1921 Kitchen Design and Layout

Source: Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews

A 1921 home economics textbook offered these recommendations for a well-designed kitchen:

The Kitchen

The kitchen is a workshop where food is cared for, prepared, cooked and served. 

The most convenient kitchen has windows or doors on two sides of the room, so that when these are open, a cross draft of air clears the room of smoke and odors. 

The kitchen should be the cleanest room in the house. The most sanitary kitchen has walls finished in materials that can be washed, such as oil paint or tile. Walls and woodwork should be light in color, because this makes the room seem more cheerful and also makes it easy to “see the dirt”, which then may be removed. 

Hard-wood floors may be oiled or waxed and used without covering. Soft-wood floors may be covered with linoleum or cork carpet, or they may be painted. 

The kitchen should have built-in cupboards with plenty of space for utensils. 

The sink, with a drain board at each end, should be set where there is plenty of light, and it should be open underneath to avoid the dampness often found in sink cupboards. 

The kitchen may have a built-in ice-box arranged to be iced from the outside of the house. Some kitchens have a dumb waiter to the basement. Kitchen floorplan

If an ironing-board is used in the kitchen, it may be built into a space in the wall, being let down when needed and folded back when not in use. 

Other devices sometimes found in the kitchen are: a closet for cleaning implements, such as broom, bucket and brushes; a cupboard for the leaves of the dining-table, and a built-in kitchen cabinet. There may also be a pantry. 

Each housekeeper decides for herself how to make the kitchen a well arranged and equipped workshop. In a well arranged kitchen the equipment is so placed the housekeeper can use it without losing time or wasting strength in walking. 

Elementary Home Economics (1921) by Mary Lockwood Matthews

45 thoughts on “1921 Kitchen Design and Layout

  1. I have the most dysfunctional kitchen. It is so small and has no counter space. About one-third of the cabinets are inaccessible. My sister always comments on how amazed she is with the volume of food that comes out of that dinky space. Hey, a mama has to make do, right? In the summer, I would often prep my food or knead my bread outside on the table. A little tricky with a foot of snow on the ground!

    1. It’s sounds like you’ve somehow figured out how to make a dysfunctional kitchen functional. What fun to prep food outside during the summer!

      1. Possibly because it was an ice-box and not gas or electric powered. That way, if there was melting mess, it would be on the porch not the kitchen. If it was gas-powered (my mom’s first one was) it would make noise and heat the kitchen. Electricity in homes was not common until the late 20s and 30s in many places, particularly rural. The iceman would bring the ice block, and like leaving milk on the doorstep, it was likely quicker and easier to deposit on the porch. That would be my best guess.

            1. The main idea especially around canning is the need for proximity to an outside kitchen: and depending on what you do there’d be an outdoor (66k) burner, BBQ, prep surface and of course socialization amenities.

  2. Ha! No “work triangle” here! And four doors, one leading outside so there is a path directly through the work space. We forget, though, that there were probably a lot more of the food prep steps done on the porch away from the head of the stove, and saving mess (potato peelings, chicken feathers and innards) on that cork floor.

  3. This is wonderful. I don’t think I’d like this floorplan with the refrigerator outside, but if it came with a wheel-tray [lazy Susan?] into the dining room I might change my mind.

  4. There is never anything said about the view from the kitchen sink then or now. I remember when my window overlooked a parking lot and other times I had no window at all. I think planning a kitchen with pleasant view can make for good cooking.

  5. There was a dumb waiter in the kitchen of one place we lived when I was little. It no longer worked. I remember it’s where we stored our buckets of Halloween candy.

    1. It was a lot of work to prepare and cook food a hundred years ago – though they probably thought that it was easy with new inventions like refrigerators and gas stoves.

  6. We talk a lot more about counter space these days, don’t we?

    When we were first married in 1960, we lived on the fourth floor in an apartment house in Queens. There was a dumbwaiter in the kitchen, and it was used for garbage. At least once a day the super would remove the garbage in the basement. We also used the dumbwaiter to hoist groceries up after going to the supermarket. There was no elevator, so using the dumbwaiter was much easier than carrying heavy things up the stairs.

  7. My first apartment had a stove, refrigerator, and sink. All the storage was in a closet – food and dishes and all the pots and pans were kept there. There was one cabinet under the sink for cleaning items and one cabinet to the side of the sink that didn’t have any shelves. I think originally that was where they stored the root vegetables… I couldn’t function without my counter space!!

  8. Interesting perspective – somethings change and others stay practical, like having a cupboard to store your table leaves! The last sentence is still definitely applicable today!

  9. There’s something to be said for the well arranged kitchen. My table leaves are stored in the basement – I can’t remember the last time we used them.

  10. The kitchen should have built-in cupboards with plenty of space for utensils. Yeah, it needs to have utensils in it since cupboards usually on the kitchen side so this is where we put all the kitchen utensils.

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