One of the initial challenges in conserving a design piece that has been in use for over 60 years is assessing where the work has been modified over the years by the owners, and if it is truly complete. Like in our own homes, parts of this Le Corbusier kitchen have been replaced, painted over, lost, and damaged. The empty holes, gaps, and exposed wood we saw once the kitchen was assembled were clear indications that there were missing and incongruous elements in our newly acquired work.
These visual indicators were a good start, but we needed a more systematic assessment to ensure that we would be able to exhibit the kitchen as a complete object. With this goal in mind, we traveled to Munich to see another kitchen in the collection of the Die Neue Sammlung (The International Design Museum Munich), to Marseille to see the original building, and to Paris to visit the Corbusier Foundation located in a residential home designed by Le Corbusier. For two weeks we were immersed in studying the construction of the Unité and returned to New York with detailed schematics of all the components, directions for the colors the surfaces should be painted, copies of original purchase orders for paint and hardware, and pictures of original kitchens still in use in Marseilles.
We compiled a list of everything that was damaged or missing. Each item was then put into one of two groups: items that could be replaced with original examples from other kitchens in the original building in Marseilles, and items that would have to be refabricated for the exhibition. Items like the door slides and missing hooks would be relatively easy to reproduce. However, original fixtures like the faucet are rare and difficult to find or reproduce.
During our search to find original replacements we met Jean-Marc Drut, an avid design enthusiast who has carefully renovated his apartment in Marseille back to Le Corbusier’s 1953 specifications. During his renovation he collected multiples of several kitchen elements including many pieces that we were missing. MoMA will acquire from him the original keys for the cabinets at the front of the bar and two of the missing lamps.
For the items that had to be refabricated we worked directly from the original examples we saw in Marseilles and original drawings from the foundation. Staff carpenters at MoMA fabricated and patinated exhibition copies of the grocery access door, sliding door fronts, handles, and the rest of the missing wooden pieces. The aluminum hooks and rack will be outsourced to a private fabricator. Again we provided our contractors with specifications from the Corbusier Foundation and a silicone rubber mold taken directly from one of the original hooks from the kitchen in the collection of the Die Neue Sammlung in Munich.
The search for an appropriate faucet continues…