Stefan Waldenmaier at the Leicht booth at the Living Kitchen 2017

Living Kitchen 2017
Maître Corbu in the kitchen

Le Corbusier, the man who was possibly the most important architect of the 20th century, and true Swabian quality meet up at kitchen manufacturer Leicht. Why? Daniel von Bernstorff and Fabian Peters asked Director Stefan Waldenmaier.

Leicht AG, which is based in Waldstetten in southern Germany, has in recent years established itself as the industry leader for premium kitchens. The company has above all Director Stefan Waldenmaier to thank for this achievement. He got the company on track for success with a courageous strategic realignment. His latest coup: Leicht is now offering its kitchens resplendent in Le Corbusier’s color range. The 54-year-old manager is also Chairman of the German Kitchen Furniture Industry Association. Daniel von Bernstorff and Fabian Peters talked to Stefan Waldenmaier at the Living Kitchen 2017.

The Le Corbusier colors in which Leicht is now presenting its kitchens are the real eye-catcher at your booth at this year’s Living Kitchen. Why did you decide to use these color tones?

Stefan Waldenmaier: There were two main reasons. First, we are very skilled with lacquers. Leicht has for a long time been using RAL colors and we have dealers who know how to handle such colors, too. Second, we believe architecture is a really important part of the kitchen space. We actually started developing concepts for open kitchens a good ten years ago. The idea was to open the kitchen out into the surrounding living space and strip it of the feel of a purely functional space. To this end we developed planning options such as cupboards with flip-up doors or longer doors that reached down to the ground, as these ensured our fitted units looked less like kitchen items and more like living-room furniture. Our style, with the clear lines and the simultaneous emphasis on paring things down fits well with Le Corbusier’s approach. He likewise carefully chose his colors and at the end of the day came up with a palette of 60 different tones.

And you then made a selection from those 60 colors. How did you go about it?

Stefan Waldenmaier: When making the selection we bore in mind that the Le Corbusier colors had to harmonize with our materials, in other words the woods we use and the concrete surfaces. After all, for Leicht kitchens the lacquered surface is often combined with a second material. On that basis we then made our selection. The first step led to a choice of some nine colors. We then decided to offer five of the basic colors that Le Corbusier had developed in three tones respectively, and we therefore now have a total of 15 colors in the range.

Color palette on the wall: Leicht’s presentation in Cologne this year centered on the Le Corbusier colors.

Many of these colors are hardly to be found in kitchens today, such as the eggshell and turquoise hues. Do you think they will be well received in the market? How “mass compatible” are the Le Corbusier colors?

Stefan Waldenmaier: We don’t really expect that we will pander to mass taste. And we don’t want to either. We simply want to appeal to those who find the effect of these colors great. Many of these colors are no doubt daring for some people, but others want precisely those colors. Moreover, the color is meant as an application and is not supposed to outshine everything else. We have primarily chosen subdued colors that are very matter-of-fact in terms of aura – and that matter-of-fact tone is what a kitchen needs, namely longevity and timelessness.

Will Le Corbusier’s oeuvre now inspire other kitchen developments at Leicht?

Stefan Waldenmaier: For us, this is just the entry level. Perhaps we will soon be developing shapes that address Le Corbusier in other ways. That is quite conceivable!

What would you say is Leicht’s special approach compared, for example, to other premium-end manufacturers?

Stefan Waldenmaier: I always say: If you talk about something then you need to deliver, too. We at Leicht have long been talking about open kitchens and this is why we felt obliged to deliver, to offer planners a way of designing their open kitchens. So we systematically started developing proposals that render the transition of our kitchens into the living and dining areas more homely and to this end brought shelf and cupboard systems to market that are precisely not meant to look as if someone had simply stood a kitchen cupboard in the living room. Our motto: We are exceptionally flexible and if clients so desire can provide customized kitchen solutions. Needless to say, this flexibility in manufacturing also gives planners the freedom to realize even the most audacious client wishes.

How do you prepare your kitchen planners, meaning your sales staff, for the new task? Since kitchens are being increasingly integrated into living spaces, planners tend to be interior architects who have to consider many more factor than just ergonomics. In fact, it’s basically a new profession that is evolving.

Stefan Waldenmaier: We already offer seminars on creative planning. We have concentrated thus far on how to approach our products. In future we’ll be doing a whole lot more, however. We’re busy planning a concept that conveys a systematic methodology on space, color and materials. We are deeply committed to providing thorough training for our planners.

Delicate yet bold: Leicht aims with the Le Corbusier colors to address architecturally minded customers with the courage to realize unusual kitchen design.

Who are typical Leicht clients?

Stefan Waldenmaier: In former times the typical Leicht client primarily focused on quality. He or she wanted a matter-of-fact solution for the kitchen and tended to be in his or her early 50s – the classic case of someone refitting their home for the first time. Our image has since changed radically. We know this as for the last seven years we have conducted a study on brand awareness each January. Among the responses, quality is still the top of the list, but ever more frequently key words such as architecture, timelessness and innovation get mentioned. These terms are now associated with Leicht. And we appeal to an ever greater number of young people. Today we are already seeing increasing brand awareness among the late 30s age bracket. This probably derives from the greater attention we now pay to the social networks. We have noticed that some of our rivals are best known among the 60s age group. Whereas we are increasingly popular among the 40-year-olds.

Over the last decade you radically changed your products and your image. How did that happen and what was the underlying idea?

Stefan Waldenmaier: The realignment actually took place 12 years ago. I joined the Leicht Executive Board in 2002 and in 2003 was here at the fair and realized that if we continued the way we did things we would at some point belly up.

Could you describe the status quo back then?

Stefan Waldenmaier: A Leicht kitchen had nothing to set it apart from other brands other than a far higher price tag. The brand core was quality from Swabia. The product was bland. The new idea was: I wanted to establish a brand that was timelessly modern, neither conservative nor too zeitgeisty. An honest, approachable brand that was highly innovative and offered good value for money.

You are not only Leicht Director, but also Chairman of VdDK, the German Kitchen Furniture Industry Association. What can you tell us about the state of the industry at present?

Stefan Waldenmaier: The sector can look back on really good years: It grew about 4-5 percent annually, and outside Germany the growth even hit the ten-percent mark. We assume that the kitchen boom will continue. First, conditions in the financial markets are encouraging people to invest in fixed assets and second, the kitchen has become a far greater status symbol.

Close to the product: Stefan Waldenmaier talks to Fabian Peters.

Looking to the future, where will kitchen developments head in coming years?

Stefan Waldenmaier: The “networked kitchen” will no doubt be a key topic going forward. The question will surely be who develops the expertise in integrating and interconnecting all the WLAN- and KNX-compatible appliances. Here, makers of household appliances will need to train the specialist dealers and tradesmen the way we already do with planners as regards spaces and colors.

Will the “smart kitchen” change kitchen design?

Stefan Waldenmaier: I believe that over the next few years materials will come on the market that will make it possible for kitchen surfaces to function as monitors. My kitchen will then become the control HQ in my house. Applications have already been made for patents on such surfaces! And such a development will no doubt completely change the kitchen in architectural terms.