The Kitchen Revolution
It’s hardly surprising that we revere the mid century modern period, the years just after the Second World War. This was a time for celebration as peace was restored and a time for designers and artists to exercise the creative energy that had been repressed during years of austerity. This was also a time for developing new materials like plastics and nylon and old ones that had been refined and improved and were now in more plentiful supply as the armaments industry no longer took priority.
Manufacturing space increasingly became available as munitions factories returned to civilian output and facilities that had worked for The Ministry of Defence could now produce for consumers. This is how the Dualit toaster factory was established. In addition, there was a huge reservoir of skilled labour, craftsmen and artisans who had honed their skills in pre-war Britain and had the expertise needed to convert new designs into reality.
On top of all this, there was suddenly a breath of internationalism in the air. Communications had improved immeasurably since the beginning of the war and European and American influences flooded into everyday life through the cinema, television and magazines. Our own home grown designers like Robin Day (whose centenary is celebrated this year) and the American influences coming out of Hollywood and the work of legendary designers like Charles and Ray Eames, began to change our home life by bringing a “new look” to our homes that was just as powerful as the “new look” fashions introduced by Christian Dior in 1947.
On the catering front, similarly radical changes were afoot. Outside the home, the choice of food had been limited to a few, expensive French and Italian restaurants, hotels serving rather grey meat and overcooked vegetables, pub pies and traditional tea rooms that recalled the Edwardian era in a stuffy, old fashioned way. The only “take away” food was fish and chips and it wasn’t called “take away” any way. With food rationing finally ending in 1954, the gates were open for a gastronomic revolution and it began in The Wimpy Bar. The first one was opened in 1954 in London as an adjunct to a Lyons’ corner House and they quickly spread all over the country. In 1959, the first Wimpy Bar opened in Bradford with its catchy slogan of “a square meal in a round bun” and the now famous squeezy tomato shaped ketchup dispenser.
Over the next ten years, restaurants boomed. The first Kentucky Fried Chicken opened in Preston in 1965 and over 4000 Chinese and 2000 Indian take aways appeared. The breweries saw an opportunity and opened up Berni Inns, Beefeaters and the like. In the 1960s, Pizza Express pioneered the Italian style but the American influence persisted and Macdonalds hit the streets in 1974.
In the home, the biggest revolution of all was taking place. In 1954, only 8% of homes had a fridge, By 1969, this had increased to over half yet only 3% of homes had a freezer. By 1979, 50% of homes had a freezer and today nearly all homes have a fridge and a freezer and 90% of homes have a microwave. These took the drudgery out of the daily shopping journeys for food and allowed the expansion of pre-prepared food. Fish Fingers were launched in 1955 and paved the way for today’s massive daily consumption of over 8 million ready meals.
So next time you consider the importance of mid century modern vintage designs, remember that these went hand in hand with the introduction of Vesta Beef Curry, Arctic Roll, Heinz tinned spaghetti and CocoPops and just like the furniture designs of this period, these food items are all still with us today.