How kitchens have evolved to become the heart of the home

How kitchens have evolved to become the heart of the home

Today’s kitchens are a far cry from the humble ‘kombuis’ of yester-year – from the look and feel to the cutting-edge technology on the market, kitchens have evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of their inhabitants and have even come to be considered the centre of family activity in the home. 

Designs that reflect the times

While kitchens designed in the 1920s to 1940s were often more practical than stylish, the post-war reconstruction period of the 1950s brought significant change to this space.  People began taking notice of the aesthetics of their kitchens and introducing more colour to the space. Once the 1960s arrived, kitchens started to look a lot more vibrant, as bolder and brighter colours were increasingly used. Home owners started to think about the overall design of their kitchens too, choosing trendier fittings and built-in features that spoke to their own personal style and preference, using the kitchen as a canvas for expressing one’s personal style. 

A shared space

It wasn't long before the Living-Dining-Kitchen (LDK) or ‘open’ concept kitchen emerged – a kitchen seamlessly integrated with the dining room and living room. This change came at a time when people started to favour smaller living spaces.  Because of this, common living areas grew in popularity, encouraging families to spend more time socialising together than before, and as a result the kitchen became part of the centre of the home. 

Family dynamic shifts 

As women began taking on more working roles outside of the home to make ends meet, the traditional family dynamic shifted, and tasks like cleaning, cooking and caring for the family became more of a collaborative effort within the family. This also played a part in turning the kitchen from a “woman’s place” into a family space, where everyone pitched in to ensure the home ran smoothly. 

According to a LIXIL survey², 45% of husbands cook or clean the dishes every weekday or at least 3-4 times per week. More than half answered that they do so every weekend or 2-3 times a month on days off. Men in their 20s showed the highest level of participation, with 70% of respondents indicating that they cooked or cleaned the kitchen every weekday or at least three times per week. Demonstrating a generation gap, men in their 50s contributed the least to household chores. 

For the love of cooking

Attitudes towards cooking have also changed. A highly creative art, cooking is now seen less as "something that has to be done" and increasingly as "a pastime to be enjoyed." When asked why they participated in housework, the most common response from husbands was that they were in a 'dual-income couple' (30%), but approximately one in five said they did it because they 'enjoyed cooking'. 

Open kitchens designed to reflect lifestyles

"Kitchens are where people cross paths, come together, and where communication starts," says architect Osamu Nishida. In one of Nishida's designs, the kitchen is located at the centre of the home and visible from all areas. With two stoves and two sinks, it is designed so the family can easily talk to each other. In another example, the kitchen is placed between the living and dining rooms, where people's paths regularly intersect. 

For architect Yuko Nagayama, "not every part of an open kitchen has to be openly visible." Nagayama's designs intentionally conceal the food preparation space from view while still retaining an open feel of the kitchen. The stove is located against the wall to allow greater concentration on the more dangerous stages of cooking, while the sink faces the dining table in an open design featuring an island. 

"As a child, cleaning up after meals with my mother gave us time to talk properly," says Nagayama. While preparing food, Nagayama's mother would focus on the task at hand, but after the meal, cleaning up allowed her to take a breath and ask her daughter about her day at school. Placing the sink so it faces the dining area enables conversation while washing dishes or preparing food. 

Amid growing demand for kitchen-centered lifestyles, LIXIL launched its Richelle PLAT system kitchen, which provides a place to gather for meals without the need for a dining table. By integrating the table with the kitchen counter, Richelle PLAT enables dishes to be set or cleared away easily, making housework more efficient but also creating a new space to cook, eat, work, and relax. By doing away with the need for a large dining table, this design also allows more space for the living room.

The future kitchen will reflect who we are

Kitchens have become a place to enjoy cooking, sharing a meal family, and enjoying quality time and conversation with people we care about. Kitchen will undoubtedly continue to change with the times. 

According to Sadao Tsuchiya, a housing and lifestyle researcher, this new environment has transformed cooking form mere housework to centre-stage entertainment and today’s kitchens serve as an attractive backdrop for sharing one’s moments.  

“People have come to place emphasis on what they eat, how they live, and with whom.  The ideal kitchen differs for every person, but I believe it will continue to gain greater importance as a place for communication with family and friends, “concludes Tsuchiya.   

1 White Paper on Gender Equality 2016 
(http://www.gender.go.jp/about_danjo/whitepaper/h28/gaiyou/html/honpen/b1_s03.html)
2 Kitchen Kaigi Survey "Husband Participation in Housework (4th) – State of various domestic chores" 
(http://kitchen-kaigi.jp/column/55)