February 08, 2006

1930s kitchens

1930s kitchenOne room where we will definitely not be following 1930s design is the kitchen. I have been suprised how similar some of our modern design is to 1930s design in most rooms of the house, including the bathroom. But the kitchen is very different. It's amazing how much technology and modern convenience has developed in seventy-odd years. Go back to the early thirties and in the average semi you would have found a rather pokey kitchen, with a deep sink, nothing so glamorous as fitted units, a cool larder and probably a small gas cooker, as shown in this picture from MoDA.

In the inter-war years a battle for our homes was raging between the gas and electricity suppliers. Electricity was considered to be a clean, hygenic and efficient new technology and had already won the battle for lighting the home. However, the electricity supply fluctuated between AC and DC in different areas. This made people reluctant to buy big expensive items that were electric, which they potentially couldn't take with them if they moved to a different area. As a result, people tended to buy smaller electrical items: toasters, kettles, hair dryers, clocks, vacuum-cleaners.

A new invention, the thermostat, decided the battle for cooking. Ridiculous as it may sound, seventy years ago you couldn't just bang something in the oven and forget about it. Instead, you had to make regular checks that your oven was giving you a constant heat. The invention of the thermostat for gas ovens meant that the gas flame became the power of choice for cooking.
1930s fridge
Your average semi-detached suburban home probably wouldn't have had a fridge. They were just too expensive. Instead the home would have had a cool, north facing larder for food storage. Both electric and gas fridges were produced and, although gas fridges were quiet and efficient (see the advert from MoDA ), electric ones seem to have won out in the long run.

Before the first World War domestic service was common and most middle class Victorian families employed at least one servant. After the War, the growing middle classes could not afford quite the same lifestyle. Most 1930s suburban houses were not designed or built with servants in mind and your average 1930s housewife had to adopt the idea of the 'servantless home' that popular women's magazines were promoting. The idea was that wives had to do the work themselves, with the aid of appliances such as the vacuum-cleaner and electric iron. Science and technology were seen as the 'saviour of the housewife' and 'the key to an effortless domestic future'. (Chuh.) This was reflected in the marketing and branding of the day:

Some [appliances] were given names that referred directly to them as wageless servants, such as the Atmos 'Housemaid', which could wash dishes and wash, press and iron clothes as well as vacuum-clean.

The 1930s Home, Greg Stevenson, 2005.

The kitchen in our house was extended and knocked through sometime in the 1950s (we think) and again in the 1980s, but you can still see where the small kitchen would have existed at the back of the house next to the dining room. We're lucky enough to be having a new fitted kitchen, new cooker (gas and electric!), new fridge-freezer and a new dishwasher and we're aiming for a fairly cosy, retro-farmhouse kind of look. Here are the Smeg fridge and cooker that we've opted for and before and after pictures of the kitchen will be in a gallery soon.

Our Smeg fridge freezerOur Smeg cooker

PS. By now some of you may have spotted the inspiration for my new look 'Bleg'!

- 5 comments by 0 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Sarah Doig

    My 1930’s semi (in Leeds) had one owner (with two husbands – not at the same time …?) before I bought it in 2003.

    Throughout the house, I’m interested in restoring some of the features, and working out which are original and which were added on. Unfortunately, nothing that WAS added was well done, so there was a lot of ripping out that went on in the first year.

    Unlike virtually every other house in the street, I still have the original tiny kitchen, although the larder was removed at some point.(Well, I assume so – I can see the concrete floor and marks on the ceiling) .
    I actually like the little kitchen, but we have had to make all sorts of sacrifices to function in it. I’ll be looking at having it revamped in a couple of years, and the struggle will then be to find something in keeping with your picture above.

    19 Feb 2007, 14:27

  2. Smolk

    Funny, I arrived at this website looking for info about the original kitchen design of a 1930s semi… We’re hoping to move in soon, and the kitchen definitely needs revamping, but it is still in its original location, which I like, and has a little opening to the dining room through which you can pass on food and plates etc. I haven’t looked at it very well yet, but on first viewing it struck me as original.

    What I strongly dislike about modern kitchens is the far too glossy look of fitted units. Of course, I do want a modern cooker, dishwasher, fridge (the very same Smeg as pictured above already stands in our present kitchen and will go with us). But they may stand as the functional units they are, as they once did in their prefigurations.

    On the other hand, I’m not averse to mixing antique with modern, and I like the idea of an old living kitchen even if that was not the rule in this type of house. But only if it works; otherwise I’ll stick to the separate kitchen. Do you know what was used instead of the extractor (cooker hood)? I can see on the outside of the house that there is a chimney leading from the kitchen, but I don’t know yet if it is still intact, or what its purpose was (fuel oven?).

    BTW, I guess that many of the 1930s design furniture were intended for more modernist houses than 1930s semis. But that will not prevent me from using our 1930s sofa of chrome and white leather…

    Thanks for the blog, I like to read it.

    02 Mar 2007, 02:41

  3. smolk

    I just discovered that the kitchen would probably have had a coke boiler (on http://www.makingthemodernworld.org.uk/stories/the_rise_of_consumerism/02.ST.03/02.SC.RM.09/02.SC.RM.09.swf)

    02 Mar 2007, 03:09

  4. Frances

    I love 1930s kitchens, and the appliances. I use a 1930s gas cooker, and fridge!

    09 Apr 2007, 18:39

  5. fred


    22 May 2007, 17:33

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