British Kitchens in the 1920s

Guild member Phil Lyon has been looking at the domestic kitchen, that practical workshop for everyday tasks, is often seen as the emotional hub of the household. Not only are meals prepared and skills learnt, it is a place for reflection and renewal. It is a technical space and a social construction: the product of long evolution. However, it went through a period of great innovation one hundred years ago.

Some sections of British society started to take an interest in a space that had been largely disregarded. The ‘servant problem’ and suburban house building were factors in that changed perspective. At the other extreme, kitchens for poor households were cramped, unhealthy environments urgently calling for better building design – if only for public health reasons. By reference to period newspaper archives, the nature of those problems, and ideas to solve them, can be demonstrated in some detail.

Although there was a narrative of efficiency in the 1920s, and bold design ideas from Europe and the United States, the actual progress of British kitchens was piecemeal and conflicted by fuel-choice issues as well as the question of how to equip the space for personal use. Embedded in the ebb and flow of practical ideas was the more nuanced question of how we see the kitchen’s role in the household. Innovations that survived this period of experimentation were to form the basis of kitchen development and household expectations in subsequent decades.

This piece of domestic history, with some surprising links to the fuel choice questions of our own age, can be seen for free under open access arrangements:

You can read Phil’s article Uncertain progress: British kitchens in the 1920s in Home Cultures, 17(3), 205-226.