A Quick History of How Ergonomic Kitchens Came to Be

Take a quick peek at your kitchen drawers and cupboards. Chances are that you’ll find a spectacular array of kitchen instruments. Mashers, peelers, slicers and crushers are only the beginning of it. There are also those heavy white elephants that promised a healthier, more authentic culinary experience, such as the juicer, bread maker, and the pasta maker. The list goes on.

Can you imagine a life without kitchen? I can’t. Aside from being my second best favourite space aside from my game room, the kitchen is one part of my house that I always update with the latest culinary tools available in the market, whether it be a gigantic new dishwasher or a small knife-mate such as a chopping board from Harris Scarfe. Sometimes with so many kitchen tools, it is difficult keeping the house tidy.

But how did kitchen come to be? I did a bit of digging. And here’s what I found.

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Where it began

I can’t imagine that people prepare food before the advent of electricity, yet that’s how people live for the most of human history. So as bad as your kitchen may look, at least you have lights to see how dingy your kitchen is. Cooking back then must’ve really sucked.

One early proponent of applying workable design to kitchen spaces was from Catharine Beecher, a prominent American 19th century champion of women’s learning. She wrote a book titled A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School. The book had a graphical kitchen plan based on something that resembled ergonomics: workspaces of the same height, windows for light, consistent shelving, a clearly-delineated storage spaces for commonly used kitchen items.

This concept is widely accepted, but not every family has that capacity to install modern kitchen like hers from scratch. The decades following Beecher’s treatise, people still have jumble of stand alone furniture pieces like simple cabinets, tubs of water and a table where the family eats.

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The Turn of the Century

In 1869, Catharine Beecher’s intelligent kitchen design was renowned by being reprinted in The American Woman’s Home, co-written with sister Harriet Beecher Stowe, however, it didn’t see mass uptake. A kitchen design based on ergonomics wasn’t really big for the American people back then.

But when the cities began using electricity en masse throughout the early 20th century, kitchens changed – forever.

The laying of gas pipes in the turn of the century completely changed the kitchen experience. It allowed lighting via heat and lamp on demand, as well as danger of occasional drastic explosion that could level an entire floor, which gives neighbours nightmare.

The seeds of modern kitchen design began to sprout in the late 1800s. It was advanced by two Frederics in America and continued by a Friedmir in Germany. Christine McGaffey, later married and was named Christine Frederick followed through and read Beecher’s treaties with great zeal and interest.

In 1892 Friedemir Poggenpohl set up a small furniture company and showroom. His aim is ‘to improve the kitchen.’ And ever since, generations of Poggenpohl designers and craftsmen have done exactly that. Others followed.

The kitchen as we know today is an indispensable element of contemporary life.


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