This is What the Average American Kitchen Looked Like Over the Years
Through the years, American homes have changed drastically. But the room that’s seen the biggest transition over the past century has been the kitchen. Style, color, function, and more have been modernized over the decades.
Starting with the 1920s, we picked out three elements of kitchens from each decade that made the design, style, or function stay true to that decade. From steel cabinets to kitchen islands to the invention of the dishwasher, here’s every change we’ve seen in American kitchens over the years.
1920s: Two types of stoves
Nearly 100 years ago, cooking was a bit different than it is now. Some kitchens had cast iron stoves while others had gas stoves. Gas was originally thought to be too expensive to burn as fuel, but by the early 1900s, companies had figured out how to incorporate gas into people’s homes in an affordable way. Gas stoves quickly became more popular than the massive cast-iron ones used before.
Next: This was hard to find in most kitchens.
1920s: Little counter space
The 1920s was a time long before kitchen islands were popular. Most kitchens had just the basics — and little counter space. Today, it would be tough watch an episode of House Hunters and not hear the buyers complain about a lack of counter space in a small kitchen. But in the 1920s, most appliances were “standing appliances,” which means they weren’t built into ample cabinets and countertops the way they are today.
Next: Commercial kitchen also looked very different.
1920s: Commercial kitchens had a different look
Commercial kitchens looked very different from what you would see today. Those small, electric dishwashers in commercial kitchens differ greatly from the bulky, hand-operated ones from 100 years ago. And dishwashers in homes were unheard of. Everything was washed by hand — today, most people would consider no dishwasher to be a deal breaker in their home search.
Next: The 1930s saw a little more modernization with style.
1930s: Handwashing was still the method
In-home dishwashers won’t be around for at least another 30 years. So in the 1930s, handwashing was still the way to go. The décor of a 1930s kitchen is also worth mentioning. The iconic black and white tiles were a staple in most kitchens. Any kind of small-block tile was very popular during this time — especially black and white. It was found in kitchens most often between the 1930s and 1940s.
Next: Stoves were a little more modern.
1930s: Smaller stoves
Stoves were still a bit wider than they are today, but they did start to downsize by the 1930s. Electric ranges had become more popular, but most stoves were still standing instead of surrounded by countertops the way you’d see them today. Some more upscale kitchens had them placed between counters, but it wasn’t too common.
Next: The whole kitchen layout was dysfunctional.
1930s: Kitchen layouts were very different
The layout of a 1930s kitchen was far different than it is today. The stand-alone appliances seemed to cut off access to certain parts of the kitchen. In the photo above, the stove seems very far away from the sink, and the cabinets are separate from everything else. This kitchen was likely in a more upscale home, though, given the gas stove and the kitchen’s size.
Next: Appliances didn’t change too much in the 1940s.
1940s: No drastic changes in appliances
The oven in the photo above appears quite similar from the one in the previous 1930s kitchen. One noticeable difference between the 1940s and today is the way the door opens. Most ovens today open by pulling them down; in the early to mid 20th century, the door opened out. The oven is above the stove, the same way it is today, although some ovens today are built into the wall with separate stove tops on the counter.
Next: Kitchen islands hadn’t gained popularity yet.
1940s: Prep space was a small table
Kitchen islands still were unheard of in the 1940s. But the earliest form of an “island” was the prep table women used to get the day’s meals ready. In the photo above, a woman can be seen sitting at a table in the middle of her kitchen getting ingredients ready to bake. The kitchen had very basic counter space and cabinets, too.
Next: The size of the refrigerator is noticeably different.
1940s: Refrigerators had a very different look
Refrigerators weren’t even found in homes before the early 1900s. But by the 1940s, refrigerators had begun to take shape. Separate freezer compartments were invented, and the refrigerator formed the basic shape it has today. However, notice the 1940s refrigerator above: It’s very small. Today, most refrigerators are taller than the average person, but years ago, they were much more compact.
Next: By the 1950s, the kitchen had begun to take shape.
1950s: The typical kitchen setup became more familiar
By the 1950s, kitchens had begun to take the familiar shape they have today. Stoves found their alcove between counters, and people realized they preferred their sink below the window. Kitchen islands still were not popular, and most kitchens were an L-shape with cabinets along the walls and empty space in the center of the tiled (or linoleum) floors. Kitchens still did not have dishwashers.
Next: Steel cabinets made an appearance in the ’50s.
1950s: Steel cabinets were in
Steel cabinets were popular in the 1950s. They were typically cream colored but sometimes a pale yellow. The United States had ramped up its steel production during World War II, and after the war, there was plenty of steel to go around. It made its way into the American home in the form of kitchen cabinets. Steel cabinets had been around for a few decades but didn’t gain popularity until the 1950s.
Next: The oven changed shape in the 50s.
1950s: Wall ovens became more popular
The 1950s saw the modern kitchen take shape, and it also saw the wall oven gain popularity. Wall ovens are separated from the stove top, which was an uncommon style in earlier decades. The stove top was typically placed on the counters and the oven was built into the wall. Today, this style is still sometimes used in modern kitchens.
Next: The dishwasher stepped on the scene in the 1960s.
1960s: The dishwasher makes its first appearance
The in-home automatic dishwasher was first introduced in 1960. However, it was an expensive appliance to have in the home. It wasn’t until the late 1960s and into the early 1970s that it became a standard kitchen appliance. This photo above, which recreated the “Mad Men” kitchen, has one of the first dishwashers on the right side of the far cabinets.
Next: The steel cabinets were gone by the 60s.
1960s: The end of the steel cabinets
The steel cabinets saw their way out at the end of the 1950s. In almost any 1960s kitchen photo you find, wood cabinets are the replacement. This other angle of the “Mad Men” kitchen setup shows just how much wood (and tacky wallpaper) the kitchen had. That plaid wallpaper was also an example of the types of popular kitchen patterns during that decade.
Next: The decor of a kitchen table was very specific to the 1960s.
1960s: The kitchen table
This table setup shows a typical 1960s kitchen table. Ash trays were common at the table. There had been a major uptick in lung cancer diagnoses between the 1950s and 1960s since many Americans had developed a love for smoking cigarettes. It wasn’t uncommon to see an ash tray sitting at the table. Tacky table cloths and old-fashioned cookbooks were also two common additions to any 1960s kitchen.
Next: The microwave was born in the 1970s.
1970s: The microwave gets its start
The 1970s saw the addition of the microwave, on the left side of this 1970s kitchen. Today, you probably wonder how anyone could have ever lived without it, but it’s a relatively modern invention. Amana and General Electric were the first two companies to mass produce the microwave. They marketed it for its quick ability to cook a hot dog in just 20 seconds and a potato in 4 minutes.
Next: Homeowners started to customize their kitchens during this decade.
1970s: The start of kitchen customization
Wonky patterns and bright colors became popular in the 1970s. Kitchens began to be more tailored to the homeowners rather than all looking relatively the same. In previous decades, kitchens were pretty much the same in every home. But by the 1970s, homeowners began to dive into modern patterns and colors to give their kitchens more personality.
Next: Kitchen designs got very ‘creative’ in the 70s.
1970s: Bizarre designs
The above photo is another example of a wild kitchen design from the 1970s. This kitchen was designed to replicate some of the dizzying patterns people would put in their homes during that decade. Again, personalization was important in those days. Pastels were often a color family of choice — right down to the floors.
Next: The kitchen island gained popularity in the 1980s.
1980s: The kitchen island becomes popular
The 1980s kitchen got a major facelift with the kitchen island. While kitchen islands weren’t technically “invented” during the 1980s, this is when they finally became more popular. Up until now, the kitchen had mostly been a place for women to do the cooking. But after the 1970s, women and men began taking a more equal role in the household. The kitchen then became a hangout spot, or a spot where multiple family members would help cook, rather than just a one-woman show.
Next: These countertops were big in the 80s.
1980s: Tile counters were a thing
Tile counters made an appearance in the 1980s. The tile look started out in the late 1970s but went well into the 1980s. It was a solid, durable surface and could handle more wear and tear than the Formica laminate counters that had been popular in earlier decades. The tile kitchen counters overflowed into bathrooms, too, and soon, tile was in both the kitchens and bathrooms of most homes.
Next: 1980s cabinets were pretty hideous.
1980s: Laminate cabinets
We’re not sure what people were thinking with this look in the 1980s. The laminate and wood cabinets, typically an off-white laminate with oak trim, became extremely popular during this decade. It was inspired by a European look, but this is one design that probably should have stayed in Europe. Thankfully, they trend didn’t last too long.
Next: By the 1990s, appliances looked fairly modern.
1990s: White appliances
By the 1990s, appliances had begun to appear in just one solid color. Appliances were typically white, but it was also common to see an all-black look, too. The black-and-white color combo appliances were mostly from the 1980s; by the mid 1990s, appliance companies had realized the one-color appliance was the way to go. Solid-color appliances were found in homes all the way into the 2000s, and they’re actually still a budget-friendly option today.
Next: Wood cabinets came back in style.
1990s: Light wood cabinets
The 1990s was the decade of the light wood cabinets. Most people had oak cabinets in their homes for cleaner look than the awful, two-toned laminate and wood cabinets from a decade earlier. Wood cabinets have been a staple in kitchens for years at this point, although there were a few decades (1950s and 1980s, specifically) where buyers strayed from this. But even today, wood is the cabinet material of choice.
Next: Cabinet hardware was out.
1990s: No cabinet door handles
An interesting trend from the 1990s was the lack of cabinet hardware. Apparently, people felt that if they had lighter wood cabinets, it was taboo to have handles on them. We’re not sure why the no-handle look came into play, but it’s possible that people thought it gave the kitchen a cleaner style. Regardless, we’re glad it’s over.
Next: The 2000s saw bigger homes — and bigger kitchens.
2000s: The kitchen gets bigger
The size of kitchens grew in the 2000s with the “McMansion” home design. Smaller homes that took on the look of elegant mansions meant there was enough room to expand the kitchen. And now that it was the turn of the century, the kitchen was more of a hangout spot than ever. Guests would stand in the kitchen at parties, and kids would hang out in the kitchen after school. With a bigger home design came more kitchen square footage.
Next: Stainless steel becomes popular in America’s homes.
2000s: Stainless steel appliances
The 2000s saw the uprising of stainless steel appliances. The stainless steel look was a more modern, higher-end look than the black or white appliances that came before it. It became the newest thing in kitchen remodels. Pretty soon, anyone who remodeled a kitchen was replacing their old appliances with this new stainless steel, and stainless steel appliances became a must-have on home buyers’ lists.
Next: The appearance of this countertop set the stage for kitchens in the 21st century.
2000s: Granite countertops become popular
Gone are the days of laminate and tile on countertops. Say hello to granite, the newest high-end countertop on the market. Just a few years earlier, granite was nearly unheard of. But it stepped onto the scene as the next best thing besides marble (and hardly anybody had marble countertops in their homes). It skyrocketed to popularity and is still the most common countertop choice today.
Next: Those wood-colored cabinets disappeared in the 2010s.
2010s: White cabinets
Over the past decade, white cabinets have been the color of choice. This cabinet color is featured on almost any HGTV remodel show you watch today. Chip and Joanna, Drew and Jonathan — anyone who knows anything about what’s “in” is putting white cabinets in their homes. The white color is sleek and clean, and the modern cabinets easily differentiate the updated homes from the outdated ones.
Next: A new countertop is gaining popularity.
2010s: Quartz countertops
Granite is still the most popular choice, but over the last few years, quartz has become another common countertop choice. Quartz countertops are more environmentally friendly than granite, and they’re easier to maintain. Plus, since quartz is technically manmade and granite is not, the counters are also very customizable. They’re usually a little more expensive than granite counters, but depending on the homeowner, they could be a wiser investment.
Next: You’ve never seen appliances like this before.
2010s: Smart appliances
Yes, there really are appliances that connect to your WiFi. In the 21st century, there is almost nothing that doesn’t connect to WiFi. You can now control your stove temperature, refrigerator, and more with the touch of a button on your smart phone. Some appliances even have voice commands and can tell you when you’re missing certain items, such as eggs or milk. What will appliances look like in another decade? Time will tell, but it seems like they can’t get much smarter.
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