The Origins Of The Modern Kitchen

interior of a compact kitchen, circa 1926

Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky is not a household name. And yet, she was a vital presence in housing design for most of the 20th century.

Following World War I, Schütte-Lihotzky was commissioned to design kitchens for new public housing that was being built in Germany. The new housing was built for families with very low incomes, who were living in housing that was dangerous and crowded. Some families were living outdoors on garden plots, according to the podcast linked to this post.

Schütte-Lihotzky’s design became known as the Frankfurt Kitchen. Some examples are on display in museums today. And as the commentator in the podcast reports, the kitchens look out of place in museums because they look so normal.

Schütte-Lihotzky was in her early 20s when she designed the Frankfurt Kitchen. She was keenly aware of the unpaid domestic labour that kept households running. At the time, most domestic work was done by women, who were often engaged in wage labour. There was no take out food or meal drop off services. The Frankfurt Kitchen sought to make meal preparation and cleanup easier.

The podcast situates Schütte-Lihotzky’s work in a larger context which includes utopian community design, urban activism, and the feminist and civil rights movements. The podscast documents how Schütte-Lihotzky’s views changed during her long life (she died at 103).

Hear more about someone who should be a household name (but isn’t) in this podcast from 99pi: The Frankfurt Kitchen

A very small cramped but servicable kitchen

Frankfurt Kitchen Original in 1926 photo by Harris & Ewing, photographer. N STREET, KITCHEN. [Between 1905 and 1945] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, . Photo is in the public domain