The Dexter showcase kitchen provided a wonderful opportunity for creative collaboration. We saw it as an umbrella for bringing in an international array of designers, artists and craftspeople who helped us make our house a home. In addition, we wanted to take our imaginary kitchen inhabitants on a time travel to Miami and experience the ocean, the sunlight and local architecture, getting in touch with the lighter side of Dexter.
We triggered these sensations with decorative objects created by Mexican artist Eduardo Garza, such as a huge coral in the centre table, mysterious bones, tortoise shells and amber glass light, a Lucite drum containing Dexter’s knives and a jewel box in which the devilish work of Finnish chocolate artist Anna Shea is displayed.
A collection of super-enlarged studies of flowers and crystal blue ocean water by Paul Lange, a Condé Nast photographer, were chosen to help suggest a Miami scene. Paul personally matted and framed his work with precision, and took six hours to carefully place and hang the images.
The American tropical plant expert Dennis Schrader, of Landcraft Environments in Mattituck, Long Island, transformed the kitchen with an indoor container garden. His selection of vegetation selection includes flesh-eating plants, and others with leaves that appear blood-spattered, are shaped like sting rays or feel like alligator skin. Dennis plans to launch his newly published book Extraordinary Leaves at the showhouse on October 16 together with photographer Stephen Green-Armytage.
Our nod to the literal and only elegantly ghoulish was a collaboration with Anna Shea, who made solid chocolate renditions from a cast a human hand and wrist. Startled guests discovered the Dexter-trophy in the fridge. We are disappointed, but not surprised to report that some cheeky guests soon gobbled up some of Anna’s beautiful fingers. She assures us that she is not upset. Anna is based in Tarrytown, New York, and is opening a flagship boutique for her artisanal chocolates in Chicago this month.
The furnishings piece de resistance is the 54 inch tall red rope chair by the Philippino furniture designer Kenneth Cobonpue. It’s supportive, transparent and and cocoon-like. The knots recall a fishing net, and all things nautical. Although an accidental association, the red rope ties visually to both Amy Lau’s use of red in her dining room, and to Enzo Enea’s stunning red rope canopy in his bamboo garden behind the kitchen.
We noticed a snippet of a visual detail in episodes of Dexter story in which a sonar image is displayed on a fishing boat. We asked the producers for a screen capture, and from it, the New York textile artist Liora Manne handcrafted an 8-foot diameter rug that visually anchors our kitchen furnishings. It is graphically stunning, and even more startling to discover that it is a sonar image of Dexter’s watery burial ground!
The naturally distressed zebra maple wood floor has a unique “slasher” grain, caused by water penetration after beetles created bore holes in the source trees. The resulting streaks of grey have a rhythmic, calming effect in the room, like fallen leaves on water. You feel as if you are walking on polished bark, perhaps in a log cabin or tree house.
The wall surrounding the ovens is clad in sandstone from Warzistan, provided by Artistic Tile. The grain and colouring reinforces the Dexter theme with its streaks, broken mineral surfaces and a surface you just have to stroke.
The Australian artist Lucy Turner painted the blood cells frieze on the big storage cupboard. This decoration is in no way morbid or gruesome; blood became beautiful and extraordinary as a mechanism that spreads the life force throughout our bodies. After all, where would we be without it?
The appliances throughout the kitchen are Thermador’s latest. Their new convection cooktop was on display, as were wine coolers, ovens and a generous fridge and freezer. Unlike so many showhouse installations, ours is live. The countertop insert in the sink top and cladding of the radiators and architectural recesses around the windows all came from Caesarstone, a synthetic stone made from crushed quartz.
The onsite contractors, Certified Construction of New York, Inc, also worked hard on all aspects of the kitchen lighting and plumbing installation. And finally, our own team of furniture makers at the Johnny Grey Detroit workshop created complicated walnut countertops and cherry, bogged oak and aspen wood cabinetry, as well as the stainless steel metalwork. The compliment to them is that the visitor’s eye immediately goes to the furniture as soon as they enter the kitchen. Hands soon follow, and it is not at all surprising to see the curves of the furniture caressed with curiosity and surprise.
Designing kitchens for many is quite a boring process. The results often reflect this. Question: how do we unlock creativity, and unblock our thinking about kitchen design? Can we get away from just thinking like a train on a track, of continuous straight counters and wall mounted cupboards?
This past week we’ve had the press preview and the party kicking off the opening of the Showtime Metropolitan Home Showhouse where we created a kitchen for Dexter, the protagonist in the Showtime crime drama.
Having an imaginary and remote “client” like Dexter gave us the chance to deconstruct our expectations and challenge standard formulas. Could we get beyond the boredom of conventional thinking, such as the “working triangle”? Could we create something original and sensual and fantastic, yet still make a kitchen that works? Yes, of course!
But then in very short order, we had to: 1) gut and prepare the shell of the kitchen room in a landmark house; 2) hand-construct all the furniture – including sink station, cooking island, the fridge and pantry cupboard; 3) fully install a working kitchen, including the countertops, an elaborate lighting plan and plumbing; and 4) add all the finishing touches to the decor.
We did all this in six weeks. Our Connecticut-based sales director Chuck Wheelock laboured alongside the construction teams to make it all happen at the site at 23 Gramercy Park South in Manhattan. The cabinets makers sweated away too, and our USA President, Paul Kropp personally drove his truck cross-country from Michigan to New York to make sure the furniture arrived on time and in perfect order.
At one point, we had six people working in the same room, spearheaded by Mark Corbett, our installer. Finally our collaborative team of artisans worked to prepare the room for the media previews – arranging pictures, lights, blinds, rare tropical plants, a custom made rug, chocolate and every decorative item that makes the kitchen feel as if it is in Miami.
Our kitchen for Dexter was inspected by the bloggers and journalists, and the response was great. Naturally, the partying and glamorous showhouse crowds end up in the kitchen, just like at home. Some find it tranquil – an unintended response but nice to hear – and others said they enjoy its masculine appeal, which is perhaps a response to the strong curved countertops and bold pieces of furniture. Equally we hear from those who think it sexy and feminine. Others think it even homely and reminiscent of the fifties; others say, romantic. By the end of the day I was confused, but amused by the chorus of diverse reactions and reviews.
The lack of a unified response was, I believe, also truly a measure of creative success. We did not want a uniform, predictable public response any more than we wanted to conceive the kitchen conventionally. There are too many traditional, predictable kitchens, and that is just what we want to get away from.
Please come see our Showtime Metropolitan Home Showhouse kitchen from September 13 to October 26.