- Johnny Grey
Multigenerational Kitchens: Bringing Life into the Hearth of our Homes
Updated: May 2
Memphis and a trip to Milan in October 1979 comes to mind when I think of my earliest inspiration for designing fun into the kitchen. I recall vivid colours, kitsch patterns and strange curves as I walked into an exhibition at Il Salone Mobile by Ettore Sottsass and the interior design collective Memphis.
As I entered the space my first impression was of the scale of the empty room. There were only four or five pieces of furniture and they were classic Memphis pieces: Kitsch, awkwardly shaped, brightly coloured and patterned. A strangely-shaped bookcase in leopard print. It appeared ugly, more of a protest than a serious furniture item. But these designers knew what they were doing and It took me a while to recognise this and when he spoke at event at the V&A years later I had the chance of meeting this warm-hearted man. For him at this period, it was an exercise in furniture as decoration.
At the time, I did not realise the impact Memphis would have on post-modernism worldwide, nor the impact Industrial Designer Sottsass would have on my own design sensibilities.
As Rowan Moore, writing a book review on Sottsass in The Observer in 2014 said, ‘When he designed furniture, he was thinking less of the perfection of the object than of the room in which it might sit and of the life that might be going on in that room.”
‘His primary concern [as an industrial designer] was not the technology of the machinery inside it, but the physiology and feelings of the person who would use it.’
Forty years down the track, our connection to the places we occupy is still at the heart of my design philosophy, and at the heart of my designs, is the kitchen; the hearth of the home which sustains and nurtures us now seemingly all day long, and for work as play.
Our connection to place shapes us
When you think about the spaces you occupy, how do they make you feel? Do you feel challenged by the space around you, does it help or hinder you? Does what you see, smell and feel help you to stay relaxed, connected and safe?*
My projects are inspired by the belief that the human and material world are inextricably linked. That our continual dialogue with our environment helps to shape who we and how we behave. This is achieved by looking at the way people cook, work, play and interact within the kitchen, making use of various design elements which enable a pleasurable space to cook in while life happens around you.
It’s not just about an island in the centre of the kitchen. Multiple work spaces create a sweet spot of connectivity, where children can do homework while parents prepare the evening meal beside them. A free-flowing space of connectivity.
Whether there are multiple generations using that space; children still at school, a young adult on night shift and grandparents looking after children while their parents are at work, they can all occupy the space at various times, with ease and safety.
My multigenerational design principles incorporate multiple work spaces, visible food and utensils, engaging company as you cook, homework and leisure, and safety.
When designing a project, I use key elements to achieve this, such as a long, thin central island and multiple work surfaces that rise and fall, perching places with swing-out stools, fewer cabinets, a walk-in pantry for better use of space and technology, smaller appliances that allow for sustainability, safety and precision cooking.
In our fast-past, modern world, it is so important to design spaces that connect people to place, without it our well-being suffers and we cannot thrive emotionally.
With these design elements in mind, the kitchen is elevated to the hearth of the home, where we come together to share, experience and connect, breathing new life into all that inhabit it.
*I plan to be conducting a survey soon on behaviour in the kitchen. I hope to find out more from consumers and those in the industry.