KITCHENS – EURO-STYLE
I think it’s impressive that Duluth is both an international seaport as well as home to an international airport! The fact that we are connected to so many worldly destinations has prompted thoughts of Europe and a desire to visit again, which led me to think about European kitchens and how, over time, they have evolved so differently from their American counterparts.
Prior to WWII, European and American kitchens were quite similar – usually small, compact and relegated to the back corner of the home. After WWII, a construction boom of post war housing in our country resulted in a change in design and increasingly larger kitchens. Conversely, Europe was faced with a scarcity of resources with much of their housing destroyed by the war. A need to replace housing quickly resulted in the construction of homes that were efficiently designed, built to last, oriented in urban neighborhoods with proximity to local amenities. Though the number of households who own their own home is quite similar on both sides of the ocean, Europeans are more likely to own a home that is joined to another’s.
American home design often integrates the kitchen as part of the general public living space – something we’ve come to know as the Great Room. European kitchens tend to remain separate entities as cooking is viewed to be neither a glamorous task nor a social activity. The emphasis is, rather, on the dining experience and most European households have and use their dining rooms.
Americans tend to purchase groceries weekly and in quantity. Our kitchens reflect this with large refrigerator/freezer units and abundant cabinetry. Conversely, Europeans tend to purchase their food fresh daily, resulting in less need for refrigeration, which is typically half the size of ours. Frozen foods are not so typical in Europe; therefore, freezers are minimal if they exist at all. Most European kitchens are quite compact with 24” wide stoves and ovens and single bowl sinks. European cabinetry is also smaller in scale.
Much about how European kitchens are built is predicated on conserving energy and resources. This is seen in numerous ways: compact size, water conservation, convection ovens, and efficiently built cabinetry. Panel or ‘frameless’ type construction in European cabinetry uses less wood than their American counterparts without compromising quality. This same construction has begun to be embraced by American companies.
When Europeans relocate, they quite often bring their kitchen with them. Treated more like furniture, kitchen cabinetry is installed on wall hung rails and base cabinets are set on leveling legs, making them less permanent and more readily moveable – yet another reason kitchens remain compact.
European kitchens are more apt to sport a clothes washer than a dishwasher. And since clothes are typically hung to dry, clothes dryers also are not a common appliance.
Space efficient housing and energy efficient kitchens have been the norm in Europe for decades. In a country where we have embraced ’bigger’ as better, perhaps it’s time to pay closer attention to how our European friends live comfortably with less.
I am a columnist for Duluth Superior Magazine, a monthly publication dedicated to the finer attributes of life in our Northland. My column appears in the Style section and is titled ‘Living by Design’. The following column was published March 2013.
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