For This Brief Period, Kitchens Went Totally Wild

For This Brief Period, Kitchens Went Totally Wild

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Nancy Mitchell
Sep 2, 2017

The kitchen many not seem like the most adventurous room in the home (especially today as we gravitate toward all white kitchens), but there was a time when it was bold and daring. You see little hints of this in the '60s, but it's in the '70s that the kitchen started to get really wild.

In the '50s, there was a great deal of emphasis placed on modernizing older kitchens, and having the newest gadgets and the most up-to-date appliances, but by the '70s, a "modern" kitchen had become a standard feature of almost every American home, and the focus shifted to creating kitchens to suit the individual homeowner and reflect their unique style. Color had always been a popular element in the kitchen, but' 70s kitchens were an absolute riot of color and pattern, the like of which has never been seen before or since.

(Image credit: Ultraswank)

Above, this '70s kitchen from Ultraswank features a harvest yellow and wood palette that's very typical of the '70s. That little box behind the sink — reminiscent of the "cabinettes" of the '50s and '60s — is a sweet little addition.

(Image credit: Interiors for Today)

This kitchen above from Interiors for Today (1975) features laminate cabinets and countertops, and a very bold tile backsplash. I can see the aged, 2017 version of this kitchen figuring as a 'before' photo, but in its original incarnation, I think it's quite charming. (Note the pull-out workspace at the left, which is suitable for prepping foods while sitting down — very unusual for a modern kitchen.)

(Image credit: Expo Lounge)

Wood replaced steel as the material of choice for cabinets in the 1960s, and in the '70s wood cabinets (often with laminate countertops) dominated. Above is a 1970s kitchen spotted on Expo Lounge. The treatment above the cabinets, with the bunched fabric, must've been a nightmare to dust.

(Image credit: Architectural Digest)

This kitchen above is from Architectural Digest (via The Atomic House), so it probably doesn't represent an average home — but it shows what was considered the height of style in 1970. The avocado appliances are very '70s, and the cane-printed wallpaper is a nice touch."

At the same time, the open kitchen was on the rise, reflecting new, more casual lifestyles, so the kitchen, rather than being a space all its own, needed to harmonize with the rest of the house. So when wild, groovy '70s styles gave way to comparatively more restrained '80s styles, the kitchen needed to change, too. '80s kitchens ditched the harvest gold and avocado appliances that were so popular in '70s kitchens, but kept the wood cabinets. There was a whole, whole lot of wood.

This kitchen (from Better Homes and Gardens Kitchen Planning & Decorating, 1972) may not be your typical '70s kitchen, but it does typify the kind of wild exuberance that defined design in that decade. I still find those almond-colored appliances supremely terrible, but that light fixture is perfect.

Brown appliances, wood, cabinets, and yellow tile cabinets sound like a terrible combination, but yet there's still something kind of delightful about this leafy kitchen from Planning & Remodeling Kitchens (1979). The light coming in above the kitchen sink is breathtaking — and if those pants are coming back, can this kitchen be far behind?

I actually quite like this one. This 1970s kitchen from Making Nice in the Midwest is country-ish, but still feels a bit restrained. And the stainless steel appliances and patterned tile backsplash are very now.

Another change to the kitchen in the '80s was its size. The kitchen had already started to grow during the '60s and '70s, but some '80s kitchens were truly huge. The move from a small kitchen, closed off from the rest of the home (with perhaps a small table and chairs for casual dining) to a large kitchen, open to the dining area and the living room, reflected a change in the role of the kitchen, and a change in American life.

(Image credit: Remodeling with Tile)

This kitchen, from Sunset Books' Remodeling with Tile (1981), has the wood cabinets and laminate countertops typical of the '70s, but in a very restrained color palette. Terra cotta tile floors were a popular choice for '80s kitchens.

This '80s kitchen, from The New York Times Book of Home Design and Decoration (1981), is an early example of the industrial style kitchens that are still popular today. (Mirrored backsplashes and tile countertops, however, have fallen a little out of favor.)

From The Los Angeles Times California Home Book (1982), here's another kitchen where wood cabinets feature prominently. The profusion of baskets is a nice touch.

In the '50s and before, when women were expected to spend their time caring for their home and children, the kitchen was a workroom, a place strictly for cooking. Kitchen designs focused on efficiency, with the aim of helping women get tasks done as quickly as possible. For this, a small kitchen was actually desirable. But as more women began to work outside the home, things changed. Ellen M. Plante, writing in The American Kitchen: 1700 to the Present, says:

Returning home from a hard day at work, middle-class women during the 1960s and '70s had to prepare dinner, perhaps do a load of wash, tend to young children or catch up with their school-age children and husband. A kitchen isolated from the rest of the house by walls and doors wasn't conducive to family togetherness and the kitchen itself was usually too small to accommodate children at play without them being underfoot.

So the larger, more open kitchen became desirable, and floor plans shifted accordingly. (The expectation that the woman will do all the cooking, in addition to working outside the home, may seem a bit quaint to us now — but larger kitchens are also ideal for more than one cook working together.)

(Image credit: Planning & Remodeling Kitchens & Bathrooms)

This kitchen, from Sunset Books' Planning & Remodeling Kitchens & Bathrooms (1988), has a lot of very '80s features: wood cabinets, tile countertops, a terra cotta tile floor. It also demonstrates how very large some '80s kitchens had become.

This kitchen from The Los Angeles Times California Home Book (1982) is evidence that, even in the 80s, the country kitchen look was still going strong (albeit with a bit of an 80s twist).

These newly massive '80s kitchens saw the return of the pantry, which had been replaced decades before by built-in cabinets. Another newcomer was the microwave, which was introduced in the '70s but didn't see widespread adoption until the 1980s. Its addition to the kitchen made making meals faster and easier than ever, a boon to busy and hungry folks everywhere.

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