Kitchen Design Trends Through the Decades

Kitchen Design Trends Through the Decades

One of the most prominent places to see the shift in attitudes, both socially and design-wise, has been through the lens of the domestic kitchen. In the past century, kitchen design trends have swung back and forth on the pendulum between “fun and funky” and “sleek and restrained.” From the sterile white porcelains of the ’20s to the macramé plant hangers of the ’70s, the kitchen was a physical representation of the American psyche: a gathering place, somewhere to enjoy your family and feel a sense of belonging and comfort.

I learned that the hard way when I lived in an apartment without a dedicated kitchen. Since I didn’t really cook much anyway, I initially dismissed the omission. Little did I know that living without easy access to a kitchen—even if it’s just a place to make your coffee and zone out in the morning—is a huge bummer. After I left that apartment, I made it a priority to find a place where I could really embrace the idea of making my own food. And that’s when I really started to see the kitchen as more than just a place to microwave a cup of mac and cheese–it’s the heart of the home.

It’s not easy maintaining a kitchen: They get messy! Things can get out of hand fast. But the more time I’ve spent in mine, the more I’ve really learned to love it. I’ve taken to baking cookies and actually cooking dinner. I still live in a rental, but I fantasize about removing some of the contractor-grade cabinetry and painting it all a fun shade of green. Until then, I’ll live vicariously through the kitchen design trends of the past through vintage catalog scans and kitchen appliance advertisements.

A traditional kitchen designed by George Sakier in the late 1930s.

A traditional kitchen designed by George Sakier in the late 1930s.

Photo: Print Collector/Getty Images

1920s–1930s: Shaping up for the future

In the 1920s and 1930s, we started moving away from the rounded, effusive, decorative shapes of the late Victorian and Edwardian eras for a more restrained, sleek style. Art Deco was the most popular, especially in public buildings like the skyscrapers of New York City. That said, for such a dramatic design vernacular, American homeowners had to find a way to apply Art Deco elements to their homes, which were usually much more modest than the Chrysler building.

During this period, kitchens made more use of tiling, both on floors and in walls. Similar to what was happening in bathrooms, tiles kept surfaces cleaner because they weren’t absorbent like wood and could easily be wiped off. Flooring gave homeowners the chance to express their inner Art Deco as a focus on geometric shapes emerged. Linoleum floors gave people the opportunity to add some pizazz to what would have been boring hardwood before–classic checkerboard was the most popular choice, but into the 1930s, colorful, angular patterns became more en vogue. “I find myself pulling inspiration from the mixed patterns and bold color choices of the Art Deco era,” says Sapna Aggarwal, designer and founder of Bungalowe, who often works with 1920s-era Craftsman-style homes.