In the ’30s and ’40s it was fashionable to compress the kitchen into a spacesaving, antiseptic cubicle… Since the war, whole houses are virtually being designed around colorful, labor-saving kitchens that can also serve as all-purpose living space for the family.
– “Kitchen Comeback,” Time magazine, 1954
“America represents the fat kitchen, and Europe a very lean kitchen indeed.” This was how German émigré Heinrich Hauser, writing in 1945, described his perception of a “spiritual chasm” opening up between the two. While rationing and postwar reconstruction maintained a hold on Europe, the United States’ economy experienced a significant boom, and rapidly came to dominate the world market in consumer goods. Building on wartime research into new materials, technologies, and ergonomics, large companies such as General Electric, Westinghouse, Hotpoint, and Rubbermaid shaped powerful corporate identities, reinforced by the new form of television advertisements.
A climate of abundance and an emphasis on consumer choice, embraced during the Cold War as hallmarks of capitalism and democracy, put a new spin on the now well-established rhetoric of efficiency and anti-drudgery in design for the kitchen. Members of “the affluent society” (as economist John Kenneth Galbraith referred to them at the time) could acquire for their kitchens—increasingly suburban and spacious—an ever-expanding range of products, available from the mid-1950s in new shopping malls.
Due in part to American aid administered through the Marshall Plan, design powers soon reemerged in Europe. In Germany, Braun developed a cohesive family of appliances revered internationally for their superior functionality and pure form. Italy became a hotbed of innovative design in plastics, and in the 1960s designers like Virgilio Forchiassin reimagined the kitchen in mobile and miniaturized forms.
By the 1970s alternative design pushed beyond new materials and forms to consider social and environmental concerns. In Sweden, companies like Ergonomi Design shaped kitchen tools for the elderly and people with disabilities. And dedicated designers like Adnan Tarcici supported sustainable energy with impressively simple solar cookers. Contemporary designers continue to creatively address the enormous range of materials, functions, possibilities, and problems that reside in the modern kitchen.