There is something to the saying that spaces have character. Regardless of whether we want to work, learn, teach, communicate, entertain or relax in them – the space "created" for this purpose clearly references the idiosyncrasies of its users and their activities. But whether or not it ‘works’ is another question and depends entirely on whether it reaches us emotionally. In the final analysis, impact really is more than the quadratic root of room height + wall colour + floor space.
"Sorry, Pat. Can you tell me where you’ve hidden your cooker?" A discreet tap causes the glass surface to disappear into the adjoining worktop with a faint hum. "Oh, there it is...!" The modern kitchen is a true master of understatement: straight lines, concealed handles, high-tech functionality with touch-screen interfaces. And so, even though the initial impression might lead you to believe otherwise, these kitchens still produce excellent results! Although there is admittedly an obvious penchant for countless additional features that increase both the quality of living and the feeling of enjoyment.
In recent years, the kitchen has undergone a massive upgrade from a "hidden workroom" to an open space, made to be seen. It is not only partygoers who converge on the most primordial of all communication areas in the home (stove! fire!) as the evening progresses. The boundaries between living and eating are rapidly disappearing, while reinventing work processes and encouraging new ways of interacting.
But how much has actually changed? Isn’t this a recurring trend? The answer is yes – to a certain degree. Although there is also a fresh approach. Hardly any other room in the house is adapted to such an extent to our social behaviour – and has therefore also undergone such fundamental, technical change over decades regarding its use and planning.
At the beginning of the 20th century, for example, the kitchen had already become the central area for social activities in the home. There was seldom a strict division between the kitchen and living room – or rather, the kitchen was the living room. It was the place for sitting, talking, cooking, eating, bringing up the children and proposing marriage.
After World War I, Taylorism entered private households with its rationalised workflows and stopwatch mentality. The "Frankfurt kitchen" is a product of this cultural history. It was designed in 1926 by architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky – who was also the first woman in Austria to get a degree in architecture – and became the prototype of the modern fitted kitchen. The inspiration for this "cooking laboratory" was taken from railway dining car kitchens. It aimed for – and achieved – maximum economies of time and work in a minimal amount of space. The efficient use of space (as it would be described today) was also necessary because the kitchen was to be included in social housing projects for working class families, and lack of room was an important concern.
When the Frankfurt kitchen was designed, nothing was left to chance – from the lower height of the worktop in front of the window, where it was possible to sit while working, and the integrated, enamel "waste drawer" in the worktop to enable scraps to be rapidly removed, to the practical arrangement of working areas, dish drainers and racks for crockery, double kitchen sink and wall cupboards. Even the colour was chosen rationally: Researchers from Frankfurt University believed that flies avoided blue-green surfaces. It is difficult to say whether these were considered attractive – but this was not the primary consideration here.
The Frankfurt kitchen could also be industrially manufactured in large numbers as a standardised module system – the carpenter only needed to fit them in the kitchen. This naturally enabled costs to be kept to a minimum and served as a model for today’s fitted kitchens. Around 10,000 of these kitchens were used in Frankfurt housing schemes – hence their name.
However, there was one key drawback: Although their functional optimisation was highly, they were not always used as originally planned. The reorientation of the kitchen’s use from "living space" to "workspace" was simply too great. In retrospect, it is clear they did not pay enough attention to social considerations during planning. An unfortunate circumstance.
Incidentally, this was also the reason why the German architects Erna Meyer, Hanna Löv and Walther Schmidt revisited the issue only two years later and, with the development of the Munich kitchen, found a compromise between a traditional kitchen and a kitchen that was designed purely for work. Above all, it seemed necessary to be able to keep an eye on the children and open up the room slightly. These requirements were fulfilled by introducing a wooden divider between the dining area of the living room and the kitchen, which was glassed off at a height of one metre. The door between the two rooms was also removed – the strict boundaries between the rooms were therefore somewhat relaxed. The crockery cupboard also remained in the living room, as had been customary.
Even today, the kitchen has remained the topic of exciting and diverse discussions. The market is hard-fought, the product quality is striking and the consumer is definitely willing to make significant investments. Apart from functioning as a "side stage" for cooking techniques, today’s focus is on merging the most discerning demands for pleasure, comfort and naturally also health and sustainability. After all, those who live and eat healthily want to work in an environment that takes these principles into consideration. The look of kitchens today emphasizes both stylish purism and a long-lasting lifestyle. There is an increasing need for the combination of furniture design and architecture in order to create spatial and functional elements – on the whole, these are spacious and of high quality, presenting the kitchen as rounding off and intensifying a distinct atmosphere in the home.
Kitchens are nowadays available both "off the peg" and also custom-made. Planning a designer kitchen can be a project that beyond comprehensive, with benefit analysis, 3D simulation, light planning and tailored advice from specialists. It is possible to have furniture made to measure, down to the last millimetre, from materials such as solid wood or veneer, stainless steel, aluminium or glass. The design can also be harmonised with the kitchen’s surroundings, going beyond the room itself. Individuality is a major trend. Another trend is opening up kitchens to integrate them with living spaces. Such kitchens often feature free-standing units for cooking and working that are accessible from all sides and which provide a smooth transition to the living and dining area. Or the entire kitchen unit can be visually incorporated into the living space by harmonising the material and colours. Any remaining furniture can be "disguised" as a sideboard.
The German brand bulthaup has developed into an undisputed trendsetter over three generations – with a combination of purism and sensuality, custom-tailored to specific space conditions. The b2 kitchen, developed in 2008 for bulthaup by the Viennese designers at EOOS, is distinguished by an open, mobile design that can be combined individually: the logical further development of the "kitchen workbench". The b3, presented this year in Milan by bulthaup Art Director Mike Meiré, takes it one step further. His vision of the kitchen allows it to be fully integrated into the living space – with black leather and silver handles. This is definitely a spectacular interpretation of the design, fully within the luxury firm’s trend: a kitchen that is both a showpiece and representative of hand-crafted perfection.
Visitors to the major kitchen trade fairs such as Eurocucina in Milan or Living Kitchen in Cologne encounter endless sources of inspiration and see experience coupled with quality, impressive standards and maximum design appeal. Arclinea, for example, one of Europe’s leading and longest-standing kitchen manufacturers, has collaborated since the late 1980s with the architect Antonio Citterio. It has had a remarkable influence on this transition of the kitchen as a living space – from a kitchen that is functional, via "metamorphic" to "space-pervading".
Poggenpohl is a brand with similarly long-standing traditions and a worldwide reputation, based in Germany. In the 1920s the company launched the "reform kitchen" with the first interconnecting cupboards, which was the forerunner of the modern fitted kitchen. The first actual unit kitchen appeared in 1950, and then things really took off. Today, Poggenpohl works with designers such as Jorge Pensi or Porsche Design.
Another manufacturer that displays an affinity for design and has been honoured with numerous awards is Warendorf, with its own Philippe Starck Collection by Warendorf, whose products are synonymous with luxury, elegance and a superb sense of style.
The world’s first kitchen without handles was made by SieMatic in the late 1960s. The design classic with the model name 6006 was "reinterpreted" only recently.
Schiffini products are always surprising and innovative. The Italian company predominantly produced ship fittings when it was established in 1920. It now works with the architects Ludovica and Roberto Palomba, Giuliano Giaroli and Alfredo Häberli.
Team 7 from Austria, whose timeless use of forms in synthesis with natural materials repeatedly displays impressive concepts, also values its cooperation with notable designers such as Jacob Strobel, Karl Auer, Sebastian Desch and Kai Stania. The latter has also worked for Bene on many occasions, winning a large number of awards.