Written by John Williams
The kitchen and the bathroom are the two most ‘designed’ and talked about rooms in the house. Just one look at what’s currently going on in TV3’s The Block NZ illustrates the complexity and variety of what’s involved in designing the perfect kitchen or bathroom. Not only do you need to ‘on point’, as Mark Richardson puts it, with the materials and the technology, but both these rooms require a high degree of spatial planning, plus a healthy helping of je ne sais quoi.
It takes a special breed of designer to combine all these elements into one cohesive and visually appealing package. It takes an even better one to come out on top, when pitted against their peers.
At the recent NKBA (National Kitchens & Bathrooms Association) Excellence in Design Awards, held at Te Papa in Wellington, two projects reigned supreme in Auckland — a stunning kitchen in a ‘bach’ in Leigh, by Natalie Du Bois, and a lux ensuite bathroom, by first-time entrant Kate Gardner. Both these designs completely wooed the judges, with Du Bois’ kitchen, in particular, picking up five awards on the night, including Supreme Kitchen Runner Up, Outstanding Renovation, Creative Excellence Kitchen Design, and best kitchen in the $80-$100k category. Quite a haul for the designer!
Natalie Du Bois is a seasoned designer — one of New Zealand’s best — and is no stranger to the limelight, having amassed an impressive string of prestigious awards to her name over the years. She says that each year, when it comes to the NKBA Awards, it gets harder and harder to come up with something different and to stand out from the high level of competition out there. This year, she only entered one project, but it is a real cracker.
“My client and her husband had always dreamed of having a lovely kitchen for their coastal bach; a kitchen that made them instantly feel like they were on holiday, where they could relax and enjoy good times on weekend breaks and holidays with friends and family. They also asked for a minimalist mid-century look yet minimal look, in keeping with aesthetic of the rest of their home away from home,” says the designer.
Du Bois had a few challenges to work around and overcome, not least of which was the existing kitchen was dark and had a very low, sloped ceiling with an even lower structural beam running across the entire room. Also, the rear deck of the house was only accessible through the laundry, which meant it wasn’t being used as much as it could or should be.
“My recommendation was to open up the existing, u-shaped layout into a galley island configuration, as this would encourage more flow and, with an addition of large glass doors at the rear, would also allow light to flood into the space from both the back and the front decks,” says Du Bois.
“The home has beautiful sea views, which I felt really needed to be celebrated, so I re-oriented the kitchen to ensure whoever was working in the space would still get to see these views, plus have better interaction with family and guests. My client also wanted a large serving area on the seaward side of the kitchen island, which I cantilevered to provide comfortable seating for two.”
To address the clients’ request for a minimalist, mid-century aesthetic, the designer introduced a number of subtle design elements, such as the curves to the corners of the stone-clad island, which, she says, turned out to be a painstaking process for the benchtop fabricator, whereby strips of stone were fused together with incredible accuracy, so minimal joins were visible.
Du Bois also specified heavily textured, bead-blasted wood-grain cabinetry, which tied the design in with the predominance of light-grained timber in the rest of the bach.
“As the kitchen island is on show from all angles, I included an additional working area with a 1800mm benchtop within the wall of cabinetry along the back wall that can be hidden behind bi-fold doors,” explains Du Bois. “This space is designed to look as good open as it is closed.”
A minimalist, no handles look was achieved by including electric servo-drive to all drawers — including two, double rubbish bins. The only handles were designed specifically for the heavier integrated fridges and pantry doors along the back wall.
“With a focus on timber throughout, l lightened the room by painting it Resene half Rice Cake. The slim black strip light above the island has a LED along its length and random cap details for aesthetic appeal, which creates a bird-wing shape echoing the beachy feel of this coastal home.”
The result is an easy-to-work-in, holiday home kitchen that oozes the feeling of relaxation and good times, which her clients absolutely love — and who wouldn’t?
What the Judges Said:
There is a wonderful lightness and calmness and use of texture that is very special in this kitchen. Visually impressive, the selection of materials is soft and organic looking with a natural feel. The lighting is beautiful and the soft curves of the stonemason work are exceptional. This isn’t a large kitchen, but there are a lot of wondrous moments that make it rise above. It doesn’t feel cluttered, it is very serene, an incredible transformation from its previous life. Visually, this kitchen absolutely wowed and thrilled the judging panel.
Unlike Du Bois, who is no stranger to the NKBA awards, this was Kate Gardham’s inaugural event — and what a first entry her bathroom turned out to be. Not only did she pick up the award for Auckland’s best bathroom, but she also deservedly won the First Time Entrant award.
Gardham’s forward-thinking design was for her own ensuite and delivers a Jack-and-Jill style bathroom with twin sinks and double showerheads. To improve natural light, an operable skylight was added above the shower room, which also helps to achieve a space that feels spacious, fresh and open, says the designer.
“I went for a lux, layered approach for the materiality, with no shiny or polished surfaces. The star of the show is the Super White granite, which has a soft, leathered finish. We used this stone as the benchtop surface for the vanity, and also as the back wall in the shower, which worked well to tie the two spaces together,” says Gardham. “Japanese finger tiles on the walls, brushed brass tapware and accents, and black-oiled, crown-cut American oak for the vanity were purposely specified to complement and pop against this granite,” says Gardham.
The custom, black steel frame of the shower is a real design statement in this bathroom. It’s bold, but not overbearing. It’s also extremely practical, ensuring the steam from the twin showers remains in that part of the room and extracted through the skylight or hidden fan unit.
Blum storage solutions in the bathroom drawers were utilised to keep the vanity well organised, and a Häfele docking station was added for both practicality and to create design aesthetic inside the drawer for charging phones, toothbrushes and hair dryers.
In addition to being a beautiful space in its own right, the simplicity of the subtle curves in the cabinetry and benchtop has a lovely flow-on effect and cohesion with the rest of the home, says Gardham.
What the Judges Said:
This ensuite has ‘pretty factor’. The skylight in the shower is impressive and adds a wow and interest to the overall aesthetic. A modern, forward-thinking design with great spatial layout. The natural light, feminine tiles and the curves are beautiful embellishments, which combine hard and soft to create a really well executed space. The plans were very good for a first-time entrant and the styling was outstanding.