AddThis Slider

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Why Galley Kitchens Are So Common in Pre-War Homes

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 and homeowners alike for his efficient use of space and gracious layouts, he was an architect more renown for his interiors than exteriors. Something I rarely see discussed in his work that I particularly enjoy is his sense of drama, exhibited in the 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 Christine Frederick, expert in efficient kitchen layouts, author of the 1913 book "New Housekeeping: Efficiency Studies in Home Management," and columnist at Ladies Home Journal. 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 his assembly-line and machine-era contemporaries, Christina Frederick was the first to apply such efficiency and workflow theories to kitchen design.

Frederick's book was translated into German and 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 housing crisis in the city of Frankfurt by shoehorning some 10,000 livable units of public housing into a city where money and land were both in short supply — Schütte-Lihotzky applied these workflow principles to come up with the 1926 "Frankfurt Kitchen," a galley style kitchen inspired by some she had seen employed on trains. 

Her kitchen was a model of efficiency, hygiene, and workflow. It was also stylish and available in four modern colors: white, gray, green, and blue. You can imagine one of her Frankfurt kitchens plopped down in a current-day Jackson Heights home, and it doesn't even seem all that dated.

via The Victoria & Albert Museum
It's not far removed from some of the beautifully renovated galley kitchens I've been admiring in my neighborhood, like this one on Sweeten blog belonging to a chef.

via Sweeten Blog
Or this one shared on our 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... 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 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!