Trivia: Architecture, Evolution
and the Birth of the Western Kitchen
1929 Hotpoint Range at the studio of timothyj.
Displayed in our studio front window (left) is a 1929 Hotpoint Automatic Electric range Model RA 77, known as The Electric Maid for Modern Mothers. Movies from the forty’s and fifties and early TV shows like Father Knows Best where husbands worked outside the home and wives reared children, cleaned the home, cooked the food and sat down to eat after serving everyone else first. Clearly times have changed but more than you might think.
Today 63% of couples without children are both in the workforce, compared to 58% of couples with children. Things have changed in the kitchen as well. According to Askmen.com 57% of men are now cooking regularly. Enjoying its increasing popularity, cooking has become The New Family Sport. But just how new is it?
At timothyj we understand that the location of food preparation is the natural heart, the radial center of a home; the intersection of our family’s multi-generational lifestyles.
Early Multi-generational Dwellings 19 Million Years Ago
Mankind’s earliest cave dwellings were multi-family shelters from the elements where a natural division of labor by need, ability and learned skills existed; those not able to hunt, due to age or size, gathered wood/water or prepared skins and/or food. A distinct benefit of living in such close proximity around the hearth is that everyone within eye-shot had access to learn these skills, at least until being called to the hunt. Working backwards it’s easy to understand how there can be no abilities, learned skills or division of labor without shelter from the elements, warmth at night and food for energy. Those humans who didn’t learn to live in cooperative groups, share shelter, heat, food, skills and labor simply did not survive long enough to reproduce.
To better understand just how unique timothj’s approach to design is from standard designers of today we need only take a brief glance at the role of food preparation cross-culturally and throughout history and identify the birth of “the kitchen.”
Simply put, we have evolved as cooperative creatures living in multi-family and/or multi-generational communities, bonding and sharing information around food preparation. Such has been the case not only as mankind evolved but cross-culturally, be it in ancient or modern times.
The lifestyle of some historically nomadic and/or hunter-gatherer cultures, like the Inuit were never in a position to be influenced by architecture of Kings or Lords.
Consider man’s earliest cave dwellings to modern day huts or igloos. From modern day hunter-gatherer villages in far-inland Kenya to tribes still existing in the central tropics of Brazil; fishing villages on beaches at the edges of the pacific islands to moss covered European stone dwellings of the Celt’s on the cliff’s at edge of the Atlantic (be they ancient or modern day).
What is common to all these dwellings that is not common to the modern day home of the West, is the concept of “the kitchen.” But how did we get from always communing, learning, bonding and interacting around the fire/hearth of the home to finding our family’s or extended family’s post-industrial age mother’s isolated off to the side in “the kitchen?”
The age of European Kings where servants (small village sized multi-generational families) often slept in great hallways or kitchens.
Food preparation has been central to our way of life throughout history. But with the advent of currency even a common man could go to market and multiply his wealth with such efficiency that some could no longer manage their estates. Just as kings and lords before him, the common man was now able to pay help to come in from the fields and work in his home. Being socially unacceptable for home owners and servants to mingle (at least in public), housing servants “out of sight” became an architectural necessity.Servants working inside were now doing such chores as cleaning, laundry, child rearing as well as cooking – such activities proceeding round the clock – food preparation as well as these other activities would now have to be literally cordoned off from the rest of home. Thus the Western concept of “the kitchen” (a natural part of the servant’s quarters) was born.
So easy to imagine a muti-generational family unit sitting around this hearth leaning of traditional food preparation, hearing stories and lessons of fishing and hunting from grandfather while older siblings learn to take care of the younger ones from the older generations.
The separation between servants and lords of the manor inside the home began primarily as a matter of social propriety later being adopted as the standard model for wealthy living, a symbol of social status. By all appearances, the more rooms one had, the more servants one must also be able to afford. And for the next few hundred years the activities of family and extended-family (bonding and education) were to become splintered off into the hands of servants and divided literally by walls.
From the stone-age up to the renaissance period in England, extended family units across the globe communed throughout the day around the very same fire where food was prepared.
Once villages with markets emerged where currency could regularly be traded-up for goods and services even the common man could accumulate enough wealth to build a home for his family (even if it was built on the land and taxed by a king or lord). The wealthiest of commoners built in the tradition of the kings, and build they did until building in the tradition of the lords’ manors (i.e., single family homes with various rooms) became common itself. This very same tradition exists today and can be seen in the origins of the name for a style of architecture known as the English Tudor.
In the tradition of European kings wealthy land owners are now building their own homes which to communicate status must have servants. But without great halls in which to house the servants the kitchens often become one and the same as the servants quarters.
“Tudor: 1779, from Welsh surname Tewdwr, used of the line of Eng. sovereigns from Henry VII to Elizabeth I, descended from Owen Tudor, who married Catherine, widowed queen of Henry V. Applied from 1815 to a style of architecture prevalent during these reigns. The name is the Welsh form of Theodore”. — from: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Tudor
So with the exception of mankind’s very recent history in the West, what we now know today as the “the kitchen” where food is prepared two to three times a day in a separate room was once the hub of all activities in the home, around the clock. Interesting trivia indeed, of what use is this information and to whom?
Mother has everything but interaction with her family in the back corner of her home, it’s her 1950′s kitchen.
The origins of the kitchen in modern day architecture and the accidental changes it brought to modern family life are very much of interest to timothyj kitchen and bath, inc., a leading conceptual design company located right here in Milwaukee Wisconsin (one of only two Certified Master Kitchen and Bath remodelers in the state). The people at timothyj understand that the model of the kitchen where servants are segregated off to a corner of the home often still resides in our Western Architecture, even though in most cases the servants are long gone and it’s our mothers and their mothers before them that suffer the accidental results.
A kitchen designed by timothyj to bring cooking, food preparation and mom back to the center of the family unit and activities.
This “habit of thought” according to the designers at timothyj, often results in the area designated for the kitchen as being insufficiently defined to begin construction. The earlier the experienced designer is brought into the process the more likely the space will fit the needs, desires and lifestyle of the client and their entire family
We sincerely look forward to your thoughts, feedback and contributions to the conversation. –Kent McKelvey
Visit our international photo gallery of kitchens through the ages.
Tim Benkowski (CMKBD©) & Kent McKelvey
Owners, timothyj kitchen & bath, inc.
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225 South Second Street Milwaukee WI 53204