Nordic Modernity and Nostalgia

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course

Description of Activity

Old Kitchens of the Nations: Modernity, nostalgia and the future of the kitchen in the twentieth century

The history of the kitchen has tended to be presented as a modernist linear narrative of progress towards a technologically driven fitted kitchen from which nostalgia for kitchens of the past has been banished. The period from 1890 to 1926 has been typically seen as one of proto-modernism. 1926 is heralded as a break with the past and the year in which the kitchen became truly modern because it was when Viennese architect Margarete Schutte-Lihotzky developed the Frankfurt Kitchen. At a compact 65 square feet and driven by function it became the symbol of modern kitchen planning. However, as historian Sara Pennell has pointed out, there has been an assumption that the kitchen before Frankfurt was, in her words, ‘a technological, architectural and design black hole’. This Whiggish account presents the history of the kitchen as one of linear progress via the rational Frankfurt kitchen to today’s open plan dining-kitchen as the ‘heart of the home’. It also neglects geographical and regional contexts and ignores differences in fuel availability, technology, dietary patterns, domestic labour, housing, social class, family and gendered relations.

In this lecture I present an alternative history of the kitchen, one that emphasises continuities and nostalgia for the kitchens of the past. I consider the icon of the rural or farmhouse kitchen, looking at both its survival and invention as a kitchen informed by tradition and notions of homeliness. Focusing on a case study of another example from 1926 - ‘Old Kitchens of the Nations’, a feature at the popular Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition in London – I examine two tendencies in the design of the modern kitchen: homely kitchen living room and efficient laboratory space. I argue that there were multiple versions of the modern kitchen that co-existed throughout the twentieth century. In the lived experience of the kitchen, modernity and nostalgia co-existed without contradiction. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the ways in which users of kitchens resisted the attempts by architects, designers and social reformers to present the kitchen as the domain of the modern housewife, working in the kitchen unaided and isolated from other family members who took their meals in a separate room.

Thus I aim to redress the history of the kitchen, disrupting the familiar linear narrative of technological by reconsidering the enduring nostalgia for the traditional kitchen. By placing nostalgia within the context of the kitchen as a living space in the home, I challenge the notion of the kitchen as a laboratory in the house.
Period11 Oct 201812 Oct 2018
Event typeWorkshop
LocationTampere, FinlandShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Modernity
  • Nostalgia
  • Kitchen
  • design history
  • history of design