Between the wars, social changes and new ideas on food preparation combined to create a radically different style of kitchen.
World War 1 created the kitchen styles of the 1930s. With millions of men at the Front, women were drafted into offices and factories, and when the fighting was over it soon became clear that they would not meekly return to domestic service or be content with a life of labour-intensive drudgery looking after their own homes.
This was especially true of young, middle-class women, raised with - and often by - servants and now having to take charge of their own lives.
Middle-class families were getting smaller, and the trend was towards building more compact houses. The kitchen in a new suburban semi was part of the home, not tucked away in the basement. Everything had to be bright, clean and compact. Linoleum, tiles and wipe-clean surfaces such as Vitrolite provided new hygiene standards, while two tall cupboards - the broom cupboard and a pantry with tiled shelves - were often built in.
SAVING LABOUR KITCHENS
Some labour-saving devices, notably washing machines and refrigerators, remained luxury items until after World War 2, but gas and electric cookers ousted the kitchen range, electric kettles were popular and an enormous range of small gadgets, some ingenious and others just gimmicky, appeared.
One totally new piece of furniture was developed. The kitchen cabinet provided a storage cupboard, pantry and, in the form of a pull-down or pull-out board, a work surface. In Britain it was pioneered by Len Cooklin, whose small craft business was incorporated as Hygena Ltd in 1925. By this time, Heal's and other manufacturers were also making cabinets, vying to produce the perfect balance between space-saving and labour-saving. Their products dominated suburban kitchens until the 1960s, when they were gradually eased out by fitted kitchens.
The kitchen cabinet exemplified the new kitchen, with its bright colours, wipe-clean surfaces and well thought-out storage space.
You'll usually find pre-war kitchen furniture only in second-hand furniture stores, junk shops and small, provincial auctions. It is by no means antique and hasn't as yet attracted any great collectors' market. As a result, anyone who's prepared to look hard will be able to re create a 1930s kitchen very cheaply.
Some smaller cupboards, tables and chairs will go reasonably well with today's fitted kitchens, but most kitchen furniture from between the wars needs to be put in with other, similar pieces. This is particularly true of larger items, such as kitchen cabinets.
A PRACTICAL CHOICE
Today, kitchen cabinets are more likely to be found doubling as storage units in a garden shed than inside the house, but they are still practical pieces for small kitchens. Many have features,
such as stained or etched glass and chrome fittings, that are unmistakably art deco in
inspiration. Some of the better cabinets were made in dark stained oak or pine, but the majority were painted plywood. In the 193Os, cabinets made entirely of aluminium appeared on the scene.
Though some kitchen cabinets of the 1930s are very basic in appearance, many of them display types of decoration and uses of colour typical of the period. Painted items are generally two-tone. Originally, one of the colours was white, or more often cream, and the other was typically a pastel; blue and green were the favourite choices.
The kitchen cabinet, a bridge between the Victorian and Edwardian dresser and the modern fitted kitchen, was popular through to the 1960s, but has a
design redolent of the 1930s. Frosted or stained glass doors were typical of the period, and the sunburst was a popular design. The colour schemes were also 1930s in inspiration. The case was always painted to contrast with the doors and drawer fronts, with plastic handles matching the main cabinet. Some cabinets had a central door that dropped down to make a work top.