Grey Matters

Why do most kitchens look the same? Thoughts for the industry Part II*

I think the kitchen industry – and kitchen designers – have to own up. The kitchens most people end up with look depressingly similar. Admittedly there are different looks but we know what they are and these collections – as we like to call them – are hardly the bees knees in variety or works of great design.

We probably know why they look the same, too. ‘No time for real design and no demand for original design’. Market research is often the excuse of the unimaginative for not doing something. I experienced this during my days at Smallbone. The Unfitted Kitchen did not have a market before we created one – and now freestanding furniture is happily back in our design lexicon. We took an intuitive risk.

Think of what great product designers have done to advance design. These include Mark Newsome, Thomas Heatherwick or Marcel Wanders, or architects such as Frank Gehry and Glenn Murcutt. The big fashion houses do the same thing everyday – they create edgy designs that people love, or at the very least will wear. Details first seen on the catwalk become part of our daily design vocabulary a few seasons later.

Why can’t we kitchen designers learn a little from these guys? On Friday Feb 12, during Jason Wu’s fashion show during New York Fashion Week, I have a chance to ask him what the kitchen industry could learn from what he does.

It is possible to solve a brief well, be original and sell your ideas to a client regardless of the size of the budget. You have to do four things: take the client through an unblocking process to establish a unique and personal brief; be prepared to say ‘no’ on occasion; communicate your ideas well; and have a passionate understanding of your craft.

*Please note the title of the blog is a dialectical tribute to Ian Dury’s song Reasons to Be Cheerful Part 3.


4 Responses to “Why do most kitchens look the same? Thoughts for the industry Part II*”

  • details and design Says:

    Agreed. Wholeheartedly. I like to think we, at In Detail, bring creativity to our projects but you are correct that most designers have a tough time saying “No”. But also many are just simply not that interested in keeping themselves on top of their game and fail to push themselves out of their own comfort zone. Have to do this before you can do it for your client. I am constantly amazed at what will inspire me. The littlest things in nature or the places I travel. But you have to be open to it. And as you said, passionate.

  • Kevin Henry Says:

    The problem, as I see it, lays in the nature of kitchen cabinetry…it is an “artisans” craft. The average consumer doesn’t understand what goes into creating a kitchen, they just see the look. They feel that they can take a picture down to the local cabinetmaker and can copy the look, and the consumer, without understanding what it takes to produce that kitchen, will be happy with the copy. On the other hand they can’t go down to the corner shop and say…”Oh, can you make me something like the Sub Zero or could you knock off the baking system in the Viking range”.

    Ultimately the problem lies within us, as the American kitchen market on the whole is visually generic in styling with only a handful of US manufacturers creating or producing original designs. I did a seminar for my dealers when I was with Snaidero USA and showed 30 or so slides of American Kitchen door details, each one looking just like the one before it, but when I inserted an image of a Johnny Grey kitchen…every hand went up. And it should be noted that Johnny’s unfitted kitchen became the most copied kitchenconcepts in the US.

    To build brand recognition, we must first invest in creating a brand identity through creativity and innovation and then prosecute “trade-dress” infringements when they happen and only then will you have a foundation to build brand equity on the level of the Europeans.

  • Johnny Grey Says:

    A very thoughtful piece that covers two key issues; consumer behaviour and brand development. People’s psychological need to identify with their friends and what is familiar; general understanding of how things are made, specifically how the kitchen industry operates, ie commissioning projects, disinterest in design because it slows down the sale: the drive to keep costs under control means repetition rules. All these drive away creativity and encourage generic designs.

    As for brand development I think the problem is more that most companies are manufacturing driven, as well as a lack of genuine designers. The result is a work force of sales people rather than creative types who make spaces that are not individual expressions of home.

  • Can Kitchen Designers be Innovative? | Devonshire Park Kitchens Blog Says:

    […] so I snuck away; to do my disagreeing over here, in my own territory. The blog was entitled “Why Do Most Kitchens Look The Same? Thoughts for the Industry Part II” I almost went off to look for Part I … but noticed, just in time, that the title is […]

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