Minimalism in the Kitchen

Form follows function in new generation systems that maximize efficiency, ergonomics, and aesthetics
This course is no longer active
[ Page 2 of 7 ]  previous page Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 next page
Sponsored by bulthaup

The System Defined

New generation kitchen systems combine functionality and ergonomics in a sensual minimalist form. The design itself is based on a scientific look at workflows and movements in the kitchen. In conventional kitchens it is difficult to reach certain areas without bending down or stretching. The pivotal ergonomic principle of minimalist systems is that everything should be within easy reach and, as a result, the system eschews all hard-to-access areas located high up or down low. Instead, the middle functional area directly above the worktop becomes the focus, with slender, modular panels allowing for flexible kitchen design that mixes visible functional zones. Drawers and pull-outs give users the freedom to shape, structure, and fill space according to their unique tastes and needs. In line with the principle of intuitive function, people become “directors” who modify the scenography of their kitchens, making changes as they like and purchasing additional functions and elements as they need them.

Design Precedents—Bauhaus, Donald Judd, Shaker Furniture

Rooted in the Bauhaus tradition, today's kitchen design systems take inspiration from the minimalist artists of the 1960s, notably Donald Judd. A chief proponent of minimalism, Judd used industrial materials to create objects that were severely reduced in form and not presented on the usual pedestals, but created an interplay between interior and external form, and light and shadow. It is this imitation of sculptural yet lightweight appearance that minimalist kitchens mirror.

Another influence was Shaker furniture of the 19th century, the iconic self-made, high-quality home furniture that combined functionality, material authenticity, and simplicity. Particularly influential was the movement's seminal wooden peg rail from which clothes, everyday objects, and small items of furniture hung from finely crafted hooks, arranged at regular intervals.

The Active Wall and Other System Installation Options

While inspiration may have come from Shaker peg rails and contemporary art, the idea of “actively using the wall” was the core innovation of some minimalist kitchens. In these kitchens, a multifunctional wall becomes the structural base element of the entire kitchen system. Affixed to the wall is a sturdy steel skeleton from which cabinets and worktops, cooktops and water points, electrical appliances, and a myriad accessories all hang on special hooks, making the unit appear to “float.” The steel frame is secured both to the wall and the floor and should be able to support up to 2,200 pounds per foot, and transfer the forces into the ground. Power and gas supply lines are routed behind the wall. This scenario enables maximum use of the space between the wall and base units, and offers the ergonomic advantages of eliminating the need to bend down to reach a bottom drawer, and enabling the area underneath the units to be easily cleaned.

A Kitchen System of Stainless Steel and Marsh Oak

In Berlin, the architect and the new owners of a historic home decided to incorporate a modernist touch. While upstairs, the bedrooms, marble bathroom, and children’s rooms remained as they were a century earlier, the ground floor had been divided differently. Since servants who once prepared and served meals were no longer a feature of the house, it seemed obvious to place the kitchen next to the dining room. Combining owner preferences and the principles of “objectivity, function, and quality,” a system made of stainless steel and marsh oak was selected. A monoblock integrated with sink and gas cooktop was chosen to form the focal point of the room. The former ladies’ parlor and the music room had been joined to form the dining room. Only the floor—a dark basalt in the cooking area, an authentically reconstructed parquet floor in the dining room whose marsh oak takes the color of the kitchen fronts—provides a visual distinction between the cooking and the dining areas. To honor architectural conditions and existing materials, the kitchen makes use of special veneers, for planning and implementing kitchen architecture.

The kitchen utilizes a monoblock in stainless steel and marsh oak with customized side panels.

Photo courtesy of bulthaup


To properly use the multifunction wall's steel supporting frame, wall conditions must be suitable and wall thickness adequate. As a general guideline, wall-hung scenarios are suitable for units of up to 26 inches deep, even if loaded with heavy crockery and large electrical appliances. When units are 30 inches deep or more, however, only the foot-supported or floor-standing versions are feasible. All three types of installation can create a “floating” kitchen, which both facilitates working efficiently within the space and imbuing it with a stylish, lightweight appearance.

In cases where the structural requirements for the wall-hung kitchen are not met and a floating impression is still desired, kitchen elements in the wall line can be placed on a support platform, with working heights that are chosen to meet individual needs. Designers can select from different types of feet. A U-shaped, curved type foot will give the kitchen furniture an airy appearance, while a classic, strict pillar foot will accentuate the rectilinear look of the systems.

Floor-standing elements are the best solution for traditional room designs where storage space must be maximized. A minimalist design with a nearly invisible recessed plinth means that these elements do not dominate the room and maintain the kitchen's “floating” appearance. The floor-standing version is ideal for a classic kitchen island, positioned in the center of the room.

Achieving the Rectilinear Look—Laser Technology and Seamless Joints

Contemporary architecture and modern product design require the consistent, continuous, rectilinear use of form and the use of uniform materials that are the linchpin of the minimalist aesthetic. Laser welding technology has long enabled manufacturers to create design solutions that eliminate joints and fuse surfaces together seamlessly. To achieve a seamless stainless steel finish, for example, ultra thin fronts are made of a light carrier plate, which is surrounded by two stainless steel half shells. The half shells are laser welded to the edges and, after polishing, the stainless steel front appears completely seamless, as if it were made from a single mold.

The technique is also applied to laminates. The laminate edges are heated and then fused together to create an optically imperceptible seam. The advantage of this is that the bond is formed without the usual adhesive, which can become visibly discolored in time. Thus fabricated, laminate fronts appear as if they have been made from a single mold with the appearance of an expensive lacquered front, yet without the cost premium and high maintenance of lacquer. Manufacturers also apply this process to aluminum and wood. Laser welding enables other connections, too, including seamless integration of the water point into the worktop.


[ Page 2 of 7 ]  previous page Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Page 5 Page 6 Page 7 next page
Originally published in Architectural Record
Originally published in June 2013