What's Cooking? Kitchen Design Past & Present

Over the last 20 years, the kitchen has taken center stage in the home, pushing away the walls between dining spaces, living rooms and even the garden to create amazing open spaces for family and entertaining. We all picture ourselves in these open hubs, chatting to friends while we quickly pull together a meal which would make Jamie Oliver proud. Today, kitchens have gone beyond functional to aspirational, creating a very lucrative industry to help people achieve these dreams.

The kitchen didn't start this way and its history is fascinating as it has been an ever-evolving space in the house. Originally housed in outbuildings to lower the fire risk to the great house, the kitchen at Hampton Courts Palace boasted 6 fires. Here, 200 people provided King Henry VIII’s court with 600 meals twice a day. Things become more refined through the centuries and the kitchen was brought into the home where it was housed below stairs, which created a thriving work room where servants busily took care of their daily chores to keep their employers well catered and cared for.

The kitchen form we recognise today started with the invention of the first fitted kitchen in 1926. It was designed by the truly inspirational Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (above left), who was the first woman to be allowed to study architecture in Austria. If that wasn’t achievement enough, she created The Frankfurt Kitchen (above right). Frankfurt Kitchens were installed in a mass apartment complex called The Frankfurt Project, which was built to house working class families in (you guess it!) Frankfurt, Germany. The design was based on a railroad dining car and they christened it “The Housewife’s Laboratory”. It was created to offer the best modern conveniences a woman could wish for and was neatly packaged in a confined space. The original design wouldn’t look out of place in a modern flat.

I love designing kitchens and the challenge that comes with it of uniting functional design with beautiful design. You need both of these elements to create a visually stunning space that is also a joy to work in, and, as anyone who has worked in a poorly designed kitchen knows, one without the other is an unsatisfying experience. So how do you achieve this seamless marriage of form and function?

First and foremost, a kitchen is a working space. While most kitchen companies start by asking you about the look you want to achieve, I suggest you always start a kitchen design by considering how you function when preparing and cooking meals. Ask yourself what you need immediately to hand when cooking and take into account any other activities– like homework– that may go on in the space. Zone things together by function, like putting the dishwasher near the sink and plate storage, as it saves time when doing things and gives the kitchen a great working flow. No matter how beautiful your cupboards are, if you don't get the functionality right, your kitchen will always be an awful space to cook in.

You don’t need to have a huge kitchen to feel the benefits of great design. For instance, you can have a highly functional kitchen in a small space by using a clever layout and nifty cupboard inserts, like magic corner baskets and pull out larders to prevent the cinnamon from being lost at the back of the cupboard forever. To keep a slick uncluttered look, integrate your appliances into the design and include your microwave in the cabinetry to free up much needed work surface. You can see an example of integrated kitchen appliances above, which we designed for a home in North London.

The two most desired kitchen items at the moment are the larder and the boiling water tap, which means no more waiting for the kettle to boil, which allows you to save on electricity, water consumption and– most importantly– time. Both the larder and the boiling water tap are genius and on my wish list.

If you've ever worked in a poorly lit kitchen, you'll know that lighting and electrics are key. The kitchen is a working space, so it is vital to have good task lighting, but the kitchen is also a family space and sometimes a fun party space, so having the flexibility to create mood lighting is very important. Speaking of electrics, here's a small tip: You can never have enough double sockets. From kettles to blenders and your phone charger, we have a lot of small electrical items that we use in kitchens, so make sure you have sockets to spare!

The aesthetics of a kitchen are very individual.  You might prefer a high-gloss modern kitchen, a classic shaker kitchen, or rustic country kitchen. When deciding a kitchen's aesthetic, it's always important to look at what's happening with emerging trends and to keep in mind that kitchens are a long-term investment, so you don’t want them to date quickly. Personally, I love bold floor tiles with simple sleek units and choose classic tile designs that will stand the test of time aesthetically and with wear-and-tear.

Kitchens will continue to evolve far beyond “The Housewife’s Laboratory” of 1926 and right now they are standing centre stage in our homes and our lives. They are a place for women, men, and children to congregate, work, and have fun. Fun– I think that's the most important word when it comes to kitchen design. When designing your kitchen, have fun with it so when it's finished, you will have fun using it!

See more of our kitchen design work here, here, and here. If you're planning a kitchen renovation of your own and are looking for a designer to plan and design your space, please don't hesitate to reach out. Happy cooking!