The modern kitchen and dining room are full of furniture that originated in various points in history, and yet not many know about the origins of these beauties. If you’ve always wondered how and when refrigerators and cupboards entered the picture, simply read on!

Ancient Egyptian

We may like to think kitchen furniture design is something that was invented recently, but we can glimpse the idea of it as early as the ancient Egyptian period. Introduced by Pharaoh Akhenaten, the Amarna style departed from the hard, perpendicular lines of prior Egyptian art and made way for attenuated lines and less idealized imagery. This change brought about curvy forms, and in the altar relief of Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their three daughters (image below), curvy furniture too. It’s not hard to see how these casual settings of intimate, informal cuddling could easily translate to the metal stools of today.

Akhenaten, Nefertiti, and their daughters.

Modern metal stool. Sleek stools. Always in vogue.

Etruscan and Greco-Roman

The Sarcophagus of the Spouses, an iconic artifact from ancient Etruria, vividly reveals the dining culture of that kingdom—the artwork shows a pair of Etruscan banqueters reclining on a dining couch called a kline. The cousin to the kline is the klismos chair, the outcurved legs of which are conspicuous in various steles (tombstones) of classical Athens. As shown by examples like the Stele of Hegeso and the Stele of Xanthippos, the klismos chair is often depicted in a profile view. In addition to chairs and couches, Greco-Roman dining spaces also featured paneled cupboards and undecorated wooden tables, as seen in wall paintings from ancient Pompeii.

Woman sitting in a klismos chair.

Musing in a klismos.

Medieval

Many medieval furniture makers employed woodturning, which involved putting wood on a wood lathe and rotating it. The specialization of these crafts led turners and furniture makers to found guilds. The Middle Ages also saw the advent of the profession of the cabinetmaker, which became distinct from those of the carpenter and the joiner.

A carpenter using a lathe.

A wood lathe. What axis of rotation!

Rococo

The Rococo style was marked by over-the-top decorations and detailed gilding. The epitome of this style is the furniture at the Palace of Versailles. The Royal Table—the king’s public meal with his family and guests—took place at the king’s or the queen’s antechamber. Dinner guests sat in the folding stools that were placed at the end of the table (in the French court, armchairs were reserved for the king and the queen).

Versailles folding chairs.

A bedchamber at Versailles. Note the folding chairs.

Modern

In the 19th century, the furniture maker and the seller became distinct from one another. Showrooms became popular, and by 1927, GE’s Monitor Top Refrigerator showed up. Iceboxes gave up their dominion; refrigerators took over. After World War II, tank-making technologies followed suit and became refrigerator-making technologies. In the 1940s, the model kitchen ‘Kitchen of Tomorrow’ showcased built-in waffle makers and foot-pedal-operated sinks, both of which did not fare well in terms of popularity. The sleek, level countertop caught on, thanks to the Bauhaus movement.

A modern kitchen.

No more foot-pedal-operated sinks. Phew.

Conclusion

Of course, there’s a whole lot more to kitchen furniture history than what’s on this page. So grab that furniture encyclopedia from the dusty shelf. Admire those intricacies of an Art Nouveau cabinet or the simplicity of that medieval refectory table. Let them inspire your own kitchen furniture choices, and bring that excitement to Chesapeake Kitchen Design! There’s an abundance of options to choose from!