Five questions for Johnny Grey

When it comes to designing kitchens, Johnny Grey is a master of his craft. He is one of the few genuine pioneers of kitchen architecture, has been designing kitchen spaces and whole home concepts around the kitchen since the 1970’s.

Johnny Grey
Designer Johnny Grey (Photo by Benny Grey)

He is credited with the introduction of several features that are now common-place in kitchens throughout the world.

These include:

  • End-grain chopping blocks adapted for domestic use with knife slots and chopping blocks (1976)
  • Linking Alexander Technique to kitchen design (1981)
  • Willow baskets woven into cabinetry (1982)
  • The Unfitted Kitchen: the use of furniture as a key planning principle, in conjunction with hidden ergonomics (1987)
  • Soft Geometry; the use of curves linked with peripheral vision understanding and body movement; (1991)
  • Development of eye contact as key to kitchen design, along with the ‘driving position’ and ‘sweet spot concepts in kitchen planning (1995)
  • The application of neuroscience into kitchen design, developed with John Zeisel (2006).

Johnny’s first book, The Art of Kitchen Design was published by Cassell in 1994, continues to influence kitchen architecture 20 years later and has sold over 100,000 copies. His Kitchen Workbook in 1997 spearheaded a new series of home design books by Dorling Kindersley and has now sold over 150,000 copies in 11 languages. Kitchen Culture was published by Jacqui Small in 2004, with English, American, Russian and Asian editions.

His kitchen and interior design business, Johnny Grey Studios, continues. His work can be seen all over the UK, and around the world he has projects in, for example, Ancona, Burgundy, Barbados, Cyprus, Jersey, Limerick, Melbourne, Mustique, Rome and Zurich.

More recently he has taken on the (unpaid) role of Visiting Professor of Design and Kitchen Culture at Buckinghamshire New University where he has been one of the people spearheading its new, three-year, Foundation Degree (Arts) Kitchen Design course.

The enrolment deadline for the course was Friday 5 September, and although the university did release any information about the number of students that had enrolled for the first year, the word on the campus was that it had exceeded its target well before the deadline.

Conducting an interview with the energetic and wildly enthusiastic Johnny Grey is like herding cats, but recently I managed to persuade him to be the first victim for my new ‘5 Questions For’… series of interviews. As he has been at the forefront of Buckinghamshire New University’s kitchen design course, my questions were pointed at this aspect of his work.

Grahame Morrison: Why are you bothering to be involved with this degree course when clearly you are a very busy person?

Johnny Grey: I want to share with others the knowledge I’ve acquired in designing kitchens all these years, and the fun this can be as a career. The kitchen is a space in which to exercise many skills, from using the view through a new window, subverting the architecture to make the room bigger, playing with spatial design (grown-up Lego), discovering the extraordinarily rich history of furniture, exploring people’s eccentric habits of cooking, use of colour, lighting design, using paint and pattern, and understanding each client’s original way of life and behaviour.  I also think the kitchen is not just the room that is key to good living, but also the door to something richer and deeper.

My wife thinks my passion is deep-rooted – focusing on the kitchen is like going home to where you were secure as a child, a safe haven. Enthusiasm for the fine things in life is not a crime, whatever!

GM: Some have criticised the degree course as elitist and, at £15,000 for the full 3-year course, expensive. How would you personally answer these criticisms?

JG: I love this! It is so the opposite. An average three-year university course in England now costs around £40,000. With ours you can stay in your job, pay as you go. If you added the cost of not working to a typical student’s expense they would rack up an opportunity cost of around £100,000. And answer is this: would you want the course to be any cheaper? What are these critics expecting – teaching by DIY manuals, supported by a call centre? We also have a high proportion of students on bursaries. We have had tremendous support from the industry. (Do check out the university at www.bucks.ac.uk if you want to apply next year).

GM: Having just sat through the judging of this year’s Designer Kitchen & Bathroom Awards, I can confirm that good design is already alive and well in the kitchen and bathroom markets. Is there a need for a degree course?

JG: This is a good question but with a misguided conclusion. Yes there is excellent design. A relatively small number of mostly high-end kitchen companies deliver, but check where this good design really comes from. Its source is likely to be highly (university) -trained designers like architects, or from those who have studied the disciplines of product, interior or furniture design. Imagine the fashion industry pledging to use untrained designers to put collections together!

I don’t buy the argument that kitchen design does not need skill or can be self-taught. That plays down our industry’s undoubted value. A few very gifted individuals might be able to teach themselves the necessary range of skills, but they do not make up the numbers and anyway they too have to learn from someone. And I don’t buy that training kills creativity. Everything depends on the quality of the teaching and curriculum on our course. We will be judged by our students at the end of the day, as on any other degree course.

GM: Many of your fellow independent kitchen specialists currently do not make an obvious charge for their design service and see it as a part of the overall package they offer to clients. Do you think this will change once there are ‘proper qualified’ kitchen designers?

JG: A good issue to raise. I would like the industry to move towards charging because it would enable us to offer more sophisticated design services, rather than a fairly basic programme of selling. This is vital for the future if kitchen designers are going to compete with architects and interior designers for work.

Whether design studios offer a one-stop shop, a 3G kitchen or Life-Course space (terms for three-generational kitchens that cater for the widest age range of user, from child to 90 year old, and includes provision for short-term disability), the scope and economic value of the sale can be widened. This is a perfect way to provide customers with better service and increase revenue.

GM: Do you think we will get to a point where consumers look first to see if their kitchen designer is qualified rather than what this month’s special offer is?

JG: Price discounting is a weapon that is always on the table but savvy people will see the advantage of employing someone who offers multiple services – like lighting design or organising a new window to let in more sunlight. This way the customer will be much more likely to end up with an emotionally durable kitchen they won’t wish to throw out after a few years.

More of us now listen to our instincts than ever before because the way we live now revolves around our kitchens. Living rooms are so twentieth century!

The incredible shrinking UK home

The average UK new build is only 92% of the minimum size recommended for a home in 1961, and only half the size of houses built in the 1920’s, writes Guest Blogger Jane Blakeborough of J.M. Blake Associates.

The shrinking house
Products which are currently marketed as ‘compact’ could soon be the norm as our homes get smaller.

According to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), we are now living in the smallest houses in Western Europe. Their ‘Case for Space’ report has pointed out that the average new home in the UK is now 76m² and has an average of 4.8 rooms. This 9m² smaller than the average new home used to be and the lack of space is making us “ill and unhappy”, RIBA says.

London is the only place in England with minimum sizes for newly built private and social homes; and RIBA wants these minimum sizes to apply across the country for all types of housing, as they used to in 1961 when a government committee produced the ‘Parker Morris’ standards .

This committee looked at what furniture was needed in which room, the space needed to use it and move around it, and the space needed for other normal household activities and put together a series of standards (named after the committee’s chair), for example a two-bed flat for four people should have a net floor area of 71 sq m, and one for three or more people should have enclosed storage space for the kitchen of 2.3 cubic metres.

These standards were defined as a minimum in the 60’s, however builders generally interpreted them as a maximum, and items such as dishwashers and fridge freezers were not in existence so the standards are not adequate for today’s living.

Although the standards became mandatory for all council housing, and for a while influenced the private sector too, in 1980 they were abandoned on cost grounds, and we became the only EU country not to have minimum-space standards for the homes we live in. That is until recently when Boris Johnson re-introduced them for London, ensuring that publicly funded London housing is now built to ‘Parker Morris +10%’ standards.

So what does this mean for the KBB industry?

  • Products which are currently marketed as ‘compact’ could soon be the norm, and as the ‘compact’ option is often just a scaled down version of a larger product, more consideration should be given as to whether the resultant dimensions are both practical and aesthetically pleasing.
  • As space available for long and short term storage comes at a premium, offering clever storage solutions is essential to complete a product range.
  • Think about products which can double up. A classic example is the humble sofa-bed or the shower over the bath scenario. Are there any other dual purpose products? Could an ironing board double up as a work surface, for example?
  • Align your marketing communications with your target audience. All too often marketing campaigns depicting over-sized products against backdrops of open-plan, warehouse-sized spaces which have the potential to alienating a large proportion of the UK market.

Those brands who understand that space in the average UK home is at a premium and build this into their marketing campaign with style and authenticity will tap into a potentially lucrative category.

Jane Blakeborough is a director of J.M. Blake Associates, a specialist supplier of market intelligence for the KBB industry.

If you have a comment you would like to make about kitchen and bathroom retailing in the independent sector I would LOVE to hear from you! But before you rattle off 5000 words on your pet subject please click here to check out the Guest Blog section. You will save us both a lot of grief – and quite possibly save me a lengthy jail sentence too.

This Guest Blog was also featured on the J.M. Blake’s Market Intelligence blog.

Kitchen design goes all of a Twitter

The Twittersphere leapt into overdrive following my blog post on 4 September regarding a discussion on a RIBA forum hosted by LinkedIn about design qualifications.

My post, A question of designing by degree, reported on the debates on the merits, or lack of them, of a design qualification, and I think that most readers of it would agree that the views fell roughly into two camps; natural ability (or self taught) versus formal qualification. Both sides argued their case well and both made good points in support of their respective position – a bit like the recent England-Norway match but much more exciting.

I finished off my post by saying that it had echoes of the debate about kitchen design qualifications  and that it would be good to hear more views on the subject – and my wish was granted pretty soon afterwards when the British Kitchen Designers Association (BKDA) responded to my tweet promoting the blog post.

As you can see below, the BKDA’s tweets sparked off something of a reaction. I’ve stitched together some individual tweets from users trying to provide a more detailed response than Twitter’s 140 character limit allows, but other than that the responses have not been edited.

 

gjmtweets: A question of designing by degreehttp://t.co/dfTBxjIHpm #gjmblog11:38am, Sep 04 from twitterfeed

BKDAinfo: @gjmtweets @kbbntg@JohnnyGrey the degree just isn’t a hot topic Grahame, will the degree holders be more successful than those without it? Experience is as valuable as academic achievement, although more difficult to benchmark.

RussRB: @BKDAinfo @gjmtweets@KBBNTG @JohnnyGreyhttp://t.co/x7dPyDT7Y1 Totally agree@kandbnews3:45pm, Sep 08 from Twitter Web Client

BKDAinfo: @RussRB @gjmtweets@KBBNTG @JohnnyGrey @kandbnews An appropriate ” accreditation” will be needed for those with experience.

Andrewkbbreview: @BKDAinfo @RussRB@gjmtweets @KBBNTG @JohnnyGrey Those with experience tend to think that IS accreditation, that’s kind of the problem.

RichrdMoss: Thinks… ‘Roy Rodgers was experienced… now, what was he?’@Andrewkbbreview @BKDAinfo @RussRB@gjmtweets @KBBNTG @JohnnyGrey

BKDAinfo: @RichrdMoss@Andrewkbbreview @RussRB @gjmtweets@KBBNTG @JohnnyGrey an award winning actor or cowboy, depending on how cynical you are…

RichrdMoss: @BKDAinfo@Andrewkbbreview @RussRB @gjmtweets@KBBNTG @JohnnyGrey one thing any qualification needs – is support from industry associations.

Andrewkbbreview: @RichrdMoss@BKDAinfo @RussRB @gjmtweets@KBBNTG @JohnnyGrey Is there case to say you can’t be member of association without accreditation?

JohnnyGrey: @Andrewkbbreview@RichrdMoss @RussRB @gjmtweets@KBBNTG Thank you Andrew. Associations need trained professionals as they underpin skill.7:02pm, Sep 08 from Twitter Web Client

BKDAinfo: @Andrewkbbreview@RichrdMoss @RussRB @gjmtweets@KBBNTG only if you actively market member services to the consumer#chickenandegg

RussRB: @BKDAinfo @Andrewkbbreview@RichrdMoss @gjmtweets @KBBNTG All’s I can say is it has to be a good thing hoping fwd but will take 20yrs for that to be the norm rather than the exception#biggerpicture It has to start somewhere or we stick with the status quo & keep having the same discussion year in year out, maybe that suits us?

BKDAinfo: @RussRB @Andrewkbbreview@RichrdMoss @gjmtweets @KBBNTGinsightful comment, indeed it does tend to suit the vast majority of kit designers

Andrewkbbreview: @BKDAinfo @RussRB@RichrdMoss @gjmtweets @KBBNTG Or everyone is waiting for everyone else to fix it?

BKDAinfo: @Andrewkbbreview @RussRB@RichrdMoss @gjmtweets @KBBNTG if the vast majority don’t perceive a problem, then there may be nothing to fix!

To be continued, probably…

A question of designing by degree

How important is a formal design qualification?

Degree imageAs the kick-off date for the first year of the Foundation Degree (Arts) Kitchen Design gets ever-closer –and the industry vibe I’m getting is that the first year is already over-subscribed even before the deadline of 5 September – a discussion on the merits of design degrees has surfaced on a RIBA forum hosted by LinkedIn.

The debate was started by a blog post (oh to have such power!) by Archh.com, a professional networking platform for global architects, interior designers, students, design lovers, building material suppliers, potential clients and other professionals from the AEC and the Building Construction Industry.

Writing on the RIBA Forum, Archh.com asked: Do designers need a degree to prove their mettle? Do designers need formal education? Does formal education play a pivotal role in the life of a designer?

One would expect (well this one did expect anyway), that members of RIBA would rise as one to say how important formal qualifications were, but that was not the case. However what most certainly was the case was the high level of the debate among those who replied. Here is part of the debate so far…

Philip Impey, Principal at Philip Impey- Architect+ Urban Designer said:

“It is my belief that if you don’t have the self-discipline and intestinal fortitude the face the rigors of a formal tertiary course (whether full-time or part-time internship) you won’t have what it takes to practice as an architect. The best way I believe, from my own experience, to “test the mettle” of a future architect was the oral exams we had to sit post-graduate and post-internship to gain formal registration with the relevant state registering authority.

“I guess we could ask the same question of all the recognised “professions”. Why should medical practitioners, dentist, engineers etc. etc have to do formal courses. It sets a standard of competency to which society (and their insurers) expects from their professionals.

“But then again, in the morally relativist world of post-modernism and beyond, who are they to tell me if I’m competent or not? But, like the penthouse on top of an apartment building, that’s another stor(e)y altogether.”

Floren Naguit, Architect Consultant at ADB & Palafox Associates responded:

“A degree is just a privilege to be called “good designer” but creative people/designers have their innate talent. One good example is Tadao Ando a former boxer turned to be not only good but an excellent designer. Creative designer/architects were born that way. They are meant to be good.”

Philip Impey replied:

“There are always exceptions to the rule, Floren. Just imagine how much better these so-called ‘innate’ talented designers would be with the benefit of ‘guided experience’ – which is what you get from any good school of design.

“A civilized society needs to be able to license its participants in many roles. I’ve heard of brilliant racing car drivers who can’t get a license to drive on the roads because they’re not interested in learning the rules.

“Is it co-incidence, but it seems that the bloggers who are the most vociferous against registration and regulation and the need for formal qualifications seem to be those without them? Just an observance…”

Dawn Hare, Owner, DMH Architectural Services said:

“A degree level is a good start for the totally inexperienced there has to be some form of education as design is not just form function and aesthetics. But there are lots of us out there with vast amounts of experience who did not get a degree as at the time of being in education as the only degree available was the architects, surveyors or engineers. Lots of HNC technicians who can run rings round some architects on jobs that they are experienced with.

“So my answer is Yes there has to be some form of formal education but to what level is debatable and very much depends on 1) the person and 2) experience. As children, none of us are the same.

“Having said that I do think design is open to more people now regardless of qualifications, all some degrees prove is that a person is disciplined enough to be able to focus on a subject and provide what an examiner has requested, the hard part is showing you can use what you know and put it into reality. There are other restrictions once outside the classroom too.”

And Dominic Marshall, Architecture and design consultant, sculptor and maker concluded:

“Designers do not need, in my opinion, any formal qualification. However adding to their ‘pool’ of creativity by way of an ‘academic degree’ will only embellish and expand on the range of possibilities that will unfold as they develop.

“It will be a question of how good are their tutors/academics and the time they will give for interaction and debate, followed by the material they will read, that translates in their future creative being.”

I can see echoes of the debate that has taken part on social media platforms about the Foundation Degree for Kitchen Design in this debate on the RIBA Forum. Sadly, I can also see echoes of how unrepresentative of the industry as a whole the debate is. RIBA’s LinkedIn Forum has just over 45,000 members. Do designers need formal education has received 404 views via Archh.com. Todate, just nine people have debated this issue.

So it seems that just in the case of the Foundation Degree for Kitchen Design, much of the debate is being conducted by a very small number of people. That does not invalidate the comments for or against the initiative in my opinion, but the journalist in me thinks the Foundation Degree for Kitchen Design debate as a whole would be enriched further if it moved beyond the thoughts of the ‘usual suspects’ as worthy as those thoughts are.

And of course, you can have your say on this very blog – see Leave a reply below…

Bridging the worksurface gap

Does Max-Top Quartz bridge the profitable niche betwixt a laminate worksurface and a solid surface alternative? Well, it just might…

Glance though some of the consumer magazines that occasionally ‘feature’ (code for flog advertising against) kitchens, and you could be forgiven for thinking that nobody was buying laminate worksurfaces any more as each roomset seems to have metres and metres of gleaming solid surface tops of one type or another.

Max-Top-Quartz

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Laminate worktops still account for the majority of the market thanks in part to the improvement in laminate technology over the years, the speedy delivery most laminate worktops have compared with their templated solid-surface rivals, ease of on-site ‘adaptation’ (code for cocking up the measure again), and the price advantage laminate tops have over solid-surface alternatives.

Trying to price a worktop using only information on the Internet is akin to taking a shortcut across a mine field on a pogo stick. Yes, it can be done, but it’s a pretty daft thing to do – so here goes… Three metre blanks of a good quality, granite-effect laminate worktops are on sale for around £99.00 plus a delivery charge of £39:00. I’ve also found a company offering 2900mm quartz worktop blanks for just over £450:00 plus an unspecified delivery and fitting charge however, I would think around £75:00 per blank was a reasonable estimate for delivery. (A decent pogo stick, for those that are interested, start at around £60:00)

But now there is a third option to offer customers that may be prepared to pay more for the look of a quartz worktop but cannot stretch to a full-on quartz surface, and that option comes to you via Max-Top UK.

Max-Top-Quartz-New to the UK market for 2014, Max-Top Quartz offers the beauty of solid quartz, without many of the drawbacks of a traditional solid stone surface including the price. Max-Top says the ‘guideline price of its tops is around £200:00 per sq.m., and because cut-outs for hobs or sinks and drainer grooves can be done on-site with the tools most kitchen fitters already have, substantial savings are possible compared with charges that some quartz worktop suppliers quote for these extras on their websites.

Max-Top Quartz surfaces are supplied in 3000 X 600X 40mm blanks. Each blank is a ‘sandwich’ of 8mm-thick quartz surfaces while its patented interior structure is a non-wood based honeycomb that offers 100% moisture protection. These pre-finished worktops offer strength and surprising lightness, says Max-Top, meaning that installers and consumers get maximum benefits with minimum fuss.

A further advantage to installers and consumers with Max-Top surfaces is that the installer can adapt the worktop on site using standard tools, offering the possibility of substantial savings (or additional profit) as mentioned earlier.

The hob inset or over mounted sinks cut outs are simply done by drilling the 4 corners of the cut out with a 12mm tile or masonry drill, then using a standard hand held circular plunge saw, which most installers will already have, along with a straight edge or guide rail. The fitter cuts and removes the square/rectangular hob or sink section. This same tool and blade is also used to cut the tops to length.

The surface is also thick enough to allow drainer grooves or grooves for ‘hot rods’ to be rebated using the drainer groove router bits. All the router bits have standard 12mm shanks to fit standard hand router power tools.

The success or otherwise of Max-Top Quartz will largely depend on the worktops being on display in kitchen showroom where consumers can see how good they look for themselves. And getting the worktops on display will largely depend on the distribution of the product. To that end Max Top Quartz has already appointed three main distributors and three merchant distributors, full details of which can be found on the Max-Top Quartz website. This also fully explains the construction method of the worktops and shows the ten colourways the product is currently available in.

So does Max-Top Quartz send laminate worktop manufacturers and solid quartz worktop suppliers out looking for tall buildings to leap off of? Probably not, but for that consumer who wants something that looks and feels better than a laminate surface but cannot quite stretch to a solid-surface worktop, Max-Top Quartz could just be the cherry on the cake that helps them make a decision about the compete kitchen and say those four little words you love to hear: “Where do I sign?”