Reprinted with kind permission from HIA and HIA’s Housing magazine, Issue July 2006
TOUCH THE HEART, SHOW SOME EMOTION, TAP INTO PEOPLE’S NEEDS – THIS WAS THE MESSAGE FROM VISITING KITCHEN DESIGN GURU JOHNNY GREY. LOUISE TIGCHELAAR REPORTS.
By the time internationally-renowned kitchen designer Johnny Grey completed his Australian Tour, he had visited five states in two weeks and addressed more than 1000 interested people in the kitchen and bathroom industry. As well, he was the keynote speaker at a national kitchen and bathroom conference in New Zealand before hitting Australian shores.
Aidan Jury, Hettich Australia and New Zealand’s managing director for sales and marketing, and the brains behind the tour, says the positive feedback has been overwhelming.
“Johnny is a legend in the industry,” says Aidan. “He’s a regular keynote speaker at high-level industry events throughout the world, and the energy and enthusiasm that he put into preparing for this tour was evident.”
The reason for inviting Johnny here? To help Australian designers push the boundaries further, says Aidan.
“Australian designers are ahead of their time. They’re the first to try things and they’re always pushing the boundaries. And creating excitement for designers requires more than just launching new products into the market.”
The tour opened in Melbourne on 13 June and ended in Perth on 27 June. In between were Sydney, Brisbane and Adelaide, where Johnny presented seminars and workshops to scores of industry professionals.
The focus of the tour was Design for Sociable Kitchens and Sanctuary and Johnny dished up much to think about. For instance, he argues against the traditional work triangle and single, long benchtops, and instead makes use of a variety of dedicated work areas, designed for different activities at different heights, and made in a variety of materials and colours. He believes in a ‘philosophy of maintenance’, i.e. allowing materials to wear, and says we also need to take into account our changing lifestyles and include ‘food bars’ for ‘eating on the run’.
His work is full of curved cabinetry, or ‘soft geometry’, which helps work flow and creates friendly environments. According to him, “friendly, restful and familiar environments help trigger calm moods”. It’s a principle of emotionally intelligent design, the provision of which is one of the main functions of designers, he says.
Establishing a ‘driving position’ – i.e. “the space in the room where you feel most comfortable and where you have a view of everything” – is an important first step to designing a sociable kitchen.
“Being able to see into people’s faces is absolutely crucial for any sort of sociability; no conversation can start without that. So any kind of kitchen design has to face into the room.”
Sociability, sunlight, garden, art, music, touch, emotion – these are the core things relating to emotional intelligence, and which need to translate into kitchen design. Lots of variety, different colours, and avoidance of one particular style is the key, he maintains.
Also important are light and lighting; ergonomics; freestanding furniture and ‘unfitted’ kitchens; peninsulas; artwork and pattern; and ‘perching’ – unexpected places for sitting which allow for casual conversations.
Ultimately, Johnny says, designers “need to build connections between the objects that we design and the people who use them. We’re not really kitchen designers; we’re actually designers who are operating in many other fields. Sometimes we’re architects, sometimes interior designers, decorators, product designers, psychologists; sometimes even building contractors.”
So what did Australian professionals think? Overall, those who attended were impressed with the philosophies behind Johnny’s designs, though many agree that Johnny’s style may not suit everyone.
Many are also unanimous in their response to his soft geometry ideas. As one designer puts it: “It’s lovely and it’s do-able, but it’s also dollar-able!” Another likes Johnny’s psychology of kitchen design, especially the sociability, the importance of the space, the idea of bringing people together, “everything really, but the soft geometry idea is expensive … I love that idea of flow and the energy of the space but as soon as I see curves I see dollar signs!”
Craig Bodin of All City Bathrooms and Kitchens found Johnny’s use of neurology and psychology inspiring. “Certainly a bit different; the soft geometry was interesting and worth considering in some of our designs. His psychology of design has a lot of merit [and] we’ve certainly learned from it.”
Peter Tredinnick of The Kitchen Place found Johnny’s concepts of work surfaces, light, and work flow “very good, very practical.” He found the workshop thought-provoking, especially the concept of thinking outside the work triangle. And while he can’t see himself necessarily following the Johnny Grey path, with the right budget he could be inclined to “adapt it to Aussie practicalities”, he says.
Let’s Talk Kitchens’ Rex Hirst is also on the side of the budget conscious, but likewise found the whole Johnny Grey experience rewarding. “I like the process he uses to go through a brief … to draw the client out. And he’s not afraid to challenge what’s ‘normal’, particularly in his tremendous use of circles and shapes and curves.
“Johnny also gives a great deal of thought to having different height working benches; from an ergonomics standpoint it’s clearly better, but also from an aesthetic point of view, changing heights in a room creates interest and also allows you to change materials and colours.”
Simon Hodgson of Nouvelle Kitchen Design and chair of the national HIA Kitchens & Bathrooms Committee says the tour was “fantastic”.
“I was just absolutely thrilled at the number of people who came through. It’s the best thing that HIA Kitchens & Bathrooms has done for our members in my memory. It was challenging for everyone.
“Johnny has a very quick-thinking mind when it comes to solutions and problems that are put in front of him from a kitchen perspective.”
A few people need to be applauded for this tour, Simon says: Aidan Jury of Hettich, Steven Reid from Fisher & Paykel, whose contribution “was enormous”; Sandra Elgawly from Fisher & Paykel; and Di Sebbens and Natasha Moffatt from HIA.
And of course, Johnny himself. “I really hope it’s not the last time I see him.”