One of the stars of the show at the recent 100% Design event in London was a creation that managed to combine some of the most appealing elements of kitchens today. Sleek and beautifully crafted curves, a mix of well-blended materials and a simple lightness of design touch that gives a ‘floating’ appearance – each aspect of which makes for a well-balanced and perfectly proportioned whole.
The design of the kitchen is born of the phrase ‘A flight of fancy’, defined as ‘an imaginative but unworkable idea’. Paul O’Leary, Founder of deVOL, says: “I like that saying, but I’m not so keen on the definition. Unworkable sounds like someone’s opinion to me – one stop short of impossible, and I like to think that anything is possible.”
His company has become something of an incubator for design creativity. He says of his team of designers: “We love design and we each have our design heroes and our favourite iconic designs from the past. If you put a mixture of serendipity, flair and good old fashioned common sense into the melting pot and simmer gently for a few months, something unique starts to emerge.”
The Air range was created by O’Leary and his design team of Ben Flannaghan, Ben Creed and Robin McLellan. The new Air range has got the team especially excited, partly because it has drawn on a wide range of inspirational sources but also as it represents quite a departure from the company’s typically more traditional output. “We feel like we have brought together lots of interesting materials and forms, and we have found a way to do some extraordinary things,” O’Leary says.
The almost featureless sleekness of the kitchen’s front is intentional, so as not to detract from its elegant curves. Base cabinets appear to float, as pod-like upright larders and appliance cabinets stand on spindly stainless steel legs that make it look as though they have just landed.
“I really wanted it to be curvy, retro, sleek and floaty, reminiscent of some of the most desirable things that I find really emotive; things that my heart wants but my head says I can’t have.”
This includes nods to beautiful creations for which curves have been a defining characteristic. Marc Newson’s Lockhead Lounge Chair, vintage cars such as the Morgan three-wheeler, and the iconic Airstream caravan. “Visually, each inspires a sense of freedom and adventure.”
It could certainly be argued that the construction of the Air kitchen is adventurous from a manufacturing point of view. Rolled aluminium riveted to a laminated curved oak frame is a time-honoured method of airstream caravan construction. Similar forms are also demonstrated in classic boat building and early automotive engineering.
The fact that these techniques have been utilised in the creation of the Air kitchen are proudly shown off with visible rivets on the outside of the aluminium edge to the kitchen units, with the workings on full display inside the cabinets.
The rolled aluminium was perhaps the first detail that the deVOL designers settled on, says O’Leary. “The aluminium panels are annealed to make them more pliable, and rolled by hand over a simple plywood former.
“We always end up making everything ourselves. Metal fabricators with their huge rolling machines weren’t able to match the oak frame curve to the 1mm tolerance required for a perfect fit.
“Our designers and craftsmen cracked the problem in just three days of experimenting. The finish and consistency of the curve is most satisfying.” The curved oak frame upon which the whole thing is built was another major challenge. It is not the easiest thing to achieve to laminate oak into a consistent 90 degree curve that is rigid enough to hold an aluminium panel on one side, whilst hanging a heavy resin-stone door on the other. “Not being the easiest thing to do actually made it more appealing for me,” O’Leary adds. “We have some extraordinary cabinet makers that can do anything and we didn’t want to design a range that anyone could make.”
Sitting neatly within the tone of the design are the appliances by Smeg. Shown at 100% Design in London recently with a FAB retro refrigerator that echoed the curvy theme, as well as appliances designed by Marc Newson for the Italian appliances brand – an appropriate link given that one of Newson’s most famous creations played a part in the inspiration of the kitchen design in the first place.
The doors and drawer fronts are made of an acrylic resin and stone which is 70% bauxite by-product (from aluminium ore) with 25% acrylic resin to produce a workable surface finish, and 5% natural pigments.
O’Leary explains: “The good thing about using a material that is coloured all the way through is that there’s no paint to chip, and there’s no MDF to expose when a cabinet gets a scrape of a soaking. I don’t like glass surfaces – they’re cold and harsh and a bit corporate looking.
“The material we use is softer to the touch and comes in a range of colours that are really current and just to our tastes.”
As kitchens go, it is certainly fair to describe the Air range as a ‘flight of fancy’. But it is one which O’Leary and his team have proved is far from impossible.