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Kitchen Furniture, Then and Now

Updated on December 29, 2010

Retro Kitchen

By Firexbrat via Flickr
By Firexbrat via Flickr
Kitchen furniture tends to be a pretty popular item these days, people are always looking for ways to enhance their kitchens.  You can just about get by without any furniture in your kitchen, unless its a dining table.  Most kitchens today have built in cabinets, and a kitchen island, these will do the job of storage and work surface, although kitchen storage furniture is probably the second most popular thing people are looking for in the kitchen.  

All these built ins in our modern kitchen are a fairly recent invention, basically the turn of the 20th century.  All your working area and storage came from your kitchen furniture.  Tables were not just used to eat on but to prepare, in fact in the middle ages up until the late 18th century and even beyond, the kitchen was often located away from the rest of the house because it was hot, smokey and dirty.   So people didn’t eat in the place where there food was prepared, unless they were from more wealthy families and could afford stoves that could vent the smoke outside.  Cooking by fire was common until the 20th century and even continued well into the 20th century.  My grandmother in the 70’s would still use her woodburning stove to heat food during the winter when her electric stove had all the burners full.

Country Kitchen Funiture

Pie Safe, by Mirandala via Flickr
Pie Safe, by Mirandala via Flickr

There are several pieces of rustic kitchen furniture that don’t really exist in their original form because they’ve been replaced by technology. The pie safe is a good example, this was a cabinet with metal sheets in the doors that had holes punched in them. Air could circulate through them but the flies were kept out. With refrigerators we don’t really need such a thing. Kitchen pantry furniture has always been popular though, people in the middle ages needed places to store stuff, we need places to store stuff.

Of course we’ve created pieces that we use but weren’t necessary years ago, kitchen nook furniture, is one example, because people didn’t eat in the kitchen until the mid 1800s, kitchen island furniture is another example, because kitchen islands didn’t exist, people would just put a table in the middle of the room if they needed extra workspace. We also have all sort of rolling kitchen tables and work spaces, people needed those sorts of things years ago, but they probably didn’t have the rolling capability, they just pulled their big oak table wherever they needed it. We can still find some of the antique kitchen furniture people used from years ago, because people were just like today - in that we all need places to put stuff. Of course now we’ve got a lot more appliances and gadgets then they had years ago, so we probably need even more space.  They wouldn't need kitchen furniture for a small kitchen - small kitchens didn't exist, they were all big back then.

You can use your furniture to change the look of your kitchen too, retro kitchen furniture has always been popular, the chrome and glass look is popular today, in fact it’s sometimes hard to distinguish contemporary kitchen furniture from some of the retro furniture. The country kitchen look is also popular, it’s probably not historically accurate, because country kitchens of the past used heavy oak furniture that was designed to take a beating. Often the kitchen was heated by a fireplace or woodburning stove so things were smokey and soot covered.

We’re lucky today that our kitchens are clean, bright and actually clean, unlike our ancestors, still we need some of the things they did to prepare our food. Just goes to show the more things change the more they stay the same.


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