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From Farm to Table

The Kitchen as Laboratory
Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky<br/> Austrian, 1897–2000<br/> <em>Frankfurt Kitchen</em>, 1926–30<br/> Kitchen cabinetry and stove<br/> Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of funds from Regis Foundation
  Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky
Austrian, 1897–2000
Frankfurt Kitchen, 1926–30
Kitchen cabinetry and stove
Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of funds from Regis Foundation


What words describe this kitchen? What familiar items do you see? In what ways is this kitchen similar to or different from your own?

Before the 1920s, people in Germany used kitchens for many different activities: cooking, playing, eating, bathing, and even sleeping! Kitchens were not very clean or well laid out. In the 1920s, the Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky designed a kitchen for the very small apartments of Frankfurt's low-income housing projects. Lihotzky's "Frankfurt kitchen" is tiny by modern standards, but its compact layout encouraged efficiency and good hygiene. Using time-motion studies, Lihotzky planned the space so that people would take fewer steps while preparing food. Fewer steps meant time saved—and spills avoided.

Lihotzky made the most of the small space by including built-ins like a countertop trash bin for easy cleanup and an ironing board that folds up into the wall. She modeled her kitchen after a laboratory, promoting cooking as a precise science. The room even looks a little like a laboratory, with industrial cupboards, a stool, glass doors, and an adjustable track light on the ceiling. This kitchen was easy to keep clean. Lihotzky did away with nooks and crannies where crumbs and pests could hide. Even the color of the cabinets was chosen with a purpose. Researchers at the time had reported that flies would not land on blue surfaces!

Take another look at the kitchen. Do you notice anything missing? When the Frankfurt kitchen was designed, few homes had refrigerators. People bought fresh food from markets every day.

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1. The joy of cooking! This lively drawing shows an outdoor cooking scene in Persia (modern-day Iran). Created during a time of relative peace and prosperity, illustrations like this celebrate the joys of life, luxury, and high culture. Persia (Iran), Cooking in the Open, 16th century, drawing on paper, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, bequest of Mrs. Margaret McMillan Webber in memory of her mother, Katherine Kittredge McMillan
2. In this image by the famous print artist Kitagawa Utamaro, Japanese women are cooking a meal together in a crowded kitchen. What activities can you identify? Kitagawa Utamaro, Japanese, 1753–1806, Kitchen Scene, 1794–95, color woodblock print, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, bequest of Richard P. Gale
3. An early form of refrigerator, this Chinese ice chest was designed to keep food and drinks cool. In summertime, it could even cool a room! China, Qing dynasty, Ice Chest, about 1800, hungmu hardwood, pewter, brass, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Ruth Ann Dayton Chinese Room Endowment Fund


May 2013