Legendary Kitchen designer Johnny Grey was the star turn at when he addressed an enthusiastic audience at London’s Grand Designs. With his kind permission we reproduce the speech he prepared for the event. We think it contains some important ideas and want to invite the Modenus community to join the debate. Please add your thoughts in the comment area at the end of this post.
We must begin by asking questions. Why are so many people unexcited, simply disinterested in kitchens? Why do so many kitchens still feel alien, shiny plastic, un-cuddly and depressing? After all it is the room they should love the most. Of all rooms the kitchen is often the least expressive room in peoples homes. We need to explain why householders want to change their kitchens as soon as they get the chance.
We know that fewer people are buying kitchens. Is it because they don’t see what their potential is? Or because they have no money? Is it no longer a good investment? Or they are bored generally with what they see? Does the industry – if I can call it that- need to be embarrassed? Is it simply a poor service?
What is a kitchen made up of? I asked, when giving a series of talks in during an Australian, Canadian and New Zealand design tour, professionals to imagine their dream kitchen – with their eyes shut for a minute or two. When I prompted individuals to answer, no one said appliances or cabinets – they said very emotional things like long views, happy conversations, long – and short lunches, warm moments of family life. We know that in the newly expanded kitchens of the last twenty years only 30% of floor space is used for culinary tasks, the rest is used for social activities. Perhaps we should call them social kitchens. Whatever, we are in an historical period when the kitchen is re-inventing itself in front of our eyes.
We take advantage of this by going with the forces of social change, responding to new work habits, cooking and eating trends, ideas about privacy and leisure and enjoyment of the bigger spaces courtesy of central heating and insulation, and the newly appreciated desire for natural light and connection to garden.
Using furniture as a planning device is at the philosophical core for me. It brings freedom, it’s in tune with people’s traditional idea of furnishing- the art of placement, of arranging things, of compromise, and of putting things together. Space around each piece leaves mental space for expression. It creates variation, 3D movement, flexibility, it could be sourced from your parents, acquired from a flea market, or commissioned. It is not a commercial process that is taking place here – it’s a simple traditional way of furnishing but with an intelligent inner core that most ordinary people get. And this brings rich psychological content, history and culture. It establishes a story. A bit of soul is possible, so necessary at the heart of our home.
How do we entice customers? A revitalized industry will not listen to obvious or in your face wisdom of simplistic customer demand - but develop creative partnerships – with suppliers, artisans and customers. New organizations like SCDF and SBID already offer networking and support opportunities to bring all sides of industry together. Innovation does not happen by giving people what they have already. A kitchen designer needs to wear many hats at the same time – to listen, empathize and propose. We want creative partnerships, not sales driven businesses.
The vehicle for making this happen is the artisan, whom I define as an intelligent maker, a word re-emerging into English back from the Italian origin. It would be an historic first to have an industry that went beyond being sales people for the giants, paid by commission and become a source for multiple artisan skills where design and making merge a lot more than now- from woodworkers, tile makers to painters, combining 3D design skills interior, décor, furniture, lighting design, building and architectural ones too – to help our customers live more comfortably in their walls. My experience is that small companies often innovate best as creativity and motivation have a better chance.
Creative people abound in this country of ours. Our art and design schools train more than can get jobs – why can’t they be employed more in the kitchen industry?
How do we get there? We need to set up a multi-disciplined technical, arts and design programme, at a college level. An advanced Kitchen Academy. Actually I can tell you its nearly here. Lynn Jones of The National College of Furniture at Buckingham University, is setting up a course for kitchen design. With your support this could break the mould and turn the UK into a leader in global kitchen design, as with the fashion industry. I can see neuroscience and psychology being taught alongside woodwork, tile-making, ergonomics and soft geometry. How exciting would that be? Who knows, they may even throw in a few lessons on cooking - something that few kitchen designers do apparently!
You may be surprised to know that the artisan contribution to the kitchen industry is already higher than you think. Of the average spent on a UK kitchen of approx £6500, £3000 goes to the fitters. Shall we call them craftsmen or artisans or maybe designers in waiting? I am sure we have designers and art school graduates who would like to make things? We have workforce from both sides of the equation waiting for further education.
I have spent my life thinking about the kitchen as a place, not as cabinets or appliances but as an expression of a new kind of home architecture that responds to our instincts. An exploration of kitchen culture and the pursuit of an art of kitchen design. I have seen massive changes in the kitchen over the last thirty years and its going in the right direction, but it needs to go much further. A newly revitalized industry that collaborates with artisans and education could deliver something a whole lot more civilised.
May 2011, London.
Illustrated kitchen are all by Johnny Grey.