, And Pastels
By the middle of the decade, homeowners tore down patterned wallpaper. Although patterned tiles were still common, a new contemporary design style simplified the kitchen to blacks, whites, and pastels. White cabinets with black ovens and microwaves popped up during this period.
Pastels decorated furniture in solid chunks which, when contrasted with white and black, made a bold statement. Cabinets now came in laminate as well as countertops. Although small kitchens were desirable, residents did not want to clutter them with excessive decor and patterns.
1990s: Granite Countertops And Pale Cabinets Without Handles
If you’re wondering why your kitchen has granite countertops, thank the ’90s. Granite became popular during this period. Blue, black, grey, green, and white countertops became the norm instead of pastels. Kitchen islands also had granite tops, many of which imitated marble.
Unlike the medium-hued woods of the ’50s and ’70s, the 1990s introduced lighter woods. Pale wooden cabinets often had no handles to create a streamlined appearance. White cabinets also came from the ’90s, but these became more popular in the following decades.
1991: All-White Appliances
Although white appliances were being sold in the ’80s, they became especially desirable in the ’90s. Ovens, refrigerators, stoves, and whites turned white. Some all-white kitchens, which included tiles and cabinets, also appeared in magazines.
Most people were happy with wooden cabinets with plain, white countertops and walls. Kitchens from the ’90s rarely had wallpaper or open shelving. Gone were the complex kitchens of the ’70s or eye-catching appliances of the ’80s; neutral was “in.”
1994: The Farmhouse Style
The 1990s saw a spike in the farmhouse style. This style imitated English and French countryside houses and worked well with the popular light wood cabinets. Brass and copper cooking utensils popped up in decor stores, along with glass china hutches, apron sinks, and cast iron.
Kitchens often had neutral earth tones such as beige and olive green. Backsplashes and floors were still covered in tile, but these were usually white or another pale color.
2000s: McMansions And Open Kitchens
The 2000s were known for “McMansions,” massive homes with bigger rooms than seen in previous decades. Kitchens also expanded. Counters wrapped around the entire room, kitchen islands became the size of a dining table, and walk-in pantries popped up everywhere.
Cabinets remained in neutral colors such as white, beige, and dark wood. The farmhouse style evolved into “Tuscan” kitchens, which had elegant designs such as ornate wood and a rustic backsplash. But most kept their kitchens simple and open.
2006: Stainless Steel And Granite
If your kitchen has granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, it’s probably from the 2000s. Stainless steel became universal during this decade. Refrigerators, ovens, stoves, toasters, and microwaves came in stainless steel, likely because it is durable and easy to clean.
Granite was the go-to material for countertops and even backsplashes. Mica, which created dotted patterns in granite, made each kitchen unique. Handles returned to cabinets, and some designers especially favored long, horizontal handles instead of knobs.
2010s: White Cabinets And Quartz Countertops
If the 2000s favored neutrals, then the 2010s loved whites. During this era, white cabinets frequently appeared on home decor Instagram accounts. Many appliances, such as the refrigerator, swapped from stainless steel to white.
Quartz countertops also came into style. Although quartz looks more expensive than granite, they are often the same price (and quartz is sometimes cheaper). This completed the white-on-white trend of the 2010s. If there was color, it was often cool and airy, such as grey and icy blue.
2017: Accent Walls And Metallic Statement Pieces
After decades without wallpaper, the late 2010s finally returned to it–in moderation. Accent walls became popular near the end of the decade and have continued into the 2020s. A single wall would have wallpaper or a different colored paint, often behind the kitchen table.
Metallic statement pieces would add a pop of color to all-white kitchens. Many made their sinks and hardware brass or black. Pendant lights and chandeliers hung over kitchen tables or islands, also in gold or black.
Obvious Room Labels
Yes, we already know where the KITCHEN is. That SINK and PANTRY are obviously a sink and pantry. Unless you have a young child who is learning to read, you don’t need room labels. It’s insulting to anyone who has been in a kitchen before.
Of course, jar labels can help a guest know which container holds COFFEE and which one has SUGAR. But the contents inside jars aren’t obvious. A KITCHEN is very obvious.
You know that you’re living in an old house when the kitchen includes a desk. Who wants to work in a kitchen? On top of that, who would entrust the safety of their laptop or work documents in the area where food splatters everywhere? It’s just a bad idea all-around.
In a room with boiling pots, oven timers, and fryers, the cacophony will make any desk worker go mad in minutes. That’s why most kitchen desks end up neglected and covered with papers and sweaters.
If you’re a poor college student or 20-something-year-old, you might use plastic kitchenware because it’s cheaper and you won’t be inviting anyone over. But if you can afford ceramic dishes, why settle for the plastic ones? They’re barely even useful.
Plastic dishes remind people of camping trips and broke college living. They’re a bundle of bad memories wrapped up in brittle, unnaturally-colored plates. Trust that you’ll feel ten times better about your life after throwing out the plastic dishware.
Open shelves tend to overlap with a Tuscan-style kitchen, but they deserve their own mention. Not only do they make your kitchen seem crowded and cluttered, but they’re also a hassle to clean. Imagine dusting around every single jar and pan that’s eight feet high.
When you use an open-shelf kitchen, you don’t have as much flexibility decorating, because your kitchen items are your decorations. You’d have to own a set of quality china to get away with open shelves, and even that can appear tacky.
The “Barnhouse” Theme
You know the barn theme: kitchens with ceramic roosters, barn doors, hanging steel lights, and a milk pitcher with flowers in it. If those decorations appear in a modern kitchen, it looks out-of-place, like someone tried to re-enact the sixteenth-century French countryside.
Barn-themed kitchens miss the mark because most aren’t actually in a barn or on a farm. Where are the live chickens? Nowhere. So why does the kitchen look like it should house a cow?
Fake Fruit Bowls
You know what a kitchen is used for, right? Cooking real food. There is literally no point in owning a fake fruit bowl. Those shiny, plastic monstrosities scream “fake” and can be debunked from a mile away. And when they’re coated in dust, they look terrible.
Just buy real fruit. Everyone likes fruit, and people who use fruit bowls have all their stuff together. Fake fruit just says, “I’m too lazy to purchase real fruit for my own kitchen.”
A Displayed Alcohol Collection
People who fill walls or shelves with beer bottles fall into one of three categories: a bartender, a frat member, or someone with a drinking problem. Unless your guest knows you well, they may assume that you are in the third category. Or worse, you might come off as someone who wishes they were still in college.
If you’re a bartender who likes to mix drinks for friends, a kitchen collection of cocktails may be convenient. But a display of beer for beer’s sake is just tacky.
Slogans That Celebrate Wine
Wine decor mirrors the beer decor in that it signals a drinking problem. But on top of that, it comes off as try-hard, especially when it delineates the “sassy” or “quirky” personality of the kitchen owner.
You’ve likely seen these signs, mugs, and dishes everywhere: “Dinner is poured,” “Vacay and rosé,” “I speak fluent wine,” etc. It’s not as charming or cute as the people who buy these decorations think. It’s cheesy at best.
Weirdly Bright Refrigerator Colors
Are you a character in Father Knows Best? No? Then you don’t need the “1950s aesthetic” by painting your refrigerator firetruck red or bright turquoise. For the “retro” style to work all of the walls and furniture need to follow the same color scheme. Selecting a bright color for only your fridge makes it look out-of-place.
Even if you are going for the retro look, neon colors hurt peoples’ eyes. You’ll have much better luck opting for a pastel palette, and even that can look off, if not done skillfully.
Noisily Patterned Cabinet Knobs
The key to decorating a beautiful kitchen is coordinating colors and materials. Patterned knobs and handles do none of these things. Unless you find knobs that mirror your color scheme exactly, they’ll likely appear noisy and tacky.
The worst choice you could possibly make is assigning different-colored handles to every single cabinet. That’s not “chic” or “vintage,” but a bad design idea. Since knobs are such a small detail, keep them minute and tasteful.
Chevron is the V-shaped pattern that’s often repeated as a zigzag. If you want your eyes to melt every time you walk into your kitchen, install chevron tiles. Not only is this design distracting, but also obscures all the important items like pots and towels.
Even worse than chevron tiles on the wall are chevron tiles on the floor. The entire design is dizzying to say least. Keep your kitchen pleasant to look at, and take away glaring chevron design from your home.
Mason Jar Decorations
Over the past couple of years, mason jars have become the new trendy glasses in hipster cafes. If you aren’t bottling homemade sauce or jam, you probably own mason jars for the aesthetic. It isn’t as cool as it once was–unless you want to come off as a hipster, of course.
Sure, mason jars are handy tools for pressure-sealing dried herbs and sauces. But they’re not easy to drink out of. And decorating a room with mason jar lights and trinkets is the new “basic.”
Tuscan Kitchen Decor
Even if you haven’t heard the term, you’ve likely seen Tuscan kitchens: wooden furniture, hanging pots and pans, chandeliers, and Italian tiles above the stove. In restaurants, this decor looks professional. In homes, this aesthetic looks like you’re trying to make it onto Food Network.
Tuscan kitchens work for professional chefs who actually need their pans and garlic cloves within arm’s reach. Average people aren’t Italian chefs, so they don’t need to act like they are.
Crowding Your Kitchen With Plants
Yes, houseplants look beautiful. But your kitchen isn’t a garden; it’s a kitchen. Shoving ferns and succulents all over the room will inevitably coat them in grime, and potentially set the plants ablaze if you hang them over your stove. Plus, you don’t want to cross-contaminate all your food, do you?
Too many plants give off the “flower child” vibe of someone who’s trying to look more connected with the earth than they actually are. Even herbalists dedicate their garden to growing food, not their kitchen.
In the past, lace was considered a status symbol because it was made by hand. Nowadays, lace is cheaply made and bought at a low price. These tablecloths don’t have the same “Victorian charm” that they did in the early twentieth century.
Lace is also incredibly fragile, meaning that it won’t last long on a well-used kitchen table. And layering white-on-white with lace will remind people of church altars. Opt for a nice, sturdy, elegantly-patterned tablecloth instead.
Distressed Kitchen Furniture
Distressed furniture is purposefully worn down so that it looks like an antique piece. If you distress one or two pieces, you can make your home look more shabby chic. But imagine walking through a modern home and then suddenly entering an “antique” kitchen. It’s jarring, right?
Distressed cabinets and drawers don’t complement modern kitchens with tile or marble. When you push the “antique” look on a modern setting, people will notice. Either shabby-chic-up all of your home or none of it.
Stainless Steel Industrial Stoves
On the opposite end of vintage tackiness, we have modern tackiness. The “overly modern” look often encapsulates stainless steel stoves, counters, microwaves, or other appliances. While professional kitchens use stainless steel for cleanliness, family homes don’t need it.
The problem with stainless steel is that too much of it makes your house look like a scene from I, Robot. You don’t want your guests to think that you’re trying to time travel, do you?
All-white kitchens are not only an eyesore but also a hassle to keep clean. Kitchens are messy places; there’s no avoiding red sauce splatters and crumbs all over the counter. The white backdrop will highlight these tiny messes, which requires people to clean their kitchen 24/7.
That’s also the reason why hospitals are painted white: it makes sanitation easier. Do you want your kitchen to feel like a hospital room or a home? Probably the latter. Leave the white for a laboratory.
Overlapping Several Colors
Most kitchens are mainly grey, black, or cream–basic colors that are gentle on the eyes. But those devoted to a 1950s chic look may overlay bright colors like red, yellow, blue, and white. The color scheme may work in a burger diner, but not in a home.
Processing too many colors at once is a recipe for migraines. If your kitchen requires a seizure warning, you need to tone it down for everybody’s sake.
Neglecting The Rest Of The Home
If your kitchen is pimped out while the rest of your home appears plain, you have faulty interior design. It looks like you never finished decorating your house. And a tacky kitchen with little decor elsewhere? That’s even worse.
At that point, you might as well spread out the tackiness. Place the ceramic duck in the bathroom. Hang the “Live Love Laugh” sign in your living room. At least spread-out tastelessness is better than single-room tastelessness.
Spelling Words With Bathroom Tile
The kitchen isn’t the only place in a home that people make tacky decisions about their design aesthetic. Sometimes it expands through the bathrooms, the bedrooms, basically the entire house.
Who knew you’d have to clarify this, but please don’t spell things in your bathroom tiles. No one wants to stay over in your guest room and see that you’ve spelled out “home” in bathroom tile. It seems like a cute idea at the time and then once you do it you realize it’s wildly unnecessary.
This bathroom screams “I was built in the 1960s.” We understand that you want your bathroom to be light, cheery, happy, all those fun things, but this is not the way to do it. Turquoise and yellow tile should never exist, and should never be bought.
It was on-trend in the ’60s, you could get away with it in the ’70s and ’80s, but if your bathroom still looks like this, it’s time to shell out for a bathroom reno.