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The Appearance of the Kitchen in Last 200 Years : The Kitchen of Europe and Korea

Korean Minjok Leadership Academy
International Program
Koo, Do Heon
Term Paper, Introduction to History, Everyday History Class, July 2009

Table of Contents

I. Introduction
II. The European Kitchen in History
II.1 19th Century European Kitchen
II.1.1 Gas Pipe
II.1.2 Water Supply
II.1.3 Other Inventions
II.2 20th & 21st Century European Kitchen
III. The Korean Kitchen in History
III.1 The Korean Kitchen from 1800 to 1900
III.1.1 Ondol, Tableware, Location of the Kitchen
III.1.2 The Joseon Dynasty and the Kitchen
III.2 The Korean Kitchen from 1900 to 1950
III.3 The Korean Kitchen from 1950 to 1960
III.3.1 The Effect of the Korean War
III.3.2 Coal Instead of Wood
III.4 The Korean Kitchen from 1960 to 1990
IV. Analysis
V. Conclusion

I. Introduction
            Kitchen is a part of a room used for cooking and food preparation. From prehistoric era, the kitchen seemingly existed for the family's living. There was a hearth for cooking, perhaps a small table board for preparation, and a dining area in a central gathering place. But now, the technological advancement introduced new appliances so the kitchen's appearance changed significantly when compared the modern one and the prehistoric one. (1) Some questions arise. How did the kitchen develop ? What is the difference between the process of the development of kitchen of Europe and Korea ? This paper will examine the development of Korean and European Kitchen in the last 200 years and find out the difference between the patterns of development of kitchen in the last 200 years. In addition, this paper will analyze the reason why there were different changes in the appearance of the kitchen and effect of such changes.

II. European Kitchen in History

II.1 19th century European Kitchen
            The nineteenth century was a time of great prosperity among the upper and middle classes in England. Also, the urbanization and technological development in the second half of the 19th century induced other significant changes that would ultimately change the kitchen. (2)

Leadbeter's Renowned Stove Polish (14)

II.1.1 Gas pipe
            One change in the appearance of the kitchen in 19th is that the gas pipe was established. The gas pipes were first laid in Europe in the late 19th century and gas stove started to replace coal-fired stove. However, the replacement of the latter was slow. Not only the for gas stove, gas was used for lighting purpose. Wax candle was changed into gas light. Gas lighting was relatively safe, but very dirty since the unburned particles in the flame of a gas burner left dark grey shadows. (3)

II.1.2 Water supply
            The domestic water supply in most towns was still very irregular, and even in some well-to-do areas at the beginning of the century it was only available three times a week. When running water became freely available, it seldom supplied any part of the house except the basement. It served the kitchen sink, but the servants and to carry it upstairs for other uses. Sometimes, the family member took bath in the stone floored back kitchen, in hot water brought from the water pipe. (4)

II.1.3 Other Inventions
            Many English kitchens had one common book: The Beeton's Book of Household Management. This book was necessary guide of the manner and attitudes of Victorian Households. In addition, the first practical storage refrigerator was marketed in the late 1880s although not many kitchens had it because of the high cost. (5) The newly created inventions were continuously changing the appearance of the kitchen.

II.2 20th & 21st Century Kitchen
            Following the end of World War II, massive demand in Europe for low price, high-tech consumer goods led to Western European kitchens being designed to accomodate new appliances. (6) The fifties and sixties were prosperous times; there was great demand for domestic goods and most kitchens became easier place to work in, with refrigerators, pressure-cookers, extractor fans, floor-polishers, washing machines, spin-dryers, and dish washers. (7) In past decades, satisfactory domestic equipment was available to wealthy people, but others had to manage largely with what they could make themselves. Today, modern production can supply things of quality for everybody.

III Korean Kitchen in History

III.1 The Korean Kitchen from 1800 to 1900
            Joseon was the state preceding Korea (1392-1910), thus covering the period from 1800 to 1900.

System of Ondol (15)

III.1.1 Ondol, Tableware, and Location of the Kitchen
            Korean Kitchen had 3 main characteristics. First one is Ondol (floor heating system). The Ondol system is operated as the picture above indicates. When the fire was kindled under Agungi (a large earthenware pot), the heat from the fire runs under the house and warm the floor. In addition, the fire at Agungi also makes it possible to cook.
            Tableware is another characteristic. The traditional Korean tableware was mainly ceramics and the ceramics had little hole which helps the preservation of food. The Joseon Dynasty tableware is quite a lot different from the kitchen of modern days.

Kitchen Structure (16)

            In addition, the kitchen was regarded as outside part of the house. Although the kitchen. was attached to other part of the room, there was no or only one connection to other rooms.

III.1.2 The Joseon Dynasty and the Kitchen
            The Joseon Dynasty accepted the Confucianism. Confucianism stressed the tradition, so the Joseon people were mostly conservative and thus, rejected 'new things' from foreign countries. As the result, there were only mere changes in the shape of the kitchen during the Joseon Dynasty, which only opened up to trade with the west from 1876 on. III.2 The Korean Kitchen from 1900 to 1950
            The first change in kitchen happened in 1876 when Busan, Wonsan, Incheon opened the port.(8) After opening the port, many Japanese style houses were built, the reform campaign started in 1910 by people who saw Japanese house and kitchen was the first target of the reform. Park Gilyong was the first designer who insisted the reform of the kitchen into a 'modern one.' (9) As the Japanese occupation started in early 20th century, more and more Korean house followed the style of Japanese by changing the kitchen building inside the house. However, the Ondol system was still used and the interest on the new kitchen system greatly increased. (10)

III.3 The Korean Kitchen from 1950 to 1960

III.3.1 The Effect of the Korean War
            Massive change in kitchen occurred between 1950 and 1960, after the Korean War happened. After the Korean War was over, the whole country started reconstruction in 1954. At this period of time, the new form of kitchen was introduced. The new form of kitchen followed that of Europe and at this period of them, the piped water (water supply system) was established except the high elevated areas. Therefore, people no more had to carry water from well to kitchen. (11)

III.3.2 Coal Instead of Wood
            Another key feature of the kitchen during 1950-1960 is that the main heating source changed into coal from wood. The Agungi (Ondol system) is no longer used as the newly built kitchen followed European Kitchen system. Also, there are lack of wood right after the Korean War as the most of the trees in the forest had been burnt early in the war.
            The change in heating system altered the tableware of Korea, which was one of the key feature of the Korean traditional kitchen. The brass tableware, which was originally used, could no more be used in the kitchen because it was difficult to maintain as the housewives have to polish it every day. Also, the chemical reaction with coal changed the color of the brass tableware so easily, so after 1950s, the tableware changed into stainless and nickel silver ware. (12)

III.4 The Korean Kitchen from 1960 to 1990
            As the technology developed, many convenient things such as detergent were accepted from abroad into Korean kitchen. The appearance of the kitchen started to change following the technology during this period.
            In 1970s, skyscrapers for residence were widely popularized and the kitchen was no more regarded as the outside part of the house. Also, the water supply system enabled the sink and the sink helped hygienic care of the kitchen, as the water no more splashed all over. With the sink, the refrigerator placed in the kitchen. This period, the change in appearance of the kitchen usually followed the development of the new technology. (13)

IV. Analysis
            Korean kitchen was far behind the high technology kitchen of Europe. But the Japanese Occupation and opening the port made it possible the kitchen of the Korea to be improved. The Korean War destroyed almost every house on the land, which later made it possible the introduction of the wide popularized modern kitchen during the reconstruction time. On the other hand, the European kitchen was not developed after a great incident. The new invention and technology enabled the change in the appearance of the European kitchen.
            However, although the process of the development of the kitchen was different, the Korean and the European kitchen was similar in that the kitchen's importance increased more and more. As the technology develops and the new appliances were introduced to kitchen, the kitchen became much more attractive. The kitchen of Korea, which was regarded as the outer part of the house, became a part of the house, meaning the importance increased significantly.
            In addition, the change of the appearance of the both kitchen helped the rise of the social position of the women. Better equipment in kitchen, such as sink, washing machine, and so on reduced the burden of women and gave them great amount of free time, which made it possible that the women to go out and do their own economical work.

V. Conclusion
            During the last 200 years, Korean kitchen and European kitchen developed in different ways. The Korean kitchen began changing in the 20th century after the opening of the ports and during the Japanese occupation. The significant change of the appearance of the Korean kitchen was achieved after the Korean War. However, the European kitchen always changed after gradual improvement of technology. But kitchen is kitchen. Both kitchens are similar today in that the women no more had the full burden of the housework as the change in the appearance of kitchen. What's more, kitchen in Europe and Korea nowadays have the same purpose with similar appearance.


1.      History of Kitchen
2.      Harrison 1972
3.      ibid.
4.      ibid.
5.      ibid.
6.      ibid.
7.      Article : Kitchen, from Wikipedia
8.      Ham Hanhee 2005
9.      ibid.
10.      ibid.
11.      ibid.
12.      ibid.
13.      ibid.
14.      Image: Leadbeter's Renowned Stove Polish
15.      Image: System of Ondol, changed after image posted on Lee Eun Jeong's blog on May 11th 2008
16.      Image: Structure of the Kitchen, changed after image posted by Narcis on May 4th 2006 on Daum


Note : websites quoted below were visited in July 2009.
1.      Article: Kitchen, from Wikipedia,
2.      Article: Refrigerator, from Wikipedia,
3.      Article: Electricity, from Wikipedia,
4.      History of Kitchens, from My Home Renovation,
5.      Harrison, M.: The Kitchen in History, New York : Charles Scribner's sons 1972
9.      Image: Leadbeter's Renowned Stove Polish, produced by Goodwin Gas Stove & Metes Co., image held by The Library Company of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, posted by Women's Work in the Long Nineteenth Century,, here taken from Gender, Media, Politics & Law by S. Gallagher

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