More than any other area of the home, the kitchen is the place where it is crucial to take sizes and heights into account and to listen to the recommendations of others. After all, the kitchen is still essentially a place of work where women in particular spend at least two hours every day on average. But this workplace is rarely designed in such a way that everything is well organised and adapted to what actually goes on there. Proper planning will not only prove good for your back and joints, it will also save time and space. The magic word here is “ergonomics”, which in this context refers to the appropriate and health-conscious design of that workplace called “the kitchen”.

 

 

Kitchen research right back in the 19th century: Naturally, in the early days of housekeeping research it was mostly women who were interested in the ergonomics of the kitchen – women who were pioneers of home economics research. Their ideas were inspired by the boom in industrialisation and the concept that movements could be rationalised.

In 1869, Catherine Beecher, sister of the author Harriet Beecher Stowe, used the well planned kitchens found on ships as a model for the appropriate arrangement of items in domestic kitchens. She assigned specific functions to the different areas of the kitchen and was the first person to call for kitchens to be organised in line with ergonomic principles.

Another pioneer of household ergonomics was Christine Frederick, who between 1915 and 1922 produced a precise analysis of the work carried out in the kitchen. She too took her inspiration from professional kitchens, this time those serving dining cars on the railway: she was fascinated by the logistical challenge of preparing 100 meals every day in a tiny kitchen area of only a few square metres. She also applied economic criteria to domestic chores.

Frederick’s “thread study”, which she used to measure what distance a housewife had to cover in one day, has become the stuff of legend. She tied a thread to a test subject’s foot and, as this thread wound out during the course of the day, she was able to see how far the woman had actually walked. The result was a grid of thread which went this way and that all over the room. Once Frederick had reorganised the furniture into different functional units, the pattern became much simpler; she arranged everything into different work zones, grouping cupboards containing crockery next to the sink and food next to the oven.

 

 

Frederick’s “Household Engineering; Scientific Management in the Home”, which was translated into German in 1922, became a standard reference source for architects – including a young woman from Vienna who in the 1920s won a major contract for workers’ homes and had to design kitchens to fit into a small space. Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky designed the famous Frankfurt Kitchen for the public housing being built at the time. These small, functional "workshop kitchens" had everything appropriately arranged in a very condensed area and became the model for the modern fitted kitchen.

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