It is 90 years now since the Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky designed the wooden Frankfurt kitchen. Although she was almost unknown to a large part of society, she made history in silence.
Having been brought up in an upper-class family, Shütte-Lihotzky was the first woman studying at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. From the moment she met her professor Oskar Strand, she began to collaborate with him in the design of social housing for the working class, always mixing usefulness and design.
A few years later, in 1926, Margarete stood up for beautiful and useful shapes when she started working with the architect Ernst May in the design of a neighbourhood in Frankfurt am Main. They were trying to solve the problem of the lack of homes after the First World War, creating open and sunny spaces with green communal areas at a low cost. For this purpose they used prefabricated materials, folding furniture and the efficient kitchen designed in detail by Schütte-Lihotzky.
The standardised “Frankfurt Kitchen” was 6.43 sq mt and offered the maximum comfort to the working women who did not have too much time to do the housework. It was meant to make household chores easier by means of integrating and adapting all the kitchen areas (for storage, washing, ironing and cooking) into the smallest possible space.
It had a separate entrance and this was completely new for that time as, prior to this, living rooms and kitchens used to be one room. It was a narrow space, not only to save metres and money, but to reduce the number of steps to do all housework too. With this purpose, Schütte-Lihotzky used prefabricated wooden pieces which allowed her, for example, to include a folding ironing board on the wall, or several storage compartments for the food staples (such as rice, sugar, flour, salt, etc,…).
For this design Margarete was inspired by the train restaurant carriages, where two people could cook, wash and store the dishware and food for all passengers. The “Frankfurt Kitchen” was originally designed in wood and due to its low cost and mass production they were able to fit it in ten thousand social housing properties provided by the city hall.
This marvel of efficiency is the origin of what we know as the “Built-in” kitchen today. It consisted of a modular system, the first one in history, antecedence of our modern tailor-made kitchen using wooden pieces to meet the needs of every home.
Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky died in Vienna in 2000, when she was almost 103 years old, after an incredible life. She had to escape and took up exile many times due to her communist ideals during the fascist years.
Despite all difficulties, she was able to improve the domestic life of the most under-privileged families.
She was awarded with numerous prizes, such as the Merit for the freedom of Austria in 1978, the Architecture Award from the City of Vienna in 1980, the Prechtl Medal from the Technical University of Vienna in 1987 and the Decoration of Honour for Services to the Republic of Austria in 1997.