An official website of the United States government.

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you've safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Step-Saving Kitchens

To help homemakers reduce time and work involved in kitchen activities, the Bureau is designing and preparing construction drawings for kitchens, with different arrangements of equipment — the U, L, broken U and L, and parallel-wall types of arrangement. They are designed to reduce walking, stooping, and stretching to a minimum, in accordance with accepted principles of work simplification.

Stiebeling, Hazel K. (1948). Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics, Agricultural Research Administration. U.S. Department of Agriculture, p. 13.

Throughout its existence, the USDA's Bureau of Home Economics used principles of systematic research to devise the best designs for efficient kitchens and farmhouses. This post showcases several of the more prominent results of this work.

Image
Beltsville kitchen floorplan

Floorplan of the kitchen design described in Howard, Mildred S., Thye, Lenore Sater, and Tayloe, Genevieve K. (1958). The Beltsville Kitchen-Workroom With Energy Saving Features. Home and Garden Bulletin, Number 60, p. ii.

Image
A Step-Saving Kitchen

The National Archives has digitized a 1949 film from the Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics: A Step-Saving Kitchen. The USDA home economist who appears in and narrates the film is Lenore E. Sater Thye, the co-author of "A Step-Saving U Kitchen."

The film showcases several features of this kitchen design including the Planning Center, the Mixing Center, the Vegetable Preparation Center, the Cooking and Serving Centers, the Dishwashing Center, and the Dining Corner. All features were designed to facilitate a "smooth production line, comfortable work heights, and handy storage" with "good natural light and cross ventilation."

"A Step-Saving Kitchen" can be seen here: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/1783

Image
home economist mixing bowls at various counter heights

The professionals at the Bureau of Home Economics used established work principles and practical experience gained in their laboratories to develop kitchen design plans that would be efficient and functional for the public.

"A Step-Saving Kitchen" documented some of the steps taken in this process.

Different kitchen counter heights were tested by Bureau staff to determine which ones were optimal for comfort and performance.

Image
lenore sater with carpenter

Lenore E. Sater, Housing and Equipment Specialist at the Bureau of Home Economics is shown here with a USDA carpenter conferring on a kitchen cabinet design.

Image
kitchen working model

Bureau staff would produce drawings of kitchen designs that would be transformed into working plans and fully realized in working models at their USDA laboratories in Beltsville, Maryland.

They would then test the models as they engaged in the normal kitchen tasks of food preparation, cooking, and cleaning. Design changes would be made based on the findings of the work done in the laboratory.

Many housewives actually walk miles while doing their kitchen work because the stove, sink and work table are far apart in their great big kitchens. That was the way especially with many old-fashioned kitchens. But recently the housewives and the architects and the engineers and the home economics specialists got at it and began talking and planning convenient kitchens. So modern kitchens in general are better workshops and kitchen jobs can be done in less time, and with less effort.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. Office of Information. Radio Service (1932). Easier Kitchens. Housekeepers' Chat.

Even before the work was done in the mid 1900s by the Bureau of Home Economics, the USDA produced publications to help rural citizens as they planned kitchens to be built or remodeled within the farmhouse.

Here are a few examples of these publications.

Image
Farm Kitchen as a Workshop cover
Image
Floor plan of a kitchen

Floor plan of a kitchen showing (A) scattered equipment wasteful of worker's time and energy, and (B) rearrangement into a compact unit. The dotted lines represent the paths traveled in the preparation, service, and cleaning-up of a meal, the heavier lines being those most frequently traveled, p. 10

Barrows, Anna (1921) The Farm Kitchen as a Workshop. Farmers' Bulletin, Number 607

Convenient arrangement of the kitchen and its equipment means lighter work and shorter hours for the housekeeper and her helpers.

Plenty of light and good air are essential to good results in the kitchen and to the comfort of those working there.

Running water and a drain for carrying off waste save the housekeeper many steps and many hours.

Convenient location of pantry, dining room, and storeroom with reference to the kitchen and, so far as possible, on the same floor level will also save many steps.

A separate laundry, which may be combined with an entry and wash room for the men and children coming in from out of doors, is more sanitary than using the kitchen as a "general-purpose" room.

Washable surfaces for floor, walls, ceiling, and woodwork, obtained by oiling, painting, or covering with suitable material, makes them easy to clean. Unfinished wood floors, moldings, and table tops are poor economy; they are hard to clean and soon show stains and signs of wear.

Durable, convenient equipment is most economical and should be so placed that there is the least possible strain on the worker's muscles as she performs her tasks. Many of the tired backs are the result of improperly placed kitchen equipment, pp. 17-18

Image
convenient kitchens cover
Image
kitchen designs

A comparison of square and oblong kitchens showing the greater convenience and saving of floor space in the oblong, p. 2

Gray, Greta (1926) Convenient Kitchens. Farmers' Bulletin, Number 1513

First, last, and all the time, in planning and equipping a kitchen, think about the work to be done in it.

If building or remodeling a kitchen, make it oblong and with no more floor space than actually needed. A kitchen is a workroom. Spaciousness is paid for in miles of extra steps.

Study the relation of the kitchen to the rest of the house. Make a direct connection from kitchen to dining room in the common wall between them. See to it also that there is easy access to front and back doors, to the telephone, to the stairs, to the cellar, and to the second floor.

Arrange for adequate ventilation in all weathers and for good lighting at all work centers at night as well as during the day.

Choose finishes for floor, walls, and woodwork that are durable, suitable in color, and can be kept clean easily.

Select furnishings that fit the needs, suit the wall and floor space, and will pay for themselves in usefulness. Weigh the pros and cons of built-in or movable furnishings for your own kitchen and compare prices carefully. p. II

Image
Report of the Chief

Stiebeling, Hazel K. (1948). Report of the Chief of the Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics, Agricultural Research Administration. U.S. Department of Agriculture.

To help homemakers reduce time and work involved in kitchen activities, the Bureau is designing and preparing construction drawings for kitchens, with different arrangements of equipment — the U, L, broken U and L, and parallel-wall types of arrangement. They are designed to reduce walking, stooping, and stretching to a minimum, in accordance with accepted principles of work simplification.

This year the designing and construction of a U-arranged kitchen were completed and working drawings made available to farm families through the Eegional Plan Exchange Service. The kitchen was on exhibit in the Department in the patio of the Administration Building and at the Agricultural Research Center, as well as at the thirty-ninth annual meeting of the American Home Economics Association in Minneapolis and at the 1948 Minnesota State Fair.

Miscellaneous Publication No. 646, A Step-Saving U Kitchen, was prepared to describe the features of the kitchen and to announce to the States the availability of the working drawings. During the first 2 months in which these plans were available, 37 States requested the brown-line prints from which to make blueprints for distribution.

Image
A Step Saving U Kitchen Cover

Thye, Lenore Sater, Dodge, J. Robert. (1949). A Step-Saving U Kitchen. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Miscellaneous Publication, Number 646

Maximum convenience for the homemaker at her work is the aim of this step-saving kitchen, planned primarily for the farm home. It was designed in housing and household equipment lab- oratories of the Bureau of Human Nutrition and Home Economics.

Basic plan, — The unbroken U shape was chosen for arranging equipment work center through which household traffic cannot pass. It also allows the dining corner to be planned and deco- rated as a separate center.

As shown on the plan (opposite), the three key pieces of equipment are brought within easy reach of each other — sink at center of U, refrigerator and range at ends. Other arrangements of these pieces in a U or an L might be equally convenient.

The U as shown here, while compact, is large enough to give two women comfortable working space. There is also ample storage to accompany the activi- ties usually carried on in a farm kitchen when there is a separate laundry and workroom.

Smooth production line. — This kitchen is planned to cut walking, stooping, and stretching to a minimum in accordance with modern work-simplification ideas. It is planned so jobs can progress smoothly from one work center to the next. The production line is from right to left, as preferred by most right-handed women.

Image
Beltsville Kitchen Workroom

Howard, Mildred S., Thye, Lenore Sater, and Tayloe, Genevieve K. (1958). The Beltsville Kitchen-Workroom With Energy Saving Features. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Home and Garden Bulletin, Number 60

This kitchen-workroom was designed primarily for older or physically handicapped farm women who must conserve their energy. Its many energy-saving features, however, will work equally well for any homemaker. In planning this kitchen-workroom, the designers have applied findings of studies of the energy expended by women in performing household tasks. They have also taken into account studies of the space required for various household activities. Storage designs, workspace,and arrangement of equipment are planned so that work can be done with a minimum of walking and other motions. The overall size of the kitchen-workroom is 17 feet by 18 feet.

Page Content Curated By

Digital Library Branch (DLB)