MoMA‘s new kitchen design exhibit “Counter Space” puts dozens of everyday kitchen accessories and furnishings on display. Some are entirely familiar (a soy sauce bottle, Tupperware tumblers, a brown paper bag), and seeing them sitting inside vitrines makes one appreciate how lovely they are. Other, more unusual objects (a cork-covered serving bowl, a glass-handled frying pan, a jet-pack vacuum cleaner) make one realize how Darwinian product design is, and how only the most cost-effective and useful things survive.
The highlight of the exhibit, installed at the center of the gallery, is a Frankfurt Kitchen from 1926-27, one of the thousands of units mass-produced and installed in public housing projects in Germany after World War I. It’s layout is designed to minimize the distances moved between the sink, stove, countertop and table when preparing meals. It’s a sweet little room with built-in cutting and ironing boards, and compartments for grains, spices, cooked foods, and garbage.
But the real power of the exhibit is the way it stirs up memories. One can walk through and identify items from her grandmother’s kitchen, her childhood home, and her first apartment. And one can recall with regret all the lovely dishes and appliances of her own that she’s broken, lost, given away, or sold. Although our kitchen things are designed for efficiency and ease, we love them dearly.