The most popular stereotype with regard to Germany is that whatever is German works. The rest of the world hasn’t always been so keen on its visual design expertise, but recent innovations by German kitchen makers indicate that the country is upping its game.
The first fitted kitchen was set up in a Frankfurt home in 1926; it barely measured 1.9m x 3.4m. ‘It was a small room with a closed door, and cooking was a one-woman show,’ says Sven Baacke, head designer at Gaggenau, producer of premium kitchen appliances. ‘Today preparing food is a social event sparked by the trend for healthy cuisine, and kitchen and living spaces have moved closer together.’
Poggenpohl’s Artesio is the result of such new thinking. It was conceived by Hamburg-based architect Hadi Teherani. This kitchen completely opens up to the living room, building a visual bridge between two areas which were previously separated. ‘We don’t want to offer just cupboards and tables but to build entire rooms fusing furniture, walls, floors and ceilings, which is why we collaborate with architects,’ explains Poggenpohl’s head designer Manfred Junker.
Artesio charms with smooth lines and silken countertops. Minimalist chic is a term that comes to mind. ‘Historically, the Italians were credited with pretty design, while the Germans had the reliable technology. Now, we see eye to eye,’ says Junker.
Germany, of course, has set many milestones throughout kitchen history. Gaggenau, which has been in existence for 300 years, introduced the built-in oven to the world and Bulthaup changed cooking forever with the invention of the kitchen workbench. Poggenpohl has teamed up with Porsche, the car maker, to design a kitchen specifically for men. The P7340 graces a suite at the Ritz in Paris with its classy aluminium frames and wooden surfaces.
Miele appliances complete the picture and one quickly sees why: they can communicate and they’re smart. For example, if you’re out at work and you want your clothes to be washed when you get home, you can contact your appliances using your iPhone. Your Miele washing machine will find a time to do the washing when energy prices are lowest, and your Miele oven will tell you when the laundry is ready, while you are preparing dinner.
Miele engineers use leading-edge 3D simulations so that the design and testing processes are as efficient as possible. ‘Before, we had to build a model for each new idea. Now I can check the resilience of surfaces and put appliances into furniture with just a click of a mouse,’ says Miele’s design centre manager Andreas Enslin.
Of particular note is Miele’s new cooker hood Aura. Attached on four very thin wires, it appears to float in the air, keeping a vigilant eye on your food. ‘It not only recognises that you’re cooking, but it is able to tell what you have in your pot and adjust accordingly,’ says Enslin.
Referring to these appliances as gadgets would be an affront. ‘The enthusiasm for, and the durability of, gadgets is short-lived. Gaggenau appliances, on the other hand, can stay in a family for generations,’ says Baacke. ‘Our technicians and designers often fight a tough battle – the designers push for new materials and the technicians insist on feasibility. But I think you only get the perfect product if you manage to combine the two.’
Gaggenau’s most recent coup is a full-surface induction cook top – the CX 480. This cooking surface is integrated into a kitchen worktop and allows the user to put pans anywhere on it. The surface will recognise where a pan has been placed and has a separate control, a touch-screen interface, for each pan.
Bulthaup is also pushing the design boundaries. The luxury brand has set out to create what it calls ‘habitat’ where cooking can be enjoyed, individuality can be celebrated and the senses explored. ‘Today, people want more than precision and top quality. They want to be moved on an emotional level and they look for sensual components in the objects that surround them,’ says Bulthaup’s marketing and product director Christine Dietz.
This premium kitchen maker once even extracted a 2,000-year-old oak from the Danube to give its b3 kitchen a special touch. And in case you wondered why Bulthaup’s countertops don’t visibly age, the brand employs cutting-edge laser technology to join the surfaces and edges of its furniture with no visible seams. The use of glue, which would turn yellow with time, thereby becomes redundant.
It appears as if engineering and design – previously separated – has also tied a seamless, yet durable, knot.