Karma in the Kitchen
Words by Juliet Austin
Throughout much of history, the kitchen was tucked away in a small, unappealing area of the home. Long, dark, narrow spaces, they were, until fairly recently, viewed as a necessary evil – a place where preparing food had to be carried out, but ideally well out of sight of the rest of the house. In less than a century however, kitchens have evolved to become gathering places for families and friends, where culinary activities are enjoyed. Designed with both function and visual appeal in mind, kitchens are now a key feature of a home.
The Industrial Revolution introduced gas and electric stoves, a semblance of running water and a society obsessed with efficiency and productivity. By the late 1920s working class women in Europe had to work in factories as well as run the home. It was in this context that the first kitchen designs were dreamed up. The thinking at the time focused on making kitchens economical in every way: they had to be cheap to produce, take up the minimum of space and allow a woman to get the necessary kitchen work completed as quickly as possible. Their design was inspired solely by the need to make them efficient. Thus the Frankfurt kitchen was born, a tiny room based on the concept of the kitchen triangle – formed by the sink, stove and refrigerator – within which the cook should be able to reach each corner with minimal movement. This was to be the forerunner of the fitted kitchen, which has characterised kitchen design for most of the 20th century.
The past decade or two have witnessed a change in the way kitchens are approached that runs parallel to the shifting attitudes of our times: a return to more traditional values, a desire to slow down, experience quality time, and even rediscover the pleasures of home cooked food. As class systems have broken down and cooking is accepted as a creative and social activity (rather than the job of servants) kitchens have moved from a cramped space at the outer edges of the home, to the heart of it.
Functionality remains key to kitchen design but is matched by aesthetic appeal. Kitchens have to be areas that are comfortable to work in, but they also have to look attractive and reflect the personality of the homeowner.
Certain features of kitchen design have become common across the board. The traditional kitchen triangle has been extended into a square that includes a kitchen island. The stovetop is often incorporated into the island, as is a secondary sink for washing vegetables. The island often doubles as a breakfast bar or dining table. Ovens have been raised to eye level and dishwashers and microwaves added as standard equipment.
In keeping with a return to more traditional values, Downsview Kitchens, makers of the finest kitchen cabinetry, has maintained its family character and the value it places on a rich tradition of craftsmanship, steering clear of any kind of computerised or mass production techniques. While they use the latest technology to create highly functional kitchens, each piece is handcrafted by skilled artisans.
“What sets Downsview apart from the competition, says Sean Daigle, top designer at Downsview Kitchens, is the range of styles they offer. Unlike other design firms who confine themselves to one specific look, Downsview has three lines of customisable cabinetry, effectively catering to every taste.” At one end of the scale, the traditional line is elaborate, with intricate door designs and myriad wood finishes. With this rich, more ornate country kitchen style, it is possible to recreate the look and feel of a historic country house. At the other end of their design spectrum is the contemporary kitchen, which exudes simplicity with clean lines, careful symmetry and an ordered look. Sleek cabinetry and the effective use of glass, stainless steel and manmade materials combine to create the most minimalist of spaces.
The transitional line allows a blending of old and new, of classic architectural elements with modern finishes. A timeless look can be paired with innovative technology to create a room that is at once modern and classic, one that would fit equally well in a newly built urban apartment as it would in a centuries-old converted farmhouse.
Knowing that a kitchen should be as pleasant to work in as it is to behold, Downsview’s attention to detail is impeccable. Behind the cabinet doors Silentia hinges by Salice allow for opening to 155 degrees, with a decelerating close mechanism.
Drawers slide open and closed at the touch of a button or remote control, meaning that cabinetry can be free of any visible pulls or handles. Base units stand on four or more adjustable legs to compensate for uneven floors. Maximising storage is a priority and a range of cabinet accessories and drawer inserts that include knife blocks, angled spice racks, dividers for organising cutlery, removable bins and even built-in draining boards attest to years of carefully perfecting a balance of design and function.
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Henrybuilt, founded just ten years ago, is already receiving international recognition, competing with the very best European designers.Henrybuilt offer a unique combination of aesthetic product design, engineering sophistication and craft.
Integration is the key concept at every level of Henrybuilt kitchens’ philosophy and product. Each element in the kitchen works with the rest to create a cohesive whole. A unique feature of their kitchen design is the unification of countertop, backsplash and wall cabinets into one uninterrupted unit.
The classic modern style that characterises their designs eliminates frills, trims and unnecessary detail. Instead they create a smooth, uninterrupted look of unparalleled class. Entire walls of built-in cabinets with barely visible handles, appliances concealed behind matching panels and endless storage solutions to keep surfaces clean and clear, combine to create an area that is soothing to the eye, due to an absence of clutter.
Where living area and kitchen share one space, Henrybuilt can make the kitchen aspect virtually ‘disappear’ behind clever cabinetry and into innovative storage solutions. Never straying from their commitment to practicality and sophistication in equal measure, storage possibilities are optimised, using drawers behind cabinet doors for ease of access with inserts customised to the user’s needs.
Working alongside homeowners, architects and designers, Henrybuilt kitchens strive to tailor each kitchen to the individual customer and their lifestyle. They work with the existing architecture of a home to ensure a seamless flow from the food preparation area into the rest of the home and, where appropriate, turn cabinetry into furniture. Kitchen islands can double as decorative shelving, creating a smooth transition from living to kitchen space.
The entire process from design to reality is integrated, with all those involved working towards a common goal. “By combining product design, engineering and manufacturing under one roof, we achieve a level of sophistication and quality in the end result that is not possible when those functions are separated,” explains Lisa Day of Henrybuilt.
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Breaking with mainstream ideas, Johnny Grey pioneered the ‘unfitted’ kitchen in the mid 1980s. The concept, which continues to be hugely popular, is based on furnishing a kitchen with freestanding pieces rather than built-in cabinetry. Each piece has a dedicated function, and is handcrafted to the highest standards.
The space designated for food preparation remains compact, with a layout that makes it conducive to easy cooking. Johnny Grey sets aside any additional space as a socialising area, arranged in such a way that the chef can see and talk to people while working. These are kitchens designed for cooks, by cooks.
The company’s philosophy is rooted in creating a sense of wellbeing and comfort in the kitchen. Johnny Grey, who was named the world’s best kitchen designer by the New York Times, has consulted with psychologists and neuroscientists to determine how architecture impacts mood. Ergonomics have played a vital role in shaping Johnny Grey’s style. This is clearly seen in the signature curves of the furniture. Removing hard, sharp edges and unnecessary corners makes a room, softer – friendlier – encouraging easier movement around the kitchen.
Taking the concept of made to measure kitchens to new levels, at Johnny Grey the homeowners’ measurements are taken: eye level, reach and flexed elbow height. Depending on the function of any given area, exact dimensions are calculated and counter heights adjusted to reduce strain on the body. His designs are truly tailored to the individual.
But however unique and pleasing to the eye this furniture is, it takes a back seat to the owner’s personal possessions: pieces of art, photographs or other collectables that express their personality are woven into the kitchen design from the outset. Additional splashes of colour, textures and woods are then selected to complement these. The irregular, asymmetrical and unorthodox nature of Johnny Grey designs all come together to make an artfully mismatched whole.
Twenty-first century kitchen design is about so much more than fitting cabinets into spaces. Although intended for the purpose of food storage and preparation, the latest designs seek to also create a welcoming environment, a space in which to socialise and relax. Kitchens have become the living rooms in which we cook. Styles to suit any taste are available, be it classic, minimalist or quirky and unconventional, but the latest technology is always incorporated, to ensure kitchens that are both cutting-edge and timeless. Rooted in purpose, driven by soul, these are kitchens for life.
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