The modern kitchen has become a model workshop, a chemical laboratory… It is the best designed and most rationalized room of the modern house.
– Karel Teige, The Minimum Dwelling, 1932
Following World War I, kitchens, long ignored by design professionals, began to attract unprecedented attention from domestic reformers, progressive architects, manufacturers, and utility suppliers, all intent on transforming spaces that were previously drab, unsanitary, and hidden from view.
The “New Kitchen,” epitomized by Margarete (Grete) Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt Kitchen of 1926–27, was rationally planned and industrially produced for popular consumption. Simplified house plans and the innovative use of prefabricated construction, combined with a desire to vanquish drudgery and optimize efficiency, resulted in compact, practical spaces that were central to the functioning of the modern home.
Between the two world wars, the New Kitchen was significantly shaped by research into new materials and technologies. Aluminum and heat-resistant glass allowed the development of exciting new products, and the increased availability of electricity and gas revolutionized appliance design. Large companies, especially in the United States, established modern test kitchens, employing professional home economists to collaborate with industrial designers on innovative products for expanding markets.
From Moscow and Prague to Brussels and Berlin, kitchens were at the core of radical projects to modernize housing and renew cities in keeping with the spirit of a new age. Whether conceived as a galley for food preparation or a collective facility outside the home, variants of the New Kitchen shared an admiration for scientific reason and utopian aspirations for a more egalitarian society. By transforming daily life at the level of the kitchen, it was argued, behavioral change and improved social well being would follow. During the Great Depression similar concerns informed Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal promotion of modern kitchens in the United States. As heightened tensions developed into World War II, the New Kitchen’s emphasis on economic use of resources, hygiene, and health was crucial to the home front on both sides of the conflict.