The Frankfurt Kitchen In the presentation “Elementary Parts: From the Collections”

since 23 November 2017

© Museum Angewandte Kunst, Foto: Anja Jahn

It changed the concept of home living and is considered a prototype of the modern fitted kitchen: the “Frankfurt Kitchen”, designed by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky. Following careful restoration measures, an example of the legendary kitchen has now made its way into Elementary Parts: From the Collections, a permanent exhibition of Frankfurt’s Museum Angewandte Kunst.

Over the years, the role played by Frankfurt and the surrounding region in modern design has been an ongoing focus at the Museum Angewandte Kunst. In 2015, the museum was presented with the opportunity to make a new addition to its holdings: a complete and largely unchanged historical “Frankfurt Kitchen” from the Bornheimer Hang housing estate in Wittelsbacher Allee. The kitchen’s owner, the ABG Frankfurt Holding, placed the kitchen on permanent loan to the museum. The museum’s conservator Christian Dressen supervised the complicated task of removing it from its original site in its entirety. The restoration work that followed took him two years. Rather than merely retouching the furnishings’ exteriors, he decided to expose the original painted surfaces by removing later coats of paint, but also to leave signs of wear and tear visible.

In the exhibition, the kitchen’s various elements are arranged according to the original floor plan. The end wall of the kitchen opposite the doorway, which once featured a window overlooking the garden, has been omitted, permitting views of the gallery space beyond. And when standing outside the kitchen at that end, the museum visitor moreover gains insights into its construction. The installation even includes the original floor and wall tiles, which make for a very authentic overall impression of Schütte-Lihotzky’s outstanding design achievement.

Prof Dr Klaus Klemp oversaw the project in the role of curator, with the extensive scholarly assistance and advice of Dr Christos-N. Vittoratos. The restoration was made possible by generous financial support from the Hessischer Museumsverband (Hessian museum association).

The “Frankfurt Kitchen”

The “Frankfurt Kitchen” was an important conceptual element of the overall “New Frankfurt” design project. The Viennese architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897–2000) – the first Austrian woman to complete the study of architecture – was appointed to the “standardization” (Typisierung) department of the Frankfurt civil engineering office as a specialist for the kitchens in the new housing estates. More than 10,000 kitchens were built and installed according to her efficiency-oriented design. There are approximately thirty variations of the “Frankfurt Kitchen”, none larger than about seven square metres. They represented a fundamental factor in the spatial programme of Frankfurt’s new, affordable reform housing, in which the living room replaced the large-scale proletarian kitchen as the hub of family life. The kitchen was now much reduced in size to shift the focus to other spaces inside and outside the flat or house.

The kitchen was based on the principle of short distances and reaches. Its width was calculated in such a way that, to go from the cabinet and washing-up side to the stove side, one need only turn around. An extensive organization system was a further means of making kitchen work more efficient. Schütte-Lihotzky envisaged a kind of kitchen laboratory, as is reflected in the many drawer-containers, glazed cabinets and high work stool.

At the time, many exponents of modern design advocated the theory that if something was functional it was beautiful merely by virtue of its functionality. Schütte-Lihotzky emphatically rejected this viewpoint, and firmly regarded the kitchen as an aesthetic work of design. Colour played a major role in the kitchen, as it did throughout the “New Frankfurt” project. The first kitchens made extensive use of blue; later models adopted other subdued colours as well as white. The kitchen floor generally consisted of brownish Solnhofen limestone tiles whose natural grain contrasted with the monochrome painted cabinets. The standard fittings of the municipal civil engineering office were integrated in the design, and the drawers consisted of prismatic wooden blocks with recessed grips that further reinforced the kitchen’s geometric, cubic aesthetic. Within the framework of the research carried out by the museum, plans turned up showing that the shops designed for the “New Frankfurt” housing estates were also to use elements of the “Frankfurt Kitchen”. The kitchen’s modules, in other words, were also intended for use in public settings.

Elementary Parts: From the Collections

The “Frankfurt Kitchen” has now taken up residence in Elementary Parts – a permanent exhibition in which the Museum Angewandte Kunst presents selected objects from all of its collections.

Learn more about “Elementary Parts”.

© Museum Angewandte Kunst, Foto: Anja Jahn

Our furniture restorer Christian Dressen introduces the iconic Frankfurt kitchen

The Frankfurt Kitchen in the presentation “Elementary Parts: From the Collections”

Our furniture restorer Christian Dressen introduces the iconic Frankfurt kitchen from 1929, which was developed by the Viennese architect Margarethe Schütte-Lihotzky in 1926 as part of the public housing program “The New Frankfurt”. After the kitchen was dismantled from a private estate and restored over a period of two years, it has been on view in our collection presentation since 2017. It is a permanent loan from the AGB Frankfurt Holding.

6 questions for the furniture restorer Christian Dressen

In what context was the Frankfurt Kitchen developed?

The Frankfurt Kitchen was developed as part of the public housing program “The New Frankfurt”. Between 1925 and 1932, 22 housing estates with over 12,000 apartments and town houses were built in Frankfurt/Main. The Viennese architect Margarethe Schütte-Lihotzky (1897-2000) designed the Kitchen for the municipal building department in Frankfurt/Main in 1926. The conceptual development focused on its practicality in everyday use for the modern democratic population.

What was innovative about the Frankfurt Kitchen?

The Frankfurt Kitchen is a fundamentally reconceptualised kitchen area in which module-based kitchen elements were arranged for the optimization of worksflows and making the working paths particularly convenient. In comparison to the eat-in kitchen popular at that time, in which cooking and eating were both done in the same room, the ground-plan area was reduced by moving the dining table into the separate living room. The reduced kitchen space thus required an optimal arrangement of the individual functional areas such as storage space, preparation, cooking and dish washing.

How did this Frankfurt Kitchen come into the Museum?

The family of a deceased 93-year-old woman decided to donate it to the Museum. During a preliminary visit to the apartment it turned out that the kitchen, which was installed in 1929, was used by one and the same family for the entire period of time until its dismantling. The Museum Angewandte Kunst was able to salvage this kitchen from a 65 square meter 3-room apartment. With the permission of the housing association ABG Frankfurt Holding, which kindly made the kitchen available to the Museum as a permanent loan, it was possible to dismantle the kitchen over a period of eight days. In addition to the furniture modules that are usually removed, it was also possible to salvage all of the adjacent original architectural elements, i.e. floor and wall tiles, door frames, as well as the heaters. The furniture modules from the hallway and bathroom could also be dismantled successfully.

What is special about the kitchen at the Museum Angewandte Kunst?

The Frankfurt Kitchen in the Museum Angewandte Kunst is in an exceptionally good state of preservation. This becomes evident from the completely preserved kitchen modules, which are usually the only thing removed from a Frankfurt Kitchen. This particular kitchen has been a real stroke of luck for the Museum, seeing as it has only been used by a single family since it was installed and has not been replaced over the course of the years, as is usually the case when tenants change. Due to the fact that the kitchen was very well maintained during its long use, the sink base cabinet is completely preserved. This is also very rare because this part is often the first thing that decays.

What restoration measures were necessary?

Before any of the restoration work could begin, the kitchen was placed in our quarantine room to ensure that it was not infested by bugs. After handing it over to our furniture restorers, all components of the kitchen were thoroughly examined. The scientific-analytical processing of the extensive object allowed us to determine the material composition and the authenticity of the components. This in turn makes it possible to evaluate other Frankfurt Kitchens in terms of their authenticity. In addition, all other renovation-related changes were reverted in order to restore the originally intended colour and materiality of the kitchen. With the help of novel restoration methods the reconstruction of the kitchen and of its great variety of materials could be executed in a way that guaranteed a damage-free removal. The restoration of the Frankfurt Kitchen took two years. It has now found its appropriate place as a room installation in the permanent presentation _Elementary Parts. From the Collection_s since 22 November 2017.

What is the relevance of this kitchen today?

Under the term efficiency, the kitchen shows how space was optimized in order to save time. This is how efficiency found its way into the conceptually rather decelerated eat-in kitchen model, designed for dwelling and how it still continues to contribute to the optimization of our everyday lives today.
The kitchen was available in at least thirty different versions and could thus be adapted to rooms of very different sizes. There was not just one Frankfurt Kitchen, but many different versions of it. The Frankfurt Kitchen by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky is therefore known as the mother of all built-in kitchens