I was interested to find a magazine-style advice page in the Kays catalogue for Autumn/Winter 1947, entitled, ‘Save Labour in Your Kitchen’. The article contains some practical tips: a recipe for starch, for example (to make your shirts and blouses nice and crisp), and the suggestion that you keep sand around to use for scouring dirty dishes. But a lot of the advice seemed more likely to create labour than to reduce it.

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‘Save labour in your kitchen. Just as a mother is the heart of a family, a kitchen is the heart of the home.’ Autumn/Winter 1947.

‘Ironing boards,’ we are told, ‘are always a bit of a nuisance–they take up a lot of space in a cupboard and look so untidy when stood in the corner.’ The article suggests that you remove the legs from your ironing board and attach it to a wall or, preferably, the inside of a cupboard door, using a hinge and braces. I’m not sure whether this would really make an aesthetic improvement, but it certainly sounds like work.

You are also advised to redecorate:

‘Get away from the usual white, and off-white, shades that are generally used in kitchen decoration, and paint your walls duck-egg blue, pale yellow or a soft clear green. Hang bright plastic curtains over your windows either in the same shade as the walls or in bright contrasting colours.’

Funnily enough, the actual kitchenware and kitchen furniture in the catalogue is advertised with much more of a focus on utility. The biggest, most elaborate fonts are used for words like ‘hygienic’, ‘very useful’, ‘kitchen indispensables’, ‘every household’s needs’ and ‘strong aluminium for your kitchen’.

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‘Strong aluminium’, Autumn/Winter 1947.

Only a few details show much concern for the kitchen’s appearance. A food safe is ‘unstained’ and so ‘can be painted to your own colour scheme’. Vegetable racks are offered with ‘enamel finish in pleasing shade of Cream or Green’. And the ‘tasteful colouring’ of a set of kitchen canisters ‘will give quite a cheerful note to your kitchen’.

'A handy canister set... Their tasteful colouring will give quite a cheerful note to your kitchen.'
‘A handy canister set… Their tasteful colouring will give quite a cheerful note to your kitchen.’ Autumn/Winter 1947.

If you go back to Spring/Summer 1938, or, even further, to Autumn/Winter 1928, the kitchen is barely recognised as having any appearance at all. 1928 offers ‘the utility kitchen set’, including a ‘strong and durable’ colander, and a stew pan: ‘Heavy gauge. Handy size.’

1938 has ‘utility furniture’, ‘serviceable tables’ and ‘useful sets of kitchen utensils’. Elsewhere, you are invited to ‘beautify your kitchen with coco matting’, but the real attention to the way things look, as in 1928, comes with anything you might use to serve food, or present it. You can use crystal glass preserve jars, a cut glass butter dish, decorated porcelain biscuit caskets, a crystal sauce boat, and more.

'Beautifully Cut Crystal Glass MARMALADE or PRSERVE JAR'. Autumn/Winter 1928.
‘Beautifully Cut Crystal Glass MARMALADE or PRSERVE JAR’. Autumn/Winter 1928.
'Cut Glass BUTTER DISH, Electro-plated Cover and Stand. Superior Line.' Autumn/Winter 1928.
‘Cut Glass BUTTER DISH, Electro-plated Cover and Stand. Superior Line.’ Autumn/Winter 1928.
'New design Biscuit Casket... Beautifully decorated China Ware complete with lid.' Autumn/Winter 1938.
‘New design Biscuit Casket… Beautifully decorated China Ware complete with lid.’ Spring/Summer 1938.
'Sauce or Cream Boat on Tray. Entirely new modern design of brilliant Crystal Glass on best quality Stainless Chromium-plated tray.' Spring/Summer, 1938.
‘Sauce or Cream Boat on Tray. Entirely new modern design of brilliant Crystal Glass on best quality Stainless Chromium-plated tray.’ Spring/Summer, 1938.

In these earlier years, there seems to have been a fairly clear distinction between preparing food — a somewhat unglamorous business — and serving: an opportunity for display.

To find out how things changed, click here: Beautify Your Kitchen.

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