A vision of evolution for the Living Kitchen
By Rob Mascari
5th March 2014
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
Rubbish. Never have I heard a more stagnative cliché thrown around than that.
In 1977, one of the greatest feats of Anglo French engineering tore into the skies above London. Three and a half hours later, the nose dipped and tyres screeched as it touched down at Kennedy International Airport, New York. Nearly forty years on, Concorde has been decommissioned. No longer does the Vulcanesque roar send shudders through the households of western London, nor play fiddle to yuppie champagne parties sixty thousand feet above. Ok fine, but the sad reality is Concorde could have flown to JFK and back quicker than it currently takes to cross the water. But it’s 2014, why?
James Watt invented ‘the engine’. Did he? Well, that’s what I was taught at school. Actually, he didn’t. He improved and developed an engine originally designed by Thomas Newcomen. So Newcomen invented the engine? Maybe, but he too further developed an atmospheric vacuum engine to pump water out of mines, designed by Thomas Savery. Richard Trevithick should also be thrown in this list, as he developed Watt’s engine and produced what at the time was considered unimaginable power from pressurised steam. Each of these engineers were instrumental in the evolution of the most important breakthrough in industrial history. That evolution has been continual through to today.
I am a kitchen designer. That in itself is an incredibly broad statement. During my time in the industry I have met many kitchen designers. I have met some brilliant kitchen designers and some God awful kitchen designers. Some with degrees in architecture and some that were hairdressers the week before. Why would I want my job description to be associated with an industry that includes awful designers? No other profession accepts such a polarisation. Is this the public perception of us as kitchen designers? The TV programmes and levels of complaints / compensation would suggest so.
So what is a kitchen designer? Kevin McCloud would quip something along the line of overpaid Rubik’s cube player. The general retort from our industry is dismissive; after all, this is a man who raves about a shower converted from a disused nineties phone booth! But maybe he is on to something. Is the reason that an industry accommodates the bad with the good because there is no distinct line drawn between good kitchen designer and a poor one? I am delighted to see that New Bucks University, the KBB National Training Group and in particular my mother Renee Mascari, have now finalised and will soon be running the first degree in kitchen design. Maybe this will finally start to give the public a definition of what a kitchen designer is. I know I speak on behalf on Renee when I say this has been a ten year goal for her.
I have just returned from KBB 2014, the national trade exhibition for the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom industries in Birmingham. My first visit to this show was in 2004. I have to admit I was hugely underwhelmed.
I’ll start with the good though. Blum (engineers of drawer and lift systems) were fantastic. Drawer boxes now look and function like they should do in 2014. Seamless aesthetics and perfection in motion. I was also delighted to see the Krushr win an award for innovation. Recycling saves the environment, and space saving is key to any great design. Their recycling and crushing bin ticks all the boxes, all for an affordable price. There were obviously a couple of other highlights (apologies if I haven’t mentioned you) but the above two were the standout performers for me.
Now the rest. I could have been at KBB 2004. Ok the kitchens on display may have new wood or gloss finishes; they may be cheaper than they were or have RAL palette of colours to choose from. But they are EXACTLY the same. How many different range cookers or 60cm x 60xm single ovens do we need? I recently visited a furniture company where there was a kitchen on display from the sixties. The unit was a metric box with two hinges and a door.
What is a kitchen? Fundamentally it is a mix match of boxes (McCloud), appliances and worktops. The kitchen designer’s role is to arrange these in an ergonomic fashion to meet the client’s brief, then convince them their design is better than Joe Bloggs Kitchens down the road. They then have to project manage and install all above components to the satisfaction of the client. This is a logistical nightmare in itself but we’ll discuss that another time! Ultimately the end result is a complicated and stressfull period for both client and retailer because of fragmentation.
Like supersonic commercial travel, I find it unbelievable the kitchen has not evolved. I cannot name one other element of the construction industry that has not evolved. The way we live now is completely different to how it was in the sixties. New houses are built differently with modern technologies. We have solar power, under floor heating, large living kitchen and dining areas. We should be embracing these trends to our benefit and look for new ways of designing the kitchen.
I have a vision of the kitchen in ten to fifteen years. I see a row of showroom frontages similar to those of my local new car dealerships. Inside each of them I see kitchens. But these are not the mix match of components demonstrated above. You will not see a designer (or hairdresser) sitting in a corner ready to fill your walls with boxes. These are kitchens that are pieces of furniture. Large modules of furniture you can pick up from the showroom and drop in your kitchen. Different ranges / sizes and functions to suit different needs but each range is standardised in footprint, but customisable with options that that the customer wants to customise. The kitchen will be defragmented because of the work that has gone into the research and development of each range. Appliances will not be placed in niches, they will be the heart and soul of the kitchen, integrated with the furniture. Control panels will be where they should be. Why on earth do we have three ovens next to each other with three different control panels?! Materials will be green. Chipboard will no longer be used. Alumininium, recycled glass and Corian are all recyclable and far superior products for the kitchen area. The role of the kitchen designer will change, they are now actually designing kitchens, while the salesman does his part and sells the product.
Of course this approach will not suit everybody, there will always be a market for completely bespoke design. But let me explain the benefits of my theory from the differing points of view.
From the customer: The current journey to a new kitchen is a nightmare for a customer. The general public don’t know the difference between a lacquered door or vinyl door, or a quartz top to a granite. And rightly so: they don’t care. Their criteria is simple: stylish, build quality and value for money. My approach emulates the experience of purchasing a car. You choose the manufacturer, then the range, then the options. They know what it will cost and can budget accordingly without delay. They no longer have to spend weeks trawling the circuit and waiting from plans, designs and quotes.
From the architect: The kitchen is chosen before the plans are drawn. The house / extension is designed around this. The architects will know the products and ensure all services are in place from the off. They can also design the space sympathetically to the chosen kitchen.
From the retailer: No longer are they wasting their time designing kitchens that they won’t complete a sale on. A simple ‘drag & drop’ approach to computer aided design (or whatever technology we’ll be using in the future) would show the customer exactly how their kitchen will look in their home. A sale could be agreed within an hour of meeting a client.
From the installer: Standardisation speaks for itself. A kitchen could be installed within a couple of days. Specialist training would be inevitable however no longer would they be relying on multiple trades holding others up, or deliveries from all over causing delays and aggravation.
The kitchen designer: They now how a distinct understanding of their role, working behind the scenes on innovative new furniture and doing what designers do best, design.
The hairdresser: Bye bye.
As mentioned above, the product itself would benefit. Boundaries could be pushed through prototyping, be it styling, build quality or a host of other areas. The materials used can be thermoformed and shaped beautifully. These are details that are currently prohibitive due to one off costs of production. Larger scale production enables the customer to enjoy these luxuries affordably.
I have developed a concept kitchen using the above principles. For obvious reasons, at this stage of development I cannot meet every criteria. I don’t have the financial clout to market my product / concept to the grand scale I would like to. Neither do I have the power to push appliance manufacturers into this thinking. I guess the reason I’m writing this is because I’m hugely passionate about my industry but massively uninspired with what I’m seeing. I may not be the person to change the face of kitchen design but I’m giving it a damn good go. What else can I do?
My lifetime goal is to make peoples lives more fun. I don’t want to see our wonderful industry grounded like Concorde because we didn’t evolve. I’d rather we followed the route set about by Savery, but blown to new levels by Trevithick.
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