May 1, 2005
Bulthaup’s new kitchen floats—thanks to a superstrong wall unit that supports up to one ton per meter.
Adding a page to the book of efficiency and rigor in German engineering, the Aich-based kitchen manufacturer Bulthaup recently released its Bulthaup b3 system. The most innovative of the three versions offered is the so-called floating kitchen, featuring a supersturdy wall-hanging structure from which almost anything can be suspended. Though the intricacies of its construction are proprietary, the wall’s strength is evident from the enormous cabinets that seem to hover in thin air.
But the wall structure can carry more than just cabinets: credenzas, shelves, and even flat-screen TVs can be applied to it. While designer Herbert Schultes’s previous system for Bulthaup—System 25—was created for the kitchen, “There’s virtually no room in the house where Bulthaup b3 doesn’t have the possibility of application,” CEO and president Susan Nicholas says. With the Bulthaup b3 wall, Schultes created a design language that can provide a smooth transition from the kitchen to the family room, the media room, or even to bedrooms. “The most important aspect,” Schultes says, “was to view the kitchen not merely as a working area but as a living space.”
He also wanted to make small rooms appear larger. Thinner materials help to provide a sense of space as well as a greater working depth—and give a nod to the environment. Schultes adds, “A designer can contribute to the preservation of resources and the reduction of unnecessary environmental pollution through the timelessness of his or her concept.”
Stainless-steel vertical struts are mounted to an existing wall. Horizontal “profiles,” about four inches in height, are mounted onto the struts, and the wall panels are hung into the profiles. “We create a wall in front of the wall and avoid problems with existing walls, such as not being plumb,” vice president of operations Hans-Ulrich Frei says. Twelve-millimeter gaps between the wall panels reveal the “function rails,” or the visible part of the horizontal profiles. This, Frei explains, is where additional items such as shelves and knife blocks can be added. Cabinets and other storage units are hung from the profiles, and function boxes sit on top of the cabinets. The force exerted on the framework—which can hold up to one ton per running meter—is directed downward.
The wall acts as an architectural element that visually ties the kitchen and the dining room together. “We use sustainable products like bamboo,” Bulthaup’s Dominic Lepere says. “And now customers have the option with this system to use their own veneers, as long as they’re not endangered.” The shelves and credenza in the dining room are clad in matte lacquer; the cooking island, cabinets, and side panels are aluminum-edged laminate; and the countertops are stainless steel. Though it stands on stainless-steel bow-shaped, double-support feet, the massive island seems to float as well. “We’re trying to deliver a sense of lightness,” Susan Nicholas says, “so the kitchens are designed from the wall out instead of from the floor up.”
Components such as shelves, knife blocks, and book holders can be added at levels determined by the ergonomically positioned function rails. The area directly in front of a person—the largely unused “niche” in conventional kitchen design—contains function boxes that fold out from the wall: upper and lower boxes can contain frequently accessed items such as spices and utensils. “The Bulthaup b3 system is like Legos,” Frei says. “You can add and add. The only borders are your house and your budget.”
Working from a sketch based on Le Corbusier’s “Modulor” man in profile, Schultes plotted out a wall that would hang lighting and cabinets above eye level, and base units below the waist. Whereas conventional kitchens make users stoop to reach the area closest to the floor, Bulthaup b3 largely avoids that with floating base units.