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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Why Galley Kitchens Are So Common in Pre-War Homes

via The Victoria & Albert Museum
It's been three years since we moved into our mid-century home in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of New York City. Though I've touched about every square inch of our place, I have yet to pull the trigger on a kitchen remodel, as I grapple with a decision to leave the galley kitchen footprint intact or bring down walls for an open concept kitchen.

Any inclination of mine to keep the galley footprint is rooted in recognition of the work of Philip Birnbaum, the architect who designed this building in 1946. Beloved by developers for his efficient use of space and by homeowners for gracious floorplans with lots of windows and natural light, Birnbaum was an architect more renown for his interiors than exteriors, though he's credited with some 300 buildings in New York. I particularly enjoy the subtle drama exhibited in things like his raised dining platforms and sunken living rooms. Who am I to mess with Birnbaum's design?

In fact, galley kitchens weren't unique to this one architect, but were ubiquitous in Jackson Heights construction of the era. To understand why, we need to step back in time.

One early proponent of the galley kitchen was Ladies Home Journal columnist Christine Frederick, an American home economist and author of the 1913 book "New Housekeeping: Efficiency Studies in Home Management." Inspired by time-motion studies of her day that were popularized by Frederick Winslow Taylor — probably best known to us modern folks as the stopwatch carrying dad in stories like "Cheaper by the Dozen"— and similar of his assembly-line and machine-era contemporaries, Christine Frederick was first to apply such efficiency and workflow theories to kitchen design. We have her to thank for the "kitchen triangle" workspace theory.

Frederick's book, translated into German, caught the eye of Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, who was also a student of Taylorism. Hired by German architect Ernst May — who was tasked with solving a post-WW1 housing crisis in the city of Frankfurt by shoehorning some 10,000 livable units of public housing into a city where both money and land were in short supply — Schütte-Lihotzky applied similar workflow principles. Her 1926 "Frankfurt Kitchen" was a compact galley design, inspired by restaurant cars she'd seen on trains. 

The Frankfurt Kitchen was a model of efficiency, hygiene, and workflow. But it was also stylish and available in four modern colors: blue, gray, white, and green. 

Her design withstands the test of time. You can easily imagine a Frankfurt Kitchen plopped down in a current-day Jackson Heights home, and it wouldn't even seem all that dated.

via The Victoria & Albert Museum
It's not so far removed from some of the beautifully renovated galley kitchens that I've been admiring in my neighborhood, like this recently remodeled galley commissioned by a chef, which was featured on Sweeten blog.

via Sweeten Blog
Or this one that was shared in neighborhood forum Jackson Heights Life.

via Jackson Heights Life
With so many lovely examples, where homeowners were able to keep the original footprint, why would I mess with what's unmistakably a model of efficiency? Well... because I'm finding it not all that functional for the way Ross and I (and probably lots of other modern couples today) live.

It even had it's detractors in it's heyday.

According to Wikipedia, "Schütte-Lihotzky had designed the kitchen for one adult person only, children or even a second adult had not entered the picture, and in fact, the kitchen was too small for two people to work in. Even one person often was hampered by open cabinet doors."

The biggest complaint I have about my kitchen is that it's a one-cook kitchen. Not only can two people not cook dinner side by side comfortably, but even someone coming in to grab a drink from the refrigerator disrupts the flow. In addition, I find the aisle that probably easily accommodated 1940s appliances is too narrow to fit today's equipment comfortably. When our dishwasher door is open, it blocks the refrigerator. When the oven door is open, I have to stand to the side to remove trays — all well and good when I'm baking cookies, but it becomes treacherous when I'm pulling a sizzling hot 20 pound turkey out of the oven.

It doesn't escape me that in a twist of irony early female pioneers Fredericks and Lihotzky elevated the role of housewife to one worthy of scientific methods and modern design yet at the same time isolated women in a walled-off kitchen, far away from social interaction.

The popularity of the Frankfurt Kitchen was influential and far reaching, and galley style kitchens continued to be a common style of kitchen well into the 1940s and 1950s. But another style was also coming into play mid-century, and that was... you guessed it — the open concept.

via Old House Online
I've been noodling around in Sketchup for some time, reimagining what my kitchen might look like if I were to open the galley walls, and I have to say it's pretty exciting.

Not only could two cooks work side by side, but I'd have room to employ wall ovens, which would make baking easier, safer, and more efficient. I could also locate the refrigerator in a place where anyone might grab a cold drink and not disrupt the flow of cooking or clean-up.

I've seen a few homes in our neighborhood, where former galley kitchens like ours have been reconfigured to open concept, and it's hard not to like what I see.

via Berkshire Green
So, what do you think? Galley vs. open concept. Historical accuracy vs. functional design?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

IKEA Hack: Desk for Two + Järsta Wall Cabinets


It's been awhile since my IKEA home office for two hack and though I've put the finishing touches on the desk for two, I'm not quite finished with the room. I've been exploring wall cabinets. I had some time last week between appointments in the IKEA area, so I popped in and as often happens I found the inspiration I was waiting for. I think you're going to *love* it!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Recycled Luxury Zen Bathroom for Less Than $2,500

While stalking a recycled kitchen on Green Demolitions this week, I came across some great deals in the bath section. Two never-used Lefroy Brooks deep soaking tubs for under $1,000 — and one is the lovely Zen Tub. (The wooden feet alone retail for more.) Then I saw that the tub would pair really well with an Alape floating vanity, marked down to $950. This got me falling down a designer rabbit hole. Could we kit out a whole dreamy Zen bathroom for under $3k just shopping markdowns at reuse stores? Why, yes, we can! Even less!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Fixer Upper Friday: Dunolly 2BR Reconfiguration

Hey, I'm back with another installment of Fixer Upper Friday. Today I'm looking at a 2 BR at 34-21 78th Street, 2J, in Jackson Heights that caught my eye. The home, which just hit the market asking $450k, is located in the Dunolly Gardens, a massive six-building co-op that actually takes up an entire city block. Other 1100 sq ft 2BRs in the building, like this one in the E line, have been selling for as high as $615k, thanks to a coveted second bath. Looking at our floor plan, a clever reconfiguration has the potential to not only open up the kitchen but also add a second bathroom, creating a valuable master suite. Let's take a look!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Fixer Upper Friday: Roosevelt Terrace 2 BR

Typical terrace at Roosevelt Terrace via RedFin
Hey, I'm back with another installment of Fixer Upper Friday, scouting a 2 BR at 35-31 85th Street, 4h, in Jackson Heights. This home is located in a four-building co-op down the block from where we live, so I get to see quite a bit of it and I can tell you that the outdoor spaces are sweet. I'm going to breeze right over the photos in the ad on StreetEasy and instead show you this of a neighboring home in the same co-op that gives a better taste of how great this home could be. Can't you just see yourself sipping a latte or glass of wine here? Righty-ho, then — let's jump right into the floor plan, where the potential to open the kitchen into something spectacular is pure Renov8or gold.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Modern Chair for the Bedroom (Update)

The bedroom makeover has dragged on, while I search for the right mid-century style bedroom chairs and rug. But I'm one step closer this week. The rug I'd been stalking at West Elm was just reduced half price, so I snapped it up. The Margo Selby Zig-Zag Stripe Kilim Rug ($299) makes a big color statement and that's going to help decide the chair. Possibilities include a surprising newcomer — a lounge chair ($250) from the new Target + Dwell collaboration. What do you think? Does it beat out gorgeous red Blu Dot chair (that's 4x the cost)? I'd love to hear opinions!

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Folding Clothes Into Origami

If anyone had foretold I'd be folding my sweaters, jeans, and, yes, even undies into origami in a quest for a more organized home, I'd not have believed it. Yet, here I am. Remember last year's breakout book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up? It prompted a slew of riveting "clutter" photos all across the web and spawned the hashtag #KonMari — now a verb, as in "I KonMari'd my closets." But does it really work? I put it to the test. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Float Mount Frame Hack for Large Canvas Paintings

You know how some people have good parking karma — a spot always opens up for them just when they need it. Well, I have good artwork karma. I've been collecting art for most of my life and have had some unbelievably good large-scale canvases fall into my lap. Though I've acquired many large canvases for free, framing them can be costly, so I'm excited to share with you this easy DIY hack to create a simple float mount frame.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Barn Light for the Cottage Porch

Ashley Brooks Designs / Barn Lighting
I've been taking time off to spend with my folks at the cottage, but that doesn't mean we don't have a few projects up our sleeves. I've long been wanting to replace the rear porch light on the deck, and with Dad the electrician on premises, now seemed as good a time as any.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Mood Board for a Black and White Bathroom

One of the first things I like to do when I'm designing a bathroom is bring all of the elements into Pixlr as layers and move them around without worrying a lot about distortion and proportion. It's fun, and it's often surprising what I discover. Take the black and white bath we're working on...