Updated: Nov 3, 2021
Maggie and Charles Jenck’s circular kitchen in their Cosmic House in Holland Park was a project I worked on in around 1980. The kitchen took its place in a grand vision linking, in a spirit of self-conscious playfulness, areas of the house with abstract ideas and classical design elements. It was called Indian Summer and the next-door utility and laundry area Autumn. Charles Jencks’s thinking was that these rooms brought ‘the cycle of seasons to a close’… not exactly sure how, but it’s best not to be too literal.
The end-grain chopping block with its organic waste chute and the first ever boiling water tap (brought from the US), the submerged heated towel void behind the sink offer a limited but hidden layer of rationality for practical culinary functions.
The quirky system of meaning-making continues throughout the house, each zone labelled with experimental cosmic names. Maggie, whose aesthetic sense was more austere, gave Charles almost complete artistic freedom. Her private study stands out to this day as the only room without extreme decoration. In fact it is completely plain.
The Cosmic House is now open to the public by appointment. In a beautiful little booklet, Edwin Heathcote quotes Jencks: ‘if you can’t stand the kitsch… get out of the kitchen’. Was the kitchen kitsch? Yes, absolutely! Of course for me it was a fantastic opportunity. No way was I going to get out. I embraced the symbolism, the architectural jokes, the experimentation and fantasy living. I brought in some practical space planning. The Jenckses were particularly happy with the way my design for the inner kitchen circle provided privacy from the street.
We found a skilled paint artist who faked up marble surfaces so well that you could not distinguish the real marble on the countertops from the finish on the cabinetry. The eye was tricked, with the surprising effect of adding calmness to this fantasy space.
While working on the project I found ways of subverting classical motifs, particularly columns. The twin sinks were christened by Jencks the Temple of Water. I shaped adjacent capitols as upside down mixing bowls with wooden spoons as triglyphs, storage gaps in between. A mise en abyme was created by mirrors as fake windows on storage cabinets. The frieze above the Temple of Heat – the hob - was inspired by Lutyens’ New Delhi palace with a ridged cornice. It tops off the bulging overdose of columns on the cupboards above and below. In classical temples columns point the eye towards the sky making the mass of the building appear elegant and light. It was a device I borrowed here with some necessity! The profusion of columns seems to raise the ceiling height, while adding a comic rather than cosmic element.
Charles and Maggie gave me free rein. The only tweak they requested was that we paint the wooden spoons.
Johnny Grey 2021
For more information visit The Cosmic House website