Friday, December 5, 2014

Kitchen of the Week: Curves in Unexpected Places

When the owners of this Richmond, England, house were writing a wish list for their family kitchen, they said they wanted it to have a contemporary design, to use every bit of space and to have an inclusive feel so the chef wouldn’t be left out of the fun. They run their own business from home and are enthusiastic cooks who use their kitchen a lot.

Enter kitchen designer Johnny Grey, known for his unique vision and creative designs. Grey, a cult figure in the industry, was described by The New York Times as “one of the world’s most influential kitchen designers.” Imagination was certainly not lacking in Grey’s vision for this kitchen. The design is innovative, well thought out and functional.

Kitchen at a Glance
Who lives here: A large family with grown-up children
Location: Richmond, a suburb of London
Designer: Johnny Grey, Johnny Grey Studios

“The space is actually very awkward,” Grey says. “You can’t fit a standard kitchen in it, and the owners wanted to avoid a galley layout.” Previously, the room had been a conservatory–office area that was slightly smaller. It was rebuilt and enlarged to make room for the kitchen, and the skylights were added to bring in light.

The kitchen is an L-shaped space. “There are three distinct areas to it,” Grey says, “the conservatory area, a connecting corridor and, at the far end, a small study area. It meant there were three distinct activities to design for.”

He resolved this by using the three spaces for different functions — a culinary and dining area, a storage and appliance zone, and a home office.

The cabinet units in the culinary zone are made predominantly from wood and cast concrete. The curves eliminate the obstacles of corners. “The key thing about soft geometry is that it’s based on how the eye works,” Grey says. “When the eye detects sharp corners, it sends off a threat alert. Without corners you can expand the amount of work surface, because the body needs less room to maneuver around obstacles.”

“When we start planning a space, we establish the command position of the room, and everything is derived from that point,” Grey says. “I have quite an extended design philosophy, and my first instinct is always to work out the driving position of the room.” It’s all about eye contact and sociability, something Grey calls instinct-based design — design tailored to meet instinctive needs.

In this kitchen the command position is behind the island, as the person standing there can see both “legs” of the L-shaped space. This command position determined where the different areas would be. The kitchen area is in the center to ensure that the cook is fully involved, the home office is at the end of the corridor, and the conservatory–dining area is in front of the island.

The shape of the central island is unusual, almost rhombus-like. “We worked out the minimum space needed to walk around the sink cabinet and the perimeter, sketched it out onto paper, and the negative space in the middle became the template for the island,” Grey says.

The island contains a built-in knife block and end-grain chopping board, a testament to Grey’s belief in functionality. “Some people are worried about using end-grain block, but there’s no other material that’s as good to prepare food on,” he says. “It’s hard wearing, cleans easily, and there’s a natural oil in the wood that destroys bacteria.”

The solid English ash raised server bar doubles as a place where people can perch to chat with the chef. “All these minor things make the emotional meaning of the kitchen that much nicer,” Grey says.

The concrete, incredibly heavy, was made by artisans in molds brought down from the Midlands.

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Kitchen of the Week: Curves in Unexpected Places

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