Kitchens

Kitchens typically had electric stoves and plenty of built-in storage, but were relatively small by today’s standards.

Original details

The first state houses were designed with a dining alcove in the living room, and the kitchen was used for food preparation and cooking only. However, an early survey indicated that tenants preferred to have cooking and dining spaces combined, so floor plans were soon adapted.

Kitchens were modern for their time, with built-in sink bench units and storage and an electric range.

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Appliances

Electric stoves were readily available from the 1940s and were popular for their clean heat, ease of use and perceived safety – an aspect that was heavily promoted by manufacturers. Gas stoves were only a viable option where reticulated gas was available. By the 1960s, most houses were equipped with electric stoves.

In the 1960s kitchens provided space for bigger appliances such as refrigerator/freezers and – in some cases – the introduction of wall ovens, waste disposal units and electric dishwashers.

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Cupboards and benches

Most kitchens had extensive built-in joinery including bench and cupboard units and a food safe. In the 1960s some houses featured breakfast units. The sink bench unit was generally terrazzo, stainless steel or Formica. See joinery for more detail.

A cupboard containing a hot water storage cylinder and generally enough additional space for drying or airing clothes, was sometimes located in the kitchen – otherwise, it would be located in the laundry or hallway.

 

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Wall and ceiling linings

Kitchen wall and ceiling linings were generally hardboard finished with enamel paint.

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Extractor fans

Towards the end of the period kitchen and bathroom glazing may have been fitted or retrofitted with an electric extractor fan to remove moist air and cooking smells.

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Chip heater

Many kitchens in the 1940s and 1950s had a destructor or chip heater installed adjacent to the kitchen. These were small, free-standing fireboxes with an external enamelled finish and a flue that was used for heating and also rubbish disposal.
They were often fitted with a wet back to provide supplementary water heating.

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Common modifications

Kitchens are unlikely to be original in 1940s and 1950s houses, but are more likely to remain in those built in the 1960s. If a kitchen is still largely in the original condition, it may not easily accommodate some modern appliances such as a dishwasher, microwave and the larger refrigerator.

Kitchen cabinetry of the period was relatively robust and may well still be in good condition – it is generally the doors that fail first and drawers that run on timber rails are likely to be worn.

Kitchens of this period did not generally have extract ventilation although it may have been added. Typically a recirculating unit was installed but later units may have been vented to the roof space or outside (if a unit was vented to the roof space, it should be upgraded to include an external vent).

Open plan

The internal arrangement of rooms of housing built during the 1940s and 1950s typically consisted of separate, generally fairly small, rooms designed for specific use such as living room, dining and cooking. With the trend towards open planning, houses may have had interior walls removed to enlarge spaces and create open plan layouts such as kitchen-dining areas.