The evolution of the kitchen
The development of the kitchen has been intricately and
intrinsically linked with the development of the cooking range or
stove. Until the 18th century, open fire was the sole means of
heating food, and the architecture of the kitchen reflected this.
When technical advances brought new ways to heat food in the 18th
and 19th centuries, architects took advantage of newly-gained
flexibility to bring fundamental changes to the kitchen. Water on
tap only became gradually available during industrialization;
before, water had to be collected from the nearest well and heated
in the kitchen.
The houses in Ancient Greece were commonly of the atrium-type: the
rooms were arranged around a central courtyard. In many such homes,
a covered but otherwise open patio served as the kitchen. Homes of
the wealthy had the kitchen as a separate room, usually next to a
bathroom (so that both rooms could be heated by the kitchen fire),
both rooms being accessible from the court. In such houses, there
was often a separate small storage room in the back of the kitchen
used for storing food and kitchen utensils.
In the Roman Empire, common folk in cities often had no kitchen of
their own; they did their cooking in large public kitchens. Some had
small mobile bronze stoves, on which a fire could be lit for
cooking. Wealthy Romans had relatively well-equipped kitchens. In a
Roman villa, the kitchen was typically integrated into the main
building as a separate room, set apart for practical reasons of
smoke and sociological reasons of the kitchen being operated by
slaves. The fireplace was typically on the floor, placed at a
wall--sometimes raised a little bit--such that one had to kneel to
cook. There were no chimneys.
Early medieval European longhouses had an open fire under the
highest point of the building. The "kitchen area" was between the
entrance and the fireplace. In place of a chimney, these early
buildings had a hole in the roof through which some of the smoke
could escape. Besides cooking, the fire also served as a source of
heat and light to the single-room building. A similar design can be
found in the Iroquois longhouses of North America.
In the larger homesteads of European nobles, the kitchen was
sometimes in a separate sunken floor building to keep the main
building, which served social and official purposes, free from
The first known stoves in Japan date from about the same time. The
earliest findings are from the Kofun period (3rd to 6th century).
These stoves, called kamado, were typically made of clay and mortar;
they were fired with wood or charcoal through a hole in the front
and had a hole in the top, into which a pot could be hanged by its
rim. This type of stove remained in use for centuries to come, with
only minor modifications. Like in Europe, the wealthier homes had a
separate building which served for cooking. A kind of open fire pit
fired with charcoal, called irori, remained in use as the secondary
stove in most homes until the Edo period (17th to 19th century). A
kamado was used to cook the staple food, for instance rice, while
irori served both to cook side dishes and as a heat source.
The kitchen remained largely unaffected by architectural advances
throughout the middle ages; open fire remained the only method of
heating food. European medieval kitchens were dark, smokey, and
sooty places, whence their name "smoke kitchen". In European
medieval cities around the 10th to 12th centuries, the kitchen still
used an open fire hearth in the middle of the room. In wealthy
homes, the ground floor was often used as a stable while the kitchen
was located on the floor above, like the bedroom and the hall. In
castles and monasteries, the living and working areas were
separated; the kitchen was moved to a separate building, and thus
couldn't serve anymore to heat the living rooms. In Japanese homes,
the kitchen started to become a separate room within the main
building at that time.
With the advent of the chimney, the hearth moved from the center of
the room to one wall, and the first brick-and-mortar hearths were
built. The fire was lit on top of the construction; a vault
underneath served to store wood. Pots made of iron, bronze, or
copper started to replace the pottery used earlier. The temperature
was controlled by hanging the pot higher or lower over the fire, or
placing it on a trivet or directly on the hot ashes.
Leonardo da Vinci invented an automated system for a rotating spit
for spit-roasting: a propeller in the chimney made the spit turn all
by itself. This kind of system was widely used in wealthier homes.
Using open fire for cooking (and heating) was risky; fires
devastating whole cities occurred frequently.
Beginning in the late middle ages, kitchens in Europe lost their
home-heating function even more and were increasingly moved from the
living area into a separate room. The living room was now heated by
tiled stoves, operated from the kitchen, which offered the huge
advantage of not filling the room with smoke. Freed from smoke and
dirt, the living room thus began to serve as an area for social
functions and increasingly became a showcase for the owner's wealth
and was sometimes prestigiously furnished. In the upper classes,
cooking and the kitchen were the domain of the servants, and the
kitchen was set apart from the living rooms, sometimes even far from
the dining room. Poorer homes often did not have a separate kitchen
yet; they kept the one-room arrangement where all activities took
place, or at the most had the kitchen in the entrance hall.
The medieval smoke kitchen remained common, especially in rural
farmhouses and generally in poorer homes, until much later. In a few
European farmhouses, the smoke kitchen was in regular use until the
middle of the 20th century. These houses often had no chimney, but
only a smoke hood above the fireplace, made of wood and covered with
clay, and used to smoke meat. The smoke then rose more or less
freely, warming the upstairs rooms and protecting the woodwork from
In the Colonial American kitchen, the same distinction as for the
medieval European kitchen is visible. The early settlers in the
north often had no separate kitchen; a fireplace in a corner of the
cabin served as the kitchen space. Later, the kitchen did become a
separate room, but remained within the building.
The development in the southern states was quite different, but
then, so were the climate and sociological conditions. In southern
estates, the kitchen was often relegated to an outhouse, separated
from the mansion, for much of the same reasons as in the feudal
kitchen in medieval Europe: the kitchen was operated by slaves, and
their working place had to be separated from the living area of the
masters by the social standards of the time. In addition, the area's
warm climate made operating a kitchen quite unpleasant, especially
in the summer.
Completely separated "summer kitchens" also developed on larger
farms further north to avoid that the main house was heated by the
preparation of the meals for the harvest workers or tasks like