Frankfurt Kitchen: A Complete Design History | NONAGON.style
Design Stories: A Complete History of the Frankfurt Kitchen

Design Stories: A Complete History of the Frankfurt Kitchen

The original tiny kitchen

Written by –
Jess Ng
on November 28th 2018
Jess loves good design! She spends her weekends exploring the sights, sounds and architecture of the world. Another favorite activity is taste-testing local delicacies.

When it comes to kitchen design, the fitted kitchen is perhaps the most obvious and practical option for most households. The fitted kitchen, after all, allows for maximum storage and counter space. What’s more, it ensures a cohesive aesthetic and overall style, with very little effort. But did you know that the origin of the fitted kitchen in fact lies in scientific rationality and efficiency? Originally known as the Frankfurt Kitchen, the forerunner to the fitted kitchen is widely considered to be a milestone in domestic architecture. Keep reading to discover more.

Vintage Frankfurt Kitchen designed by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky | NONAGON.style
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What was the Frankfurt Kitchen?

Created in 1926 by Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, the Frankfurt Kitchen is the name given to a standardized kitchen design made especially for public housing apartments in Frankfurt, Germany.

The historic Frankfurt Kitchen design is rooted in scientific rationality and efficiency | NONAGON.style
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The History of The Frankfurt Kitchen

In the aftermath of the First World War, German cities experienced a severe housing shortage. In response, various social housing projects resulted in the rise of affordable public housing apartments. To save on costs, architects sought to create one standardized design for every apartment. The Frankfurt Kitchen was the kitchen component of this design.

Sink and built-in labelled storage unit of a Frankfurt Kitchen design | NONAGON.style
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Given the compact nature of housing development apartments, the Frankfurt Kitchen was intended to be a paradigm of functionality. In this, Schütte-Lihotzky was heavily inspired by a concept of Scientific Management called Taylorism. The 1911 theory aimed to rationalize industrial work by optimizing the tools and techniques that would yield the greatest efficiency. To this end, Schütte-Lihotzky conducted detailed time-motion studies and interviews with housewives and women’s groups to inform her design.

 

There was also a vaguely feminist aspect to Schütte-Lihotzky’s design. The ‘rationalization’ of the home was supposed to reduce the time women spent in ‘unproductive’ housework, allowing them to pursue other interests.

Utilitarian Frankfurt Kitchen design from 1926 | NONAGON.style
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“The problem of rationalizing the housewife’s work is equally important to all classes of the society. Both the middle-class women, who often work without any help [i.e. without servants] in their homes, and also the women of the worker class, who often have to work in other jobs, are overworked to the point that their stress is bound to have serious consequences for public health at large.” – Schütte-Lihotzky.

Labelled aluminum storage unit from the 1926 Frankfurt Kitchen design concept | NONAGON.style
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Features of the Frankfurt Kitchen

Although the Frankfurt Kitchen differed in dimensions depending on apartment size, the basic tenets of the design remained the same. Each kitchen was a narrow, double file space with a window at one end for light and air. The design came complete with a swivel stool, a gas stove, built-in labelled storage, a fold-down ironing board, an adjustable track ceiling light, and removable garbage drawer.

The Frankfurt Kitchen: Aluminium built-in labelled storage and vintage white tiles | NONAGON.style
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In designing the Frankfurt Kitchen, Schütte-Lihotzky paid careful attention to the materials used. Each material was rationally chosen for a specific function. Doors and drawer fronts, for example, were painted blue because research at the time found sky-colored surfaces repelled bugs. Meanwhile oak was used for the flour containers because it warded off meal-worms, and countertops were fashioned from beech because of its resistance to staining and knife marks.

 

In addition to its rational design, the Frankfurt Kitchen broke the traditional kitchen mold in other ways too. For instance, because of its specific requirements, the Frankfurt Kitchen came installed with both furniture and appliances, in effect making it the first ‘fitted kitchen’ prototype. What’s more, instead of having the kitchen as a multi functional dining, living and sleeping space as was customary at the time, Schütte-Lihotzky made the Frankfurt Kitchen its own self-contained room.

History of the Frankfurt Kitchen: Vintage blue cabinet close up | NONAGON.style
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Was the Frankfurt Kitchen a Success?

While Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt Kitchen was a commercial success, the reality was that few owners actually liked using their new kitchens. Many users were baffled by the layout, and found the inflexibility of the design to be especially frustrating.

Blue Frankfurt Kitchen designed by Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky | NONAGON.style
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Furthermore, despite its drive to emancipate the housewife, it seems the Frankfurt Kitchen may have done the exact opposite. Critics argue that the separate nature of the Frankfurt Kitchen actually isolated housewives from the rest of the household. What’s more, its compact nature ultimately precluded the possibility of having other family members help with the household chores.

The Legacy of the Frankfurt Kitchen

For all its faults, there’s no denying that the Frankfurt Kitchen was revolutionary in its approach to domestic architecture. For the first time, science and design came together to tackle the daunting issue of social housing. Moreover, the fact that it was designed by Schütte-Lihotzky, a female architect, is no small matter given the gender restrictions of the era. Overall, the Frankfurt Kitchen went on to become a model for the modern urban kitchen, ultimately influencing the design of many of the tiny kitchens popular in small space living today.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of design, make sure to check out our series of furniture guides! Don’t forget to also follow us on social media. You can find us on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest.

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