Twenty-first-century home decor trends have turned the kitchen into one of the most important rooms in the house. The kitchen is a status symbol, a hallmark of the character and personality of a home. But what really makes a kitchen special? In the simplest terms, the kitchen is just a utilitarian space for food storage and preparation, and arguably one of the most dangerous rooms in a home. In fact, the kitchen used to be one of the least desirable places to spend time: just a smelly, overheated workspace filled with house servantry and highly likely to catch fire—definitely not a place to introduce a guest to your home. But what changed all of this? Decor! More specifically, cookware: pots, pans, china, cutlery, and appliances—the ultimate display of cultural craftsmanship.
After the introduction of closed range stoves and the popularization of the refrigerator, the kitchen was less, well, ugly, and by the 1930s, interior design movements began to transform this utilitarian space into a hub of home life. Women who left the house to work in the day and later returned to cook for their families began to want better-designed kitchens, both visually and ergonomically. The newly practical, organized space was fit to share with guests, hence a room worthy of decorating. Movements toward home cooking turned the kitchen into a social space, and compact appliances coupled with fitted cabinetry allowed for openness and expansion of the room itself.
What better way is there to decorate a barren counter than by displaying china or hanging a pot or pan? Cookware was the simplest way to set an aesthetic in the kitchen, but the metalware used was completely utilitarian. Plain old copper and steel just weren’t going to cut it. Color, and lots of it, was the next big thing. Cookware designed to complement bold wallpapers and colored appliances came to beautify the kitchen. This postwar trend, made possible by technological development, really raised the quality of living assigned to a home, and ultimately defined the status of those who lived within it.
By the 1980s, the open display of cookware was one of the most important elements of the “trophy kitchen.” Pop-culture icons like Julia Child and Martha Stewart, who have had an outsize influence on American home design trends, pinpointed the kitchen as the hub of home life. Kitchen decor remains a status symbol in today’s culture as well: How large or small the space is, how organized or messy, and the value of the cookware displayed all contribute to the design caliber of a home. Kitchens are representations of culture, and the things we outfit them with represent the technological movements that we live through.
Even with less home cooking happening today (global pandemic notwithstanding), the kitchen has yet to lose its status or importance in the home. Current design trends focus less on organizational practicality and visual appeal and more on materiality. People are asking themselves: What are the things in my kitchen made of? Popularized by sustainability movements and the changing culture around design-focused lifestyles, texture, composition, and color are now coming together to create the ultimate American trophy kitchen. There’s a new movement to make the kitchen more ecologically friendly, which means reassessing the materials we use for food storage, preparation, and eating. It might be that cookware makes a return to its utilitarian roots—where form follows function and design follows suit—but nonetheless, the desire for aestheticism in the kitchen remains a multigenerational one.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest