Let’s face it, kitchen appliances are not decorative items, yet while first and foremost conceived as components each with their own specific task to perform, there is no reason not to make them look great as well.

There was a time, now quite long ago, when a kitchen consisted of wooden cabinets, a workbench or table, a large wood-burning oven and a larder for stocking food. Gradually, the food cooler was added, then rudimentary washing machines and hand-operated presses for rinsing, before the electric revolution transformed the kitchen into the kind many of us have grown up with.

The gas stove and oven came into use in the 19th century, with the electric versions making their first appearance at the start of the 20th century. Modern versions of both have continued to this day, and the AGA cooker invented by the Swede Gustaf Dalén in 1922 also remains a firm favourite, especially in country homes. It’s with the invention of the home refrigerator that many famous kitchen appliance names first emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, notable among them Kelvinator and Frigidaire from the USA, and Electrolux from Sweden.

Early General Electric and Philips fridges were no more than little cooled cabinets, but in time they grew and grew. The now ubiquitous washing machine was first introduced during the same period, with names such as Germany’s Miele and the US brand Hoover among the many to reach homes around the world. Early female inventors played a role in the development of the concept, and in 1896 Josephine Cochrane, a society hostess from Illinois, took out a patent for the first dishwashing machine. Though the electric version would emerge in 1922, Cochrane’s original invention already laid the foundations for the dishwashers we use today.

Familiar Brand Names

The company that came from Josephine Cochrane’s invention, KitchenAid, has gone on to be a classic, and is one of a long list of current and defunct names that have surrounded us for much of our lives, including: Indesit, Smeg, Zanussi and Candy from Italy; Philips from The Netherlands; Electrolux and AGA from Sweden; Miele, Bosch, Siemens, Braun, Bauknecht, Neff, Gaggenau and Rowenta from Germany; General Electric, Litton and Whirlpool from the USA; Gorenje from Slovenia; Russell Hobbs and Morphy Richards from the UK; Balay, Edesa and Fagor from Spain; Beko from Turkey; Panasonic and Kenwood from Japan.

In recent years, much production has shifted to lower-cost countries such as Turkey, and the leading brands of large kitchen appliances now come mostly from South Korea, in the form of Samsung and LG. The microwave oven, which was a novelty introduced into the kitchen in the late seventies and early eighties, traces its original technological development back to the 1920s. It marks a midpoint in kitchen development, as it was the first new large appliance to appear in many years, and as such paved the way for the veritable revolution we are witnessing today.

The 21st Century Kitchen

Over the years, therefore, the kitchen has evolved and incorporated a growing array of technical appliances. Wooden cabinets gradually gave way to light steel ones in the 1950s, and this was subsequently followed by synthetic materials, with regular wood revivals in-between. Today, the space has come out of the kitchen and into the living areas, no longer typically separated by walls but now simply by a bar, or even occupying one of the walls of an open-plan living and dining room.

Kitchen design has become sleek and minimalist, with matt wood or shiny lacquered finishes predominating. The appliances, which for so long were white in colour so that they were collective termed ‘white goods’ are now increasingly metallic in tone and touch, with large, often double-door fridges boasting their own water and ice-cube dispensers. Ovens, hobs and extractor hoods are sleek and shiny, with the extractors having the capacity to appear from or disappear into a tidy cavity at the touch of a button.

The thinking is that these days a kitchen should be functional and appealing, yet also minimalist in its appearance and visual impact. In other words, it should blend into the background, complementing rather than dominating the décor of open-plan living spaces. For this reason the colours and textures are seldom bright and the lines usually linear. Great effort goes into creating effective use of storage space, and when washing machines and dishwashers cannot be exiled to a dedicated laundry space, they merge into the kitchen cabinetry, appearing as just another cupboard door to the untrained eye.


This Italian designer appliance brand has built a name for fun-filled rounded shapes, bright happy colours and products that are just as practical as they are pretty to behold. A Smeg fridge, toaster, mixer, kettle or coffee maker might just be what your somewhat too serious kitchen needs to give it some good-looking sense of fun and style. The designs are prettily retro-modern in the style of the Fiat 500, and their colour ranges suit both boys, girls and those who cohabitate. Smeg have even added a range of ovens, extractors and dishwashers to round off an assortment of appliances that you can’t wait to use.


Who says Smeg also says KitchenAid, for while the two brands have their own distinct character they clearly inhabit the same niche of the market. The American brand looks a little more businesslike, but every bit as retro-attractive, with the iconic food processor scoring top points for its looks. Like Smeg, KitchenAid also produces contemporary designs, but not surprisingly it is the elegantly curved and attractively colour-toned ones that catch the eye.


The ultimate designer brand, Alessi produces smaller kitchen items that represent styling in its purest form. While its teapots, coffee makers and juice extractors are certainly design-led, the name would not have survived had they not also been practical and functional. And if the items you peruse look as if they were designed by architects you’ve hit it on the nail, for the range contains pieces created by the likes of Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel, Toyo Ito and Philippe Starck.

Whether you enjoy linear modern geometry and stark efficiency or like to splurge out on a bit of colour, fun and frivolity in your kitchen, the cabinets, large appliances and smaller items offer a world of design options that are further enhanced by lighting, artwork and, of course, modern domotics that will have your meal or cup of coffee ready when you get home. Welcome to the kitchen of tomorrow.