By W. Lin & A. Rosenwach


Kitchen furniture of the past can be examined as far back to when cavemen were making food at a fire, perhaps sitting on rocks but more or less sitting on the ground. This was a suitable lifestyle for our ancestors, hunters and gatherers, who simply lived from meal to meal. However as we evolved, the necessity and design of kitchen furniture has also evolved according to our standards.


An early example of an ancient kitchen can be examined at the house interior of Skara Brae (c.3100-2600 BCE) located in the Orkney Islands of Scotland. In the room, a large rectangular hearth with a stone seat at one end is situated at the center of the space. Stone tanks lined with clay to make them watertight are partly sunk in the floor, which perhaps served to store live bait for these fisherman people. On the back wall there are post-and-lintel shelving, a Neolithic version of modern day kitchen cabinetry and shelving.


Clearly the furniture found in this kitchen was designed out of the materials familiar and available to these Neolithic people, made purely for function. However, furniture found in the kitchen is not very prevalent in ancient history primarily because the ability to store food was limited, as people would obtain ingredients on as-need bases. Fast forward to the turn of the 20th century, kitchen furniture transformed with the Industrial Revolution. Kitchen furniture manufacturers like Hoosier were very popular as they functioned so that utensils, cooking tools and ingredients were easily disclosed and accessible in one unit of drawers and cabinets.


In fact, with the development of steel metal, the material was not only used for the manufacturing of cars, but also kitchen furniture. Steel is sturdy, and during these early years, steel was modern – the most popular choice for post-WWII American homes. In addition, steel allowed kitchen cabinetry to keep out pests. Sanitation became a growing concern especially with no vaccines for polio, and the flu epidemic of 1914-1918 that killed millions of people worldwide, mice and rats would not be able to get through the steel to contaminate food. With the advancement of steel, total kitchen design of high-end homes became of greater interest with custom cabinetry from the 1930s. Companies like Dietrich designed kitchen cabinetry to have a more streamlined look. However unlike today, the refrigerator and the stove remained separate entities from the built-in components.


During the first half of the 20th century, the popular color for kitchen furniture was white. After the war, the American home became larger and more customized, and kitchen furniture became more colorful. In fact the use of materials began to vary between wood and steel.


Today, the overall quality of life in America has improved significantly in almost every way.  As such, more people are placing value on the style of their kitchen furniture, which ultimately represents themselves and their lifestyle. Therefore, kitchen furniture features a huge variety of styles that may be the product of the current era or the continuity of the past time. These styles might be difficult to really categorized, however, styles exist. People tend to express their individual taste and personalities because they have certain connection to a specific look of kitchen furniture. Most kitchen furniture can be generally classified as modern or traditional with many subcategories in between.

However, today’s kitchen is still basically viewed as a working, operational space. Modular concept is still the way to go even though not all the styles of kitchen furniture are applied. The evolution of the ornamentation is transforming to a kind of functional, new beauty, which we can see in today’s kitchen cabinetry.


Simultaneously, simplicity is also incorporated in kitchen design, allowing for consolidation and disclosure of stored items. While today’s kitchen furniture design aims for functional beauty, consolidation and disclosure, it must also be efficient. The efficient use of space becomes the other design focus, such s rotating circular shelves in the corner cabinet. Today, American kitchens make use of modular cabinets and preformed counters furniture found in kitchens include everything from stools, dining chairs, tables, to built-in pieces such as counters, islands, and cabinetry.


These pieces are specified according to the inhabitant’s lifestyle and even the square footage of the space, especially when considering modern day real estate conditions and the bad economy.

Finally, the effects of the world’s depressed economy and the world of sustainability have a great impact on kitchen furniture design. Sustainability is a huge issue as it effects everything from materials to the amount of materials used, all influencing the design. At the same time the durability of these materials, and ultimately the furniture are important since kitchen’s today are not just for cooking, but multi-functional (ie. entertaining, eating, reading, etc.) Today’s kitchen evolution starts from big space design to medium size design, and finally evolving to a compact but super efficient design, which would be the future focus of kitchen furniture.



In the future, people probably won’t call furniture in the kitchen “furniture” per se, but rather a “unit” imbedded within artificial intelligence. The concept of the kitchen island, for example has increasingly become more multi-functional. In the past, this unit was merely a surface counter and base cabinet shelving and storage. Today, we see manufacturers such as Boffi making units that comprise of everything one would need in a kitchen. In fact, Boffi has a unit called “Monoblock,” which they deem as a kitchen in itself. The compact unit features a dining table, food preparation area, sink, oven, and cook top in a single island, like the “K2” by Norman Wangen.


The issue of ventilation comes up, however the other product K11 solves the issue by having built-in hoods.


The shape of these units will be minimal, simple geometric shapes. These simple shapes are appropriate for futuristic designs since they can be mass-produced. In terms of a kitchen design, these shapes are also easy to clean, made of materials that are durable. In fact, designers of the 20th century such as Joe Colombo have already come up with such efficient designs like his “Minikitchen” from 1966, manufactured by Boffi .


He took the idea of the modular kitchen to another level, incorporating everything one would find in a home in his “Total Furnishing Unit” from 1971-72: the TV, closets, book storage, and even beds and a bathroom all in one single unit.


The idea of customization would be available from a few choices, such as counter heights and color/finishes. As Steve Jobs said in Business Week 2008 “It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”

Companies like General Electric have been coming up with futuristic kitchen design concepts comprising of units that not only make food preparation more efficient, but enhance people’s lifestyles further.

GE’s future concept for kitchen.  Video Courtesy of GE/YouTube.

Like Apple’s iPod, everything can be accessible from a single touch screen (news, phone, internet, etc.) as well as food preparation. This unit would not only ultimately change the way human beings live, but it would completely redefine the term “kitchen.” This forces us to ask ourselves, what is a kitchen? As defined in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, a kitchen is a place (as a room) with cooking facilities ( A separate room for food preparation would no longer be necessary. Indeed we would still need space for food storage, but not as much. Just looking at the future of food packaging, it is getting smaller and more compact, and people are growing their own food, so excessive storage space will be unnecessary. Will domestic interiors in the future require a separate space solely for food and cooking? Or will we be able to incorporate these futuristic units within other rooms?


Beecher, Mary Anne, Promoting the “Unit Idea”: Manufactured Kitchen Cabinets (1900-1950). APT Bulletin, Vol. 32, No. 2/3 (2001), pp. 27-37

“Compact Mini Loft Apartment in Prague Has an Oven in the Stairs | Inhabitat – Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building.” Inhabitat. Web. 19 Apr. 2012. <;.

“Kitchen Cabinet Styles.” Kitchen Design Ideas. Web. 22 Apr. 2012.

“Product Guides.” Steel Kitchen Cabinets a History, Design and FAQ. Web. 20 Apr. 2012.

Stokstad, Marilyn, Art History, Vol. 1 – Second Edition. Prentice Hall, NY, 2003.


  3. Beecher, Mary Anne, Promoting the “Unit Idea”: Manufactured Kitchen Cabinets (1900-1950). APT Bulletin, Vol. 32, No. 2/3 (2001), pp. 27-37
  4. “Product Guides.” Steel Kitchen Cabinets a History, Design and FAQ. Web. 20 Apr. 2012.