The latest developments in kitchens have brought Asia and Europe closer together. Sven Baacke, Head of Design Global Brand Gaggenau in Munich, considers these and other significant trends in the kitchen of the future – from a consciously slower pace of life to mini-kitchens, from a longing for times-gone-by to the disappearance of complex technology.
DAMN°: To what extent are the visions for the kitch- en of the future actually relevant to designers?
Sven Baacke: Kitchen trends play a major role for us, although it really depends on which developments we’re observing. For example, next season’s colours for kitchen cupboards may be relevant for many peo- ple, but we look further ahead and consider the bigger picture: how do ethnographies develop, what are the consequences of urbanisation, and what is happening in the large number of single households? What will community spaces look like in the future? Are communal kitchens still desirable to the next generation? How do older people live, what types of kitchen do people need in Munich and in Singapore? The kitchen space will change just as much as life and cohabitation do in general. We look at all these aspects and ask ourselves what the consequences will be for kitchen appliances.
DAMN°: In the last few years, living/kitchen areas have become the centre of everyday European life. In Asia, however, there is less scope for spacious kitch- ens. What should we make of this development?
SB: While it’s true that kitchens are getting ever smaller in Asia, we do need to distinguish between individual Asian countries. For example, this year we went to Singapore and Shanghai, two completely dif- ferent worlds – and kitchens in Japan are quite distinct again, due to differing conditions and approaches to cooking. In Shanghai, I saw luxurious apartments with two kitchens: one comfortable, Western-style show- kitchen, and then a sort of ‘wet kitchen’ for traditional Chinese cooking, which uses lots of oil. With a booming business in the luxury segment, there are more and more of these kitchens. In megacities, meanwhile, there’s already a trend for smaller kitchens. And this development is sure to spread throughout the world.
DAMN°: Europe also has a tradition of mini-kitchens – such as that designed by Joe Colombo. Is this relevant for Gaggenau?
SB: We’re actually thinking about this at the moment. Gaggenau with a modular structure. This means, on the one hand, that individual appliances can be installed, or, alternatively, the entire Vario series of cooking appliances can be installed – in combination with a cooling wall. ‘Luxury in a nutshell’ has clearly become a phenomenon. In small apartments, luxury is about functionality, whatever the size. And in the kitchen, that can simply mean preparing fresh ingredients. This is indeed relevant for us, and we can respond to it.
DAMN°: Gaggenau’s range includes single appliances with single functions.
SB: We often discuss this internally. Naturally, in a smaller apartment it seems logical to pack every function into one device. Such a device will do everything, but will do nothing properly. We believe that reducing space also means restricting function. For example, microwaving is not a good way to prepare pizzas – the temperatures required are just too high. However, you can make individual appliances smaller and more modular without compromising function or quality.
DAMN°: Despite increasing globalisation, kitchens really do seem to differ from region to region. What is your experience of this?
SB: That’s true. In the USA, for example, kitchens have a totally different design, and appliances also have another meaning from those in Asia and Europe. Overall, I see the kitchen as a really ambivalent space in terms of size, fittings, function, and social significance. But it will certainly grow smaller in some regions. The current trend in Asia is to adopt Western habits, and European kitchens are also considered chic there. Some people even have ovens in their kitchens, although such appliances are barely used in Asian cooking. Traditionally, ovens are not a familiar sight in Asia, but they form part of the ‘dry kitchens’ currently in fashion. In Singapore, for instance, I saw people preparing cupcakes in dry kitchens. Naturally, this has nothing to do with traditional food preparation.
DAMN°: How can Gaggenau cover this huge spectrum?
SB: We don’t develop special designs for different markets. We don’t change the look and feel either, but rather stick with one approach regarding surfaces, colours, and so on. However, we do pay close attention to habits: how do people live, how do they cook, what’s relevant to them? Our modular systems allow individual appliances – from ovens to wine fridges, from Teppanyaki to steam cookers – to be combined in whatever way people want. But the design remains the same.
DAMN°: Where did the steam cooker originate?
SB: Cooking with steam is an original method used in Asian cooking. However, steam-cooking appliances don’t come from Asia but from professional European kitchens. In Shanghai, I recently visited a very interesting head chef who experimented with a professional steam oven – still not a well-known appliance in Asia. In Europe, steam ovens are becoming increasingly popular because they offer a gentler way of cooking. We domesticated this cupboard-like appliance more than 15 years ago. Today, it has taken on a life of its own: it may not come from Asia, but it’s great for making dumplings.
DAMN°: Previously, kitchens were crammed with complicated, visible technology. Today, they also have a social function, with appliances disappearing and becoming invisible. Are these two trends connected?
SB: There is a clear connection. Some US kitchens used to contain huge, eyecatching extractor hoods; in Asia, it tends to be dishwashers that are proudly displayed, perhaps with stainless steel panelling. The current trend in Europe is to conceal everything. Ventilation units have disappeared, hobs are also increasingly hidden, and even fridges have become invisible. Sometimes you can’t tell the difference between a normal cupboard and a fridge. Technology is like an iceberg – only the tip appears above water; the rest remains unseen. Users want everything to be simple and analogue. Of course, the technology is particularly complex in the way it’s interconnected, but users are increasingly uninterested in this. What does interest them is the idea of a kitchen with a warming fireplace. They don’t want to see the technology – instead, they mainly wish to return to old habits. Many people handgrind and brew their own coffee, perhaps with a record playing in the background. Overall, there’s a clear desire to return to a simpler time. Our appliances will still be very high-tech, but this won’t be immediately obvious or in the foreground.
DAMN°: Even time-savers such as microwaves would seem to have their best days behind them. Should the trend towards a slower pace of life be taken seriously?
SB: People are consciously spending more time on certain things while leaving others to the appliances. Appliances can help make some things quicker so that more time can be devoted to other matters. What I think is important is for individuals to decide what they want to celebrate and what they want to achieve quickly. In this context, I think the trend towards a slower pace of life will focus the attention on food preparation. Ultimately, I don’t think there’s any one major trend anymore. Several, often contradictory trends exist at the same time. We’ll probably be making pasta with 3D printers in the future. Nevertheless, many people are choosing to cultivate plants on their balconies, plants that they can then harvest and eat. Urban farming and 3D printers – they don’t have to be
Interview: Sandra Hofmeister