In today's Guardian: a fascinating history of modern kitchen design and ideology. Yes, ideology is really part of kitchens, because it's inextricable from the role of women in modern society. The title of the article, by Meg Conley:
Invisible fridges and cooling cubbies: how kitchens have been designed for the rich
The starting-off point in the article is the current trend of very high-end kitchens to have cabinet-fronted refrigerators so you can't see a recognizable appliance. (I've been seeing these custom-panel-covered fridges in design articles for a while, but they strike this writer as a novelty.) On the whole, the article seems to me a bit weak on the pre-20th-century history of kitchens, stating that back then: "kitchens were just random bits of furniture and a stove shoved in attics, basements and poorly ventilated back rooms. Architects didn’t care about kitchens because their high-end clients’ kitchens were filled with servants." This is far from complete or accurate, but never mind. Conley's focus on post World War I kitchens is interesting enough in itself.
Quite a lot of detail is included about Grete Schüette-Lihotzky (1897-2000), the first female architect in Austria. She designed a modern kitchen called the Frankfurt kitchen in the 1920s with "an orderly layout of storage, appliance and work surface." After her success in Frankfurt, Lihotzky went on to work on domestic architecture in Communist countries, for example: "Lihotzky helped design Magnitogorsk, an industrial city built around steel production. Magnitogorsk served as a shining example of the supremacy of the Soviet Union." During World War II, Lihotzky was in the resistance to the Nazis, and went on to work in various Communist countries. Kitchens throughout her life were a way for her to contribute to women's role in society: "Lihotzky believed the work of the home was real work. She thought it should be treated with professional dignity."
|From another version of the article: A Frankfurt Kitchen at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
I'm pretty sure I have seen this installation, as well as one in the Museum of Applied Arts (MAK) in Vienna.
|The MAK installation of a Frankfurt kitchen (Wikipedia)
Another kitchen theorist was the American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860-1935). Conley explains how Gilman's approach to domestic labor was interesting -- but incredibly racist. Gilman proposed a hideous and shocking source of labor for domestic and other purposes: Black people. As the solution to what she saw as a problem: "Gilman wrote that the mere fact of Black people in America caused 'social injury.' Her 'suggestion' for that 'problem?'A forced labor corp, complete with uniforms and bases. She argued that Black people 'should be taken hold of by the state' and 'enlisted' into forced labor." I knew of Gilman only as a leader of early-20th-century American feminism, so I found this section of the kitchen design article very educational.
After a discussion of various issues of American consumerism, Conley concludes her interesting history lesson thus: "White communists, white socialists, white feminists, white capitalists and white supremacists were all hoping to engineer whole societies by designing the kitchen. Each saw kitchens as permanently fitted with women – they just disagreed over what that meant. All kept the footprint of patriarchal understanding and most anchored deep into racist foundations. None of their blueprints made room for the meaning of the work in the kitchen. Forget the meaning, they could hardly be bothered with the function."
There's also a longer version of Conley's article -- with really good illustrations -- at the blog Home Culture here. If you are at all interested in the subject of kitchen design, it's worth reading one of these versions, though I think they are quite incomplete and driven by ideology.
Blog post © 2021 mae sander.