The Differences Between British & American Kitchens

While you might assume kitchens are fairly standard rooms, anyone who watches a mix of British and American television will quickly realize there are some major differences between the typical British kitchen and the typical American kitchen. One of the most common questions we see is, “Why are British refrigerators so small?”

Not far behind it is, “Call me crazy, but it looks like some kitchens have miniature washing machines under their counters. What's up with that?”

The Differences Between British Kitchens & American Kitchens

In light of those frequently asked questions, I want to talk a bit about the most common differences between American kitchens and British kitchens. Bear in mind, everything here is a generalisation.

There are always exceptions. You'll find tiny American kitchens without dishwashers and microwaves, and you'll also find British kitchens that rival the largest and fanciest American ones. It's impossible to speak for every kitchen in both countries, so instead, we're focusing on what's typical, often pulling data from industry sources.

Typical American Kitchens

An American kitchen – on the nicer side of average

The kitchen you see above is perhaps a bit on the nicer side of average, but it represents a very normal American kitchen. While income level will dictate how nice the appliances, counter surfaces, and cabinets are, most middle class homes will have some version of the elements you see above.

  • Counters – In the US, marble/granite/quartz countertops are most common in middle-class or nicer homes. In older or less expensive homes, you may find laminate or tile. Plain wood is not unheard of (and it's increasingly trendy), but it's not nearly as common as the other materials.
  • Refrigerator – Most American kitchens have a refrigerator that's roughly 2.5-3 feet wide and 5-6 feet tall. You might find smaller refrigerators in tiny apartments, university housing, wet bars, and small vacation cabins, but they're uncommon in “normal” homes.
  • Stove/Oven/Range – Most American kitchens have an all-in-one range/oven, with electric being slightly more common than gas. In some cases (particularly in more high-end kitchens), you may find a countertop range + one or more ovens built into a wall somewhere.
  • Dishwasher – While smaller or older homes don't always have a dishwasher, they're extremely common, with roughly 70% of households containing a dishwasher.
  • Coffee maker – Aside from a toaster, there's probably no more common small countertop appliance in the US than the coffee maker. Though certainly not uncommon in the UK, Brits are more likely to favor tea exclusively and opt out of coffee makers. Americans, on the whole, fall pretty heavily on the coffee side of things.
  • Microwave – It's extremely rare to find an American home without one, and while most British homes have one now, it took a lot longer before they were a household staple in the UK. They also tend to be larger and more powerful in the US.
  • Islands / breakfast bar – Due to the larger home sizes (on average) in the US, it's considerably more common to find large kitchen islands or wrap around breakfast bar areas. Most modern middle-class or nicer homes will have something like that, though it's not universal. Working class and poor families are less likely to have something like this, but it's not unheard of.
  • Prep sink – This is not a terribly common feature in British or American homes, but they do seem slightly more common in the US than in the UK. They're mostly found in upper middle class or wealthier homes, and again, you see them more in the US because of larger home and kitchen sizes overall.

While there are plenty of small American kitchens, they are, on average, quite a bit bigger than standard British kitchens. This is mostly down to the fact that (a) American homes are newer, and (b) American homes are bigger overall, on average.

American kitchens are also less likely to be closed off from the rest of the house (except in older homes). Open plan layouts are more popular in the US, and even in homes without an open plan layout, it's common for the kitchen area to be open to the dining area – or to simply lack doors.

Typical British Kitchens

Image Credit: Zoopla
Image Credit: Zoopla

The photos above are of a very classic sort of British kitchen, taken from a home listing in Kent – a 3 bedroom semi-detached home going for offers around 335k GBP. The listing notes the large kitchen, and while I know many Americans will be puzzled by that description, it is a fair-sized kitchen for a home of its price range, location, and overall stats. Remember – British homes and kitchens tend to be smaller, on average.

A few things should stand out almost immediately, so let's talk about the elements of the British kitchen:

  • Counters – On average, British kitchens have less of it. These counters are likely either granite or laminate meant to look like granite. Laminate is the most popular countertop surface in the UK, though granite and quartz are increasingly popular. Wood countertops are far more common in the UK than the US.
  • Refrigerator – British refrigerators tend to be smaller than American ones, though it's increasingly common to see larger models in newer homes. Under counter models are still very normal, and even many newer kitchens use smaller fridges (sometimes camouflaged as cabinets). British refrigerators are far less likely to include things like ice makers, water dispensers, tablet screens, and cameras. These smaller refrigerators work just fine for many Brits, as they tend to shop more often and buy smaller amounts of fresh food.
  • Microwave –  The microwave in the kitchen above might be considered a bit small in many US homes, but it's a very normal size for a UK kitchen. This is one of those things where the difference in cultures is subtle, but they do tend to be smaller in the UK. Most UK homes have microwaves, but usage has increase significantly in the last 20-25 years. In 1994-95, only about 67% of UK homes had microwaves. By 2004-05, that number had risen to 90%+, where it's stayed since then.
  • Toaster – Similar to American homes, you'll find a toaster on the counter in most British homes. If anything, Brits use their toasters more. Toast is something of a national obsession in the UK.
  • Electric Kettle – This is perhaps the biggest single difference between American and British kitchens. Nearly all British homes have an electric kettle on the counter. In American kitchens, they're extremely rare – though we don't understand why.
  • Stove/Oven/Range – While you'll find some form of oven and range in most homes, you're slightly more likely to find smaller cooking surfaces in UK homes. Most are quite similar to what you'll find in the US, though. The one big difference would be the use of AGA cookers. While not uncommon in the UK, you could spend a lifetime in the US and never encounter one. It's a kind of multi-tasking, energy-efficient cast iron stove that can last generations, and we've included a photo of one below.
  • Washing Machine/Dryer – It's not unusual to find a combination washer/dryer under the counter in a British kitchen, particularly in older or smaller homes. While a utility room is definitely considered desirable by most, it's just not possible or practical in a lot of cases. It's also worth noting that the “dryer” function on these combination machines is pretty terrible (and most Brits know it). The machines aren't as powerful, and they don't vent anywhere like larger, dedicated dryers do.
  • Dishwasher – Dishwashers are a bit less common in the UK, and again, it's not unusual for them to be a little smaller. While roughly 70% of American homes have them, it's closer to 50% in the UK. In the mid-90s, that figure stood at slightly less than 20% – so if you're watching an older British TV show, you're quite unlikely to spot a dishwasher.
  • Egg Cups – While this doesn't really count as a fixture or appliance, it's one more huge difference between American and British kitchens. Nearly all Brits have egg cups in the home, but very few Americans do.
An AGA cooker

British kitchens tend to be a bit more closed off, and a lot of that's down to the fact that their housing stock tends to be older. Open kitchens are more common in newly built homes in the UK.

Kitchen Examples From British TV

To the left of Dame Judi, you'll see the fridge tucked away under the counter. Show: As Time Goes By

Obviously, most British TV shows are going to contain kitchens at some point – so we'll focus on shows with a fair amount of kitchen time.

  • As Time Goes By – In this Judi Dench classic, we see a very typical British kitchen. The room is relatively small considering they also dine there, and the fridge is positively tiny. We also see more than a few scenes that involve characters ironing in the kitchen – presumably, because they've just done the laundry in there. Watch it HERE.
  • Monarch of the Glen – In this case, we're not looking at a typical British kitchen – but it *is* a fairly normal kitchen for an old castle or stately home. In those cases, kitchens needed a lot of room to allow cooking for big parties or events. Get it HERE.
  • Cold Feet – In the pilot episode of the “old” Cold Feet, we see Karen's kitchen almost immediately. It's a more upscale kitchen, but you'll still notice many of the elements we talked about – a fridge that's downplayed, a kitchen that's perhaps a bit smaller than you might expect for a couple with a nanny, and the ever-present electric tea kettle on the counter. If you watch the newer seasons, you'll notice Karen's kitchen is even more similar to a “normal” American kitchen. It's a bit more open, and the fridge is large and stainless steel. You'll also notice Adam's kitchen (in the newer years) could easily be mistaken for any upscale American kitchen. Watch it here: Old Seasons | New Seasons
  • Living the Dream – This series starts in England and quickly moves to the United States, allowing you to see the reactions the British characters have when they move into their new American home. Watch it HERE
  • Escape to the Country – There's perhaps no better place to check out a variety of British kitchens than on this delightful British house hunting program. Watch it HERE.
  • Miranda – Miranda is a great and more recent example of the kind of kitchen you'd see in a small flat. It's open to the main room, but cabinets are few, the stove is quite small, and there's no visible fridge above counter height. Watch it HERE.
Miranda's kitchen in the BBC series Miranda

One interesting thing about watching British TV is that you can really see the changes in British kitchens over time and by social class. As a general rule, more recent and more upscale kitchens tend to have a lot more in common with American kitchens.

Any Other Differences Between American and British Kitchens?

Have you noticed any other differences between the typical American and British kitchen? Do you have questions about something you've seen in one or the other? Do share in the comments!


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