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Who Invented Fitted Kitchens?

When building or refurbishing a house, the two rooms that need the most work and feature the most complexities are the kitchen and the bathroom, not only because there are much more technical complexities when it comes to wiring and plumbing, but also to ensure that they look consistent and fit the homeowner’s vision.

Choosing contractors who can also provide kitchen fitting services is a good way to get around this, as they do not need to outsource the kitchen fitting to anyone else and can ensure perfect, consistent results.

They can choose the right fitted kitchen for the needs of everyone using it, but where did the concept of an effective, robust, space-saving kitchen come from?

From New York To Frankfurt

The first widely produced and sold fitted kitchen is nearly a century old, but that design was inspired by one made three years before it, which in turn was inspired by several writers and designers who literally shaped the modern kitchen.

Whilst kitchen areas have existed since the discovery of fire, the first person to seriously consider the needs of the people using the kitchen was Catherine Beecher in her 1843 book A Treatise on Domestic Economy.

Mrs Beecher, a pioneering educator who advocated for preschool education, physical education and the power of schooling to shape the development of children in general, was inspired by the steamship’s galley.

It featured a lot of elements that are seen in modern fitted kitchens, including a lot of shelving space, separated preparation areas and various storage stations for different food items.

Its biggest success and influence came when it was re-released in 1869 as part of The American Woman’s Home alongside additional chapters by her sister, author and abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe, where it started to shape the perception of what the kitchen could and should be.

The next major step would come in 1913 with the pioneering work of Christine Frederick and the pioneering book The New Household.

Inspired by the industrial management systems of Fred Taylor, Christine Frederick advocated strongly for kitchens to be efficiently designed for the tasks that need to be done, with specific stations for prepping, cleaning dishes and cooking, nearly sorted and arranged in order of their use.

Her work was particularly influential in Europe and would go on to inspire a new wave of architects and interior designers.

The most important one was Benita Otte, who was a member of the Bauhaus around the time that the influential art and design school worked on their showpiece Haus am Horn.

Inside it is a fitted kitchen, and whilst to modern homeowners and contractors it will look terribly normal, it was, in fact, the very first fitted kitchen ever built.

What turned it from an interesting exercise in efficient design to the future of kitchens was the influence it had on Margarete Schutte-Lihotzky, one of the first-ever prominent female architects in Europe.

She was a firm believer in functionalism, where a building is designed around its purpose, and with that in mind, she worked with Ernst May on the New Frankfurt affordable housing project.

The centrepiece, and by far her biggest contribution to architecture during her 102 years of life was the Frankfurt Kitchen, the first fitted kitchen based around a universal concept that, whilst narrow, maximised efficiency and minimised wasted effort.