They designed your kitchen

News image They designed your kitchen

The design of contemporary kitchens would not be the same without these two great designers, Christine Frederick and Margarete Shütte. In the first third of the 20th century, they laid the foundations for their current design

The creative force behind kitchens as we know them today was two women. It all began with Christine Frederick’s revolutionary ideas, and she was immediately joined by Margaret Shütte. The two ended up creating a design that has remained almost unchanged to date: a modular construction whose design is based on workflows.

Christine Frederick

Christine Frederick (Boston, 1883-1970) graduated as a teacher in 1906. One year later, married to an important businessman, she learned about the new Taylor-inspired tendencies in industrial organisation. These were aimed at business efficiency and were revolutionising the manufacturing world, such as Ford’s automobile factory of the time.

Frederick wished to apply them to the domestic sphere, and carried out important work in which ergonomics and the sequential movements of tasks done effectively were thoroughly defined. This was the first step towards designing the contemporary kitchen.

She standardised the height of work surfaces and carried out investigations of everything from kitchen appliances to foods in search of efficient systems for storage, preserving and handling them.

In 1915, she gave a correspondence course called “Household Engineering: Scientific Management in the Home”, which was published as a book with the same title in 1919. The book makes Frederick’s intentions very clear.

In the 1920s, she advocated for the idea of planned obsolescence – that is, the limited durability of industrial products – as a defence of maintaining industry and the continuous updating of products by others that are newer and more efficient and newer.

For years, she published articles on her ideals of domestic efficiency and was well paid for her articles published on innovation and efficiency until her death in 1970.

Almost immediately after Frederick’s first tenets, we find an Austrian architect who would end up by revolutionising kitchen design to the point that “Frankfurt kitchen” would be used in Central Europe as a synonym for a modern kitchen of that time.


Margarete Schutte

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (Vienna, 1897-2000) was the first female Austrian architect; she graduated in 1928.

Very involved since the beginning of her career with the improvement of society, and acutely aware of the responsibility of those working in architecture, her commitment would mark both her professional and personal life.

In 1921, she worked with the architect Adolf Loos at Vienna’s Ministry of Housing, where streamlining and economising strategies for the size of housing were one of her great achievements.

Since the beginning, Schütte-Lihotzky worked hard to improve the spaces where housework was done; she believed these tasks enslaved women.

By 1925, she included her own ideas on streamlining housework in the programme for building social housing in Frankfurt.

These first projects – whose construction began in 1926 – included what would come to be known as “Frankfurt kitchens”, in which Schütte-Lihotzky applied all the expertise she had already developed for saving work in the home.

Schütte-Lihotzky’s kitchen transformed modern housing. Designed for working efficiently, it included metal surfaces, easy-to-clean tiling, big cabinet-handles, and a modular construction system that was a first in the history of furniture.

Thus, the standardisation of manufacturing elements into modules not only significantly reduced costs, but also allowed them to be used for adapting to the different needs and sizes of each housing type.

Beginning in 1930, she implemented her building philosophy in projects for Russia, China and, later, Turkey, where she designed numerous projects for social housing and kindergartens.

Joining the Austrian resistance, she entered her country covertly in 1940, was arrested by the police and sentenced to death. Her sentence was changed to 15 years in prison, which she did not complete thanks to the liberation of Vienna by Soviet allies in 1945.

Between 1946 and her death in 2002, Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky remained very active in her profession, especially housing and kindergarten projects and also gave many lectures.

She was a true benchmark in the world of design and architecture, which – by applying Frederick’s innovative expertise – allowed the vision of kitchen cabinetry to evolve to our own times.

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