The Frankfurt Kitchen: The Forerunner of Modern Fitted Kitchens

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Milica Sterjova
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In 1926, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, an Austrian architect designed the Frankfurt kitchen, considered the prototype for modern fitted kitchens.

It was a turning point in domestic architecture because it enabled efficient work and it was built at low cost. After World War II, there was a shortage of living space in Germany. A large number of housing projects were built to provide affordable apartments for the typical working class families.

In 1925, Frankfurt’s mayor hired architect Ernst May for the social housing project New Frankfurt.  The construction of the apartments had to be inexpensive, so the architects had to apply one design for most of them.

Portrait of Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky Photo credit

Schütte-Lihotzky solved the problem of space and cost by designing a small kitchen, separated form the living room with a sliding door. She found her inspiration in dining cars in trains and in the idea of scientific management, also known as Taylorism.

Before her design, the kitchen wasn’t always separated from the other rooms and it was used for other activities beside cooking – people would eat and often even sleep there.

The Frankfurt kitchen (view from the entrance)

The Frankfurt kitchen was a narrow double-file kitchen, 3.4m in length and 1.9m in width. The entrance of the kitchen was located in one of the short walls. On the opposite side was the window with a working space in front of it.

The cabinets and the sink were on the right, and on the left was the sliding door, along with the stove. The narrow layout served as a space saver but it also minimized the number of steps needed when working in the kitchen. There was no refrigerator in the kitchen, but there was a fold-able ironing board.

The reconstruction shown at MAK Vienna Photo credit

 

The cupboard of the surviving and refurbished kitchen in the house Im Burgfeld 136 Photo credit

 

Frankfurt-Kitchen, Drawers Photo credit

The prototype kitchen was painted blue because it was discovered that flies avoided blue surfaces. The work surfaces were made from beech because it was resistant to staining, acids and knife marks.

Flour containers were made of oak because it held off mealworms and the storage cupboard’s door had holes on them to prevent mold growth. Labeled storage bins for common ingredients like, rice, sugar and others, were designed to keep the kitchen tidy and organized.

The electric stove of the kitchen

 

Frankfurt Kitchen, From the exhibition “Counter Space”, at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC Photo credit

The Frankfurt kitchen was a major commercial success. About 10,000 Frankfurt kitchens were installed in the late 1920s. However, most of them were thrown out in the 1960s and 1970s, when modern kitchens with easy to clean surfaces became affordable. Some homeowners have built replicas but a very few original versions of the kitchen still exist.