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A tribute to Mark Wilkinson, 1950-2017

Mark Wilkinson - Photo

Mark Wilkinson was a big, colourful character who was passionate about craftsmanship. He brought this into his kitchens in an energetic and original way with an approach to design informed by the workshop bench rather than mainstream ideas associated with modernism and its spinoffs. A few years ago I spent a long afternoon talking with Mark when we were interviewed for a TV series on DIY. We enjoyed a frank discussion in which he revealed the way that dyslexia had cut short his formal studies. I suspect his love of making was a positive response to this, inspiration also coming to him from restoring old pine furniture along with the founders of Smallbone, Graham Clark and Charlie Smallbone, at their yard in the West Country. Who would have guessed that this backyard operation would transform the British kitchen industry? It did, through these individuals' ability to productionise historic styles into kitchens that expressed homeliness and familiarity at a time when off the peg kitchens had become too slick for comfort. 'Hygienic self sufficiency' and such advertising slogans were the norm in the mid seventies when Mark started his company. The role played by his wife Cynthia was significant too, alongside the visionary (now late) Sheila Fitzjones who brought me in to work with Smallbone of Devizes and shared her PR services between myself, Mark and Smallbone.

In essence Mark was an Arts & Crafts figure for our age, who bucked the trend for soulless, slick fitted kitchens to help create a new direction for British kitchen design, a movement that I feel part of, along with Smallbone and other smaller but significant high quality bespoke kitchen companies. His designs added charm through custom-made features in his furniture, creating rooms to cherish as opposed to merely admire. We shall miss his presence but his contribution will not be forgotten.

Johnny Grey, 8 July 2017


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