By J. Hrabik and M. Hurst
By definition, the kitchen is a room used for food preparation that is typically equipped with a stove, a sink for cleaning food and dish-washing, and cabinets and refrigerators for storing food and equipment.
Through the 1940s and 1950s, the kitchen was just that: a place to prepare meals, clean, and store food. The kitchen was merely a place, a room in the home to perform a task, not to welcome and entertain guests largely due to its size and the lack of stimulating and entertaining gadgets and amenities.
Entertainment technology for the kitchen was a foreign concept given that little “entertaining” took place there. In the early part of the 20th century, technology in the way of entertainment was limited to the radio with the first successful transatlantic radiotelegraph message in 1902 by Guglielmo Marconi. It wasn’t until the 1920s that Lee DeForest invented AM radio which allowed for a multitude of radio stations.
With the rise of radio as a source of entertainment and receiving the news came the invention of the stereo with FM capabilities in the mid-1930s. Music soon became a huge source of entertainment with the growing interest in both radios and stereos; however the devices themselves were still too large to move from one room to another.
It wasn’t until the 1920s and 30s that television sets came onto the market – pushing families further and further away from the kitchen (and those who spent their time there) to the family room to gather around the “tube” at night to watch the ever popular evening programs such as American Bandstand.
The hostess of the 1950s was essentially hidden from her guests until the meal was ready to be served and candles were the only way to achieve mood lighting. The availability of new materials and finishes, as well as modern electric appliances came together in the fitted kitchen, changing the look and layout of a space which was now to be enjoyed rather than just endured. Technological advancements in the kitchen of the past were not focused on entertainment per se, but on the housewife and her ability to prepare meals in a more leisurely fashion and ultimately be able to socialize and spend time with her family and friends while cooking and even cleaning.
Because of the lack of portable technology, the size of the kitchen itself, and the desire to gather in larger rooms such as the family room to listen to records, the radio, or watch television, entertainment technology was essentially non-existent for the kitchen. As we move into the late part of the 20th century and the expansion of the kitchen, all of this will change.
In today’s world the kitchen is no longer a room strictly for preparing food. Lifestyle changes and population shifts are requiring more from kitchens. With increasing globalization more and more people are moving into cities and are living in less space. The number of single households continues to increase and people often have less free time while trying to keep pace with the world. Hence, the ability to multi-task has become paramount. As homework, bill-paying, laundry, and a multitude of other tasks have migrated to the kitchen, more and more of today’s floor plans are opening kitchens back up to adjacent areas such as the living and dining rooms. This is creating a great room concept that blurs the lines of where food preparation, dining and socializing occur.
The placement of the kitchen as the center of entertaining, earlier considered the hearth of the home, has been a driving factor for kitchen design innovation. Appliances that are multi-functional, efficient, and user-friendly have resulted. Refrigerators, range hoods, cabinets and even dishwashers now offer built-in audio, HD video and internet options allowing people to watch cooking shows while they prepare dishes to make they get all the steps right. 
For example, Pandigital’s “kitchen technology center” The Kitchen Technology Center (KTC) is a 15-inch flat screen that functions serves as a digital recipe collection, an HDTV, a digital photo frame, and wireless internet capabilities. This capability has been particularly appreciated in the kitchens of those that enjoy group or social, a form of entertainment propelled by the advent of reality cooking shows. From this countertop tablet, you can stream cooking videos while preparing the same meal in the comfort of your own home. Further, these entertainment and information systems have been cited as playing a large role in creating efficiencies that allow busy family members or house mates to come into the kitchen, sit down, and eat a meal.
The technologies available on the market today appear to be just the crux as much headway has been made in recent years with the ability to use smart phones for web based controllers in regards to the integrated kitchen systems. Innovations surrounding the smart phone will allow the connected home to come to fruition and this appears to be the way forward in kitchen innovation.
Engineers and software developers have been working on technology to make the “kitchen of tomorrow” the ultimate “one stop shop” and hub of the modern American home. With PDAs and tablets as the frontrunners in one’s ability to control every aspect of our lives on the go, these handheld electronic wonder machines are leading the way in technological advances.
Italian kitchen design firm Toncelli has come up with an all in one kitchen that is even equipped with an interactive workbench-type counter that has Samsung touch-screen technology, with internet connection, built in. Set to debut at Europe’s 2012 Eurocucina, Toncelli elaborates on their concept in a press-release advertisement: “Prisma is the result of a new collaboration between Experientia and Toncelli. In Prisma, Toncelli’s minimalist design is expressed in an essential language, integrated with exclusive and revolutionary technology. The “prismatic” composition of the surfaces transmits an immediate sense of weightlessness, emphasized by the lights that illuminate the pieces from below. It is modular, configurable according to individual needs and tastes. The invisible handles, including the vertical version for the refrigerator, are exclusive to the Prisma.”1
A product still in the development phase by Electrolux has centered its entire concept on the everyday activities that we increasingly love to combine. Cooking, eating, socializing – everyday activities that we increasingly love to combine. The Rendez-Vous is an interactive table that allows the whole ‘Meal Process’ to take place simultaneously. By simply setting enables any electrical appliance, like a mobile phone or food blender, it on the surface. Heat is cleverly directed to that area on the table alone and nowhere else.2
Underneath the table’s surface are modular drawers and fittings, fully customizable that are built to house other kitchen appliances, like an oven or refrigerator. And there’s even a little extra help available from a virtual chef to guide individuals through the more tricky recipes.
Combing these functions into one spot will result in a great deal of space savings; something that will become of primary importance as our living areas continue to get smaller and more compact. This increasing level of urbanization requires new thought on the way space, energy and environments are used. This has driven Electrolux to look even further out into the future and they have developed a brand new design concept fondly named “Heart of the Home”. It is an intelligent cooking surface able to user needs. “Heart of the Home” would have the ability to analyze ingredients placed on its surface, and present its user with feasible recipes that may result from those ingredients. Once a recipe is decided on the user would no longer need to bring out the pots and pans. Rather, they would simply use their hand to determine how large the cooking area should be and then press against the malleable material until the desire depth of the cooking surface is created. After that it is simply a touch of a finger to set the temperature and time. This would highly limit cleanup as well, leaving plenty of time for socializing and entertaining. This would be a far cry from the days of the 1950’s hostess.
In thinking about how this could be taken even further, the smart phone once again enters the picture. Imagine holding a dinner party where with a simple touch of a button the “Heart of the Home” could form itself into a preset depth determined earlier while the host or hostess enjoys a cocktail down the hall and begin to cook the ingredients set out earlier. Though ideas surrounding the “Heart of the Home” are highly conceptual, the technology necessary to create Rendez-Vous is available. And if U.N. projections ring true, 74 percent of the world population will live in cities by 2050.3 Downsizing the kitchen and having a multipurpose living space will become critical and likely drive the demand required for the Rendez-Vous to be an actuality. A new dawn for the kitchen may be just around the corner.
Though the required square footage for the kitchen as we know it today may decline, entertainment technology is certainly not expected to within the kitchen. It has the potential to become a kitchen staple with audio, internet, and appliance controls literally at your fingertips either on your PDA, tablet, or even your kitchen counter. These innovations are the way of the future. It will be exciting to see how it forever changes the way we interact with family and friends in the kitchen.