November 19, 2010  |  Collection & Exhibitions, Counter Space
The Perfect Kitchen Clock

Hungarian embroidered wall hanging. Translation from Hungarian: “You must do everything at the right time.” Collection Juliet Kinchin. Photograph: Roger Griffith

There’s always been a clock in my kitchen. I can’t imagine otherwise. I bet there’s been one in yours too. I’m not talking about the digital ones on the coffee maker, stove, microwave, etc. that I don’t even bother to set—I’m talking about the clock that’s been in charge of keeping time everywhere I’ve ever lived—my kitchen clock.

These days it’s the Plywood Clock, made in Japan by Lemnos, Inc. To quote the website for the MoMA gift shop, where I got it, “This wall clock features Seiko precision movement, clean graphics, an easy-to-read face, and a distinctive plywood frame.” And it’s all true. It is a great clock, and it’s perfect in my kitchen, but…

Max Bill. Kitchen Clock with Timer. 1956–57.

Ever since we hung Max Bill’s “Kitchen Clock with Timer” on a gallery wall in the exhibition Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen, I find myself coveting it, with its perfect shade of robin’s egg blue and its elegant teardrop shape—like a perfect drop of time.

Now that’s a kitchen clock.

Just by looking at it you can tell it’s efficient, certain, reliable, and responsible. And what’s more, you get the sense that secretly it’s somehow forgiving—a wonderful quality in any clock, let alone the one in charge. And it is in charge, you just know it is. You can feel it, and not because it throws its weight around—no, not at all. It doesn’t have to. It hangs up there, in its splendor, in its quiet understated elegance, ticking away, steady and sure, keeping and marking time, an ideal example of perfect form and moral purpose though design, in the spirit of the Swiss and German Werkbund; Bill was member of both.

Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen installation photograph. October 2010. Photo: Jonathan Musikar


As a young man, Bill studied at the Bauhaus in Dessau under Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, and Oskar Schlemmer, to name just a few artists. He was the first director, and a co-founder with Inge Aicher-Scholl and Otl Aicher, of the Ulm School of Design, Hochschule für Gestaltung – HfG Ulm. Bill was a painter, sculptor, industrial and graphic designer, typographer, theorist, teacher, essayist, and architect, and he designed this most excellent, singular Kitchen Clock with Timer,  which you can see (and covet) in the Counter Space exhibition, on view at MoMA through March 14.