Thursday, July 28, 2011

28 July 1957 “The Efficiency of a Small 1950’s Kitchen”

Since I have been dealing with Real Estate agents (after trying to decide if we should use an agency rather than sell our home ourselves) I have begun to appreciate the smaller kitchen more. The current trend is a large kitchen which is rather ironic when one considers how little cooking actually goes on in there. It is a sort of ‘keeping up with the Jones’’ sort of room, I suppose.

Our kitchen is very tiny. It was redone sometime in the 1950s in an add-on or ‘ell’ (as we call them here in New England) that was added on sometime at the end of the 1800’s. The room is a tiny square that serves as laundry room, kitchen, mudroom, pantry and scullery all in one. I do quite a bit of cooking. All of the food is prepared here, as is our laundry done and food and extra items stored. So, I appreciate a well organized and thought out small kitchen.

victoriankitchen Before the 1950’s and at the end of the Victorian age, Kitchens were larger. Homes, for the most part, were larger as well. This was because there had to be room for extended family (Grandmother and unmarried aunts filled attic rooms where servants once slept) and of course that had to be room for the live in, as they were more a staple of middle class homes then. There needed to be room to cook and feed large families (Often breakfast being eat in the kitchen). Even farmhouses needed their large kitchens to feed big families and various farm hands.

50shouse When the 1950’s post war building boom began in the USA, small homes just made sense. Old farm land was converted to ‘neighborhoods’ and endless little homes popped up with one bath 2-3 bedrooms and a small square little kitchen. This served families of up to 5 children quite comfortably. And, without the added help of servants and extended family, all the cooking fell to the homemaker. So, she needed as much efficiency as possible. Luckily she had all the new gadgets her ancestors did not have, dishwashers, laundry machines, mixers and blenders, electric stoves and griddles. Of course, she was now utterly alone in there as great aunt Ermintrude, whom never married, and Grandma weren’t there to help peel the potatoes, wash the pots and pans and generally ‘help out’.

Thus, small was the norm and efficiency had to be born out of basic builder’s ideas of how a kitchen should be made up. Builders were, for the most part, men. And for the most part in the 1950’s men saw very little of the kitchen, so you can imagine the homemaker often had to ‘tut tut’ her new found kitchen and set about making it more workable.

I have shared these ideas and re-dos of old smaller 50’s kitchens before. I really liked this one. I thought it ingenious how they slanted a counter into the space to give more working area.


kitchenremodel1 Here is the synopsis of what they did.

kitchenremodel3 The before lay out, again a builder’s square kitchen. kitchenremodel4 And the wonderful redo, which makes so much sense and really almost adds a fifth wall by slanting the counter with the sink.kitchenremodel5 I also love the color scheme. We have talked before how the pale blue, or pale green, butter yellow or canary yellow and pinks with reds were the primary colors of 1950’s decorating schemes. Here we see the three used in harmony to the point that the curtains are a representation of these colors in three solid swaths of material. A great way to tie it all in.

kitchenremodel6 Here are various ingenious storage solutions. I also love the small separate ice box and freezer, so much smarter than these monstrosities foisted upon us today in the guise of a refrigerator.kitchenremodel7 A place for everything…kitchenremodel8 and everything in its place.

This article also includes wonderful detailed building instructions that I would like to share on tomorrows post. Would you like to see that? How do you feel about smaller kitchens? If you are in an apartment or small home and haven’t the room for larger, these are wonderful solutions. And remember, bigger is not always better, in many respects.

Happy Homemaking.


  1. Since I am the one who cooks the majority of the meals in the kitchen I have to say that my preference would be for a medium to large kitchen. However, I feel that it's the most important part of a home, used for gathering. One could in fact, argue that since large gatherings of families occur only a few times of year you wouldn't need a large kitchen for a family of average size. The only time I notice a problem is during the holidays. I think the key is organization and layout. I have a pretty good size kitchen. The problem I believe with my own is the layout and the organization. The existing tools that make cabinets better storage really weren't used in my kitchen. I have an L with an island flanking it. My DH and I but ends literally when he is trying to help me from time to time.


  2. Yes, everybody has different needs depending on the size of one's family and circle of friends, and what kind of cooking they like to do.

    For me, I am not a great lover of cooking -- just cook for my small family and try to cook well.

    I prefer a small kitchen because of this (we are not kitchen congregators -- I get distracted with people in the kitchen and forget important things, like the shortening in the biscuits!) and also to save steps.

    We have a modern double-wide mobile home and the kitchen is HUGE. It is not well-thought-out, though, and the island gets in the way of the work triangle (made up of sink, stove and refrigerator) and I walked around and around it like a dog on a chain! I said to my husband, "Either this island goes or I go!"

    The kitchen is also too long. I'd waste steps walking from one side to the other retrieving spoons and mixing bowls and ingredients for dishes I was preparing, stepping over the open door of the dishwasher each time (usually barking my shins on it).

    I solved this problem by pushing the island up against the cabinets and making an peninsula out of it, so it is still useful for preparing foods on it or putting things on it that have to be ferried to the refrigerator. Yes, I did lose a cabinet and drawer, but I store things I don't commonly use in them.

    I also put a set of knives/forks/spoons on each side of the kitchen, and stuff like salt and pepper and sugar, etc., measuring cups and spoons, and bowls. So, now I have "2" kitchens -- my baking kitchen and my cooking-on-the-stove kitchen, sort of.

    A cheap fix. But, I long for a smaller kitchen where everything is in reach and I don't have to waste so many steps.

  3. I would love to see some pictures posted of your kitchen. It must be pure luxury to have a kitchen where you only have to prepare meals for 2 people and no children.

  4. I love reading about the smaller homes, including kitchen, of the 50's. Our house was built int he late 50's and we have a teeny kitchen. No room for a breakfast table even. But there is enough counter space for preparing meals, and even a dishwasher. I really enjoy it. The only time I don't is when DH or others are in and out.. THe door to the backyard is in the kitchen as well so it can get crowded if more than 1 person is in there. But seeing as how we will be here for at least a few years I enjoy making it work. :)

  5. anon-I will try to remember to post pictures of my small kitchen. It way take very few photos to do so! It is rather nice to have to cook for just the two of us with no 'picky eaters'. And when I do entertain, cooking for more at a dinner party is then a treat. But, I think having a child in the kitchen could and would be a joy, just to share the skills and fun with them. Sometimes an empty house with a full cookie jar can also be a sad thing, if you know what I mean.
    Carey-it is true with many people a larger kitchen is nice. If I had my choice, a larger kitchen would be nice, but the more I work in my kitchen the nicer it is to have things close. So my dream kitchen would probably be a series of rooms, small space for cooking, a baking area, a good walk in pantry and a separate scullery with sink/dishwasher and washer dryer and of course a nice mud room to keep the dirt out of the main part. I have come to appreciate the efficiency of less space, however.
    Mary-that sounds a good solution to me, well thought out. Perhaps you could add some walls to one side of your large kitchen and make a pantry and an eat in bar off that and the other half be the smaller better planned kitchen?

  6. My kitchen seems to have been thrown together as a last grouping of building materials. Over the past few years my husband and I have freecycled a 1950's sink and countertop and a beautiful 1960's dual oven. We pulled out the fly by and are putting together a simple kitchen. Less is far better than more.

    Like you I am in the kitchen and I cook every single day 3 meals a day so I need efficient as well as visually pleasing to me and my family.

  7. The sink is right in the middle of the kitchen, so that probably wouldn't work. We have a dinette down one end that is pretty nice. I love the little pullman kitchens you sometimes see in small homes or apartments. I love a good work triangle arrangement.

  8. My house was built in 1915 and we have a formal dining room, and a working kitchen. I would never dream of having my family or guests dine in the kitchen. The kitchen is small and functional, and the dining room is grand. I could not imagine being invited to someones home and being served in the kitchen, Even worse are those houses where they knock down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room and have one large service/dining area. I relish the standards and traditions of yesteryear, and eschew the casual informality of contemporary society.

    Mrs. Clement Hughes

  9. This is wonderful information! My family and I are moving into the second story of a 100-year-old farmhouse, and need to cram a kitchen/dining room/living room into one small room -- a mini-great room, if you will. I was just reading in This Old House Today about how angling a bathtub can increase space in a bathroom, too. Susan

  10. Brilliant kitchen design! My own kitchen is an "L" shape, except for the strange counter space across the room. My stove and sink are nearly side by side and makes it quite convenient. However storage was not thought out very well.

  11. We recently remodled our kitchen to make it more functional. Our home was built in 1929 and the kitchen is a nice size but after years of remodeling it wasn't working for us. More than one builder wanted to take down the wall between the kitchen and dining room. They were politely refused the job. I absolutely hate hanging out in the kitchen with guests when there's no reason to be in it. It's like inviting them to come watch me do laundry in our unfinished basement!

    I love my new kitchen but if we had a different base to work with (and more money) I would have sacrificed some of it's size for a large walk in pantry, taken down the upper cabinets, and made a breakfast nook for the kitchen table. I think of the kitchen as a space to prepare food. Anything else is secondary. No one needs to take off their soccer cleats in it or refill water guns at the sink. Of course these activites and many others take place in my kitchen but there's no reason to have remodeled it, as many builders now do, to make it a "hub". If my children want to enjoy baking cookies with me then they are welcome come on in. But all muddy hands need to be washed in the powder room!! ("and please put your socks away!!". Lol)

    Thanks for sharing these pictures. I like the concept of changing the basic builders kitchen but I prefer my sink under the window so I can see the kids in the yard. It seems like I spend more time with the dishes than I do at the stove.

  12. I’ve never understood the very large kitchens, which have come to Denmark too. I love my small kitchen, I can move around easily and everything has its own space. I also have a larder which helps a lot with the space/storing problems. A small kitchen is also more cosy.

    Wishing you both a nice weekend. :)

    PS: I’ve posted a comment (twice) on 12 July but it needs acceptance.

  13. I love a small kitchen. The only time it has ever been a problem is when my little boy was a toddler and underfoot. I'm also not a fan of having people in the kitchen while I'm cooking. I can't focus and inevitably make mistakes.

    We've had kitchen suites(kitchen, breakfast nook, family room) in a couple of homes and neither my husband or myself liked those -- too much visible mess, noise, and sometimes unpleasant smells.

  14. I would love an all pink or aqua kitchen! And a retro range would be just peachy! I guess you learn to live with what you have..... a lot of wonderful meal and tons of canning were done in those small kitchens.

    Today's McMansion's and Nouveau Rich kitchens are just tooooo big for my taste!

  15. My home was built in the 1960s I believe, and I feel like my kitchen is rather spacious. It is an eat in kitchen with the dining area at the end near the laundry and back door. The actual kitchen area is a galley style and well organized. I also have 2 pantries!! One is a walk in. This is perfect for us as I typically fill it each summer with home canned tomatoes, cucumber pickles, and pickled jalapenos. Compared to some of the trendier homes, though, my very efficient kitchen would seem small. It is just the right size for us!
    (I would love to see pictures of your kitchen, too!)

  16. I do like the overall layout of our kitchen, but wish we would have made it just another 12 to 18 inches wider. The basic layout works very well for me. It's an "L" shape, with a work island parallel to the longer leg of the "L". I have to say, that island is the workhorse of my kitchen! I like a tighter work triangle (sink, fridge, stove/oven) which allows me to get a lot of cooking done without traipsing all over the place. So, some things work well for me, other things I think could be improved upon.


  17. Your kitchen may be small... but be thankful that it's not outside! Here in Thailand that is the norm! Our kitchen has been enclosed now,YEAH! and I am pretty happy, but it is very long, totally not laid out right and I have no cupboards but at least I don't have to go outside anymore!


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