Galley kitchens have accompanied me wherever I’ve gone, from my childhood home in Boston to my current home in Oregon. While growing up in the ’90s, I longed for my friends’ suburban homes’ spacious kitchens with lavish islands, where we could all sit on the counters and dip Oreos in milk while everyone else was around. Despite this, I always felt at ease when I returned to my mother’s cramped city apartment and brushed up against her fleece robe while preparing cereal in the morning, inhaling the lingering scent of my father’s toasted bread, and sharing a joke with him when he got in my way.
There is a tendency to think of galley kitchens as dull since they are so commonplace in city life, yet this is an oversimplification that overlooks their unique appeal today. There is normally just one person in the kitchen at any given time, whether it’s because they like to have a barrier between them and their families for the duration of a quarantine or because they value the advantages of simplicity and efficiency that the galley offers. With all due respect to the 1920s housewives who designed them, galley kitchens are perfectly adapted to today’s world.
On any given night, in any particular family, there is generally just one person in charge of cooking, and that individual might want a barrier between themselves and their families during quarantine. One of the most common features of an efficient kitchen is that the sink, refrigerator, and stove are all within easy reach of one another. Even though it’s hard to imagine, the galley kitchen as we know it was really invented in postwar Europe, when Austria’s first female architect was charged with constructing one of the first truly contemporary user-centered kitchen designs.
There was no natural light in many household kitchens before Margarete Schütte-arrival; Lihotzky’s instead, they were frequently made up of a free-standing range, a chest of drawers for storage, and a table. The “Frankfurt kitchen,” which she created as part of a massive post-World War I German house reconstruction project, was a significant shift for her. “Fitted” kitchens were the first to have built-in cabinets, bulk bins that were inspired by munitions factory storage containers, as well as an adjustable stool and a large window for natural light. The reason that sounds familiar now is because standardisation was part of the strategy. More than 10,000 units were expected to be installed in less than a year because of the design’s low cost and simple installation.
While the ’50s were dominated by flowery wallpaper, the 1970s saw the introduction of islands, and the shabby chic, open-concept designs of the ’90s were featured in the current Nancy Meyers movie, galleys have remained in the background. In the modern day, such is no longer the case. We used to want no walls, but now we’d rather have a few more. ‘The epidemic has intensified the urge for isolated areas,’ design critic Alexandra Lange tells me. If you want to keep a door between you and your partner or children, you’re podcasting from the bathroom or using Zoom from the closet.” This would be easier if they had a separate dining area or living room from the kitchen.”