Designer    Feature 15 Aug 2017

The mind behind the design – looking again at Mark Wilkinson’s magnificent designs reveals surprising details

The Art behind his designs…

It was Mark Wilkinson the ‘artist’ that made his work stand out from the crowd. He drew his influences from a wide range of sources, none of which was furniture, and he did not allow the complexities of factory production to limit his thinking. This led to a collection of kitchen furniture designs that are unique to him.

It was trips to the old Art Deco cinemas in the 1960’s that led to his Deco kitchen; an enduring love of the elegant simplicity of the work of William Morris that inspired his Arts & Craft kitchen; a brash and bright New York bar was the source behind Madison; a visit to the Far East produced the zen-like Shan Gara; and for one of his later kitchen designs, the artist Mark Wilkinson turned to the artists’ community in Newlyn for his own Newlyn Collection.

He leaves behind a body of work that is unlikely to be eclipsed. In a world where the slide-rule rules, it would be hard to justify the return on investment needed to produce many of his kitchens in the sort of quantities demanded by much of the industry kitchen producers today. In this regard, the legacy of Mark Wilkinson the artist is somewhat fragile, but the legacy of Mark Wilkinson, the furniture designer is made of sterner stuff.

He once said: “I want my furniture to make kitchens that are comfortable to live in; where the odd thing out of place adds to the charm of the room rather than detracts from it. I happen to think this lends itself more to the British psyche rather than the ‘everything in its proper place’ thinking behind so many kitchens based on Continental kitchen furniture that can come across a little cold. I want my kitchens to give its user a little hug.

“And we can all do with a little hug from time to time.”


Getting it wright

Just as Frank Lloyd Wright is famous for the originality of his architectural design, being the first architect in the USA not to use earlier mostly European design disciplines as his starting point, Mark Wilkinson deserves to be remembered for the original thinking behind his work.

Arguably the most obvious example of this is his Cook’s Kitchen. Launched in 1981and taking as its main influence the English Country House between the wars, the Cook’s Kitchen was the first new range to be designed along traditional lines. Prior to the Cooks Kitchen, a traditional style of kitchen was produced using individual pieces of furniture made of a variety of timbers including pine, often of a questionable quality. Today, while virtually every UK kitchen company has something similar to the Cooks Kitchen in its range, the devil is in the detail.

It is generally accepted that the Frankfurt Kitchen, designed in 1926 by Austrian architect Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, was the starting point of mainstream kitchen design and production. Key to its success was a uniform design that helped with volume production. A large number of kitchens for a social housing project in Frankfurt were needed as quickly as possible.

You can toss a coin as to if Nigel Walters for Wrighton or George Fejer for Hygena started volume kitchen production in the UK. Both were active in the 1950’s and 1960’s, both worked for kitchen companies that were production led and both were influenced by Schütte-Lihotzky’s Frankfurt kitchen. The end result was (and still is as far as the majority of kitchen furniture sold in the UK is concerned), that production technology is king.

Mark Wilkinson’s approach with his Cook’s Kitchen was almost the exact opposite. For him, production technology was the servant, not the master. Whereas a typical continental kitchen produced a room that was an efficient space for meal preparation, Cook’s and his kitchens that followed encouraged you to spend time in a comfortable space.

Mark Wilkinson |