Ahead Of The Curve
Kitchens are so central to the human understanding of home that tracing the history of the room almost echoes the evolution of modern civilization itself.
As class structures began to dissolve in the century following the Industrial Revolution, for instance, the kitchen moved from a remote, sometimes detached, location to a centrally located hub.
But if you think the kitchen has reached its evolutionary peak now, think again. According to Darragh Hughes, founder of Thomas James Cabinetry of Milford Bay, advances in smart technology and artificial intelligence (AI) are already rippling through his line of work. “The kitchen industry is changing as fast as computers are changing,” explains Darragh, citing the example of certain European retailers. A Danish innovation lab, for example, was recently surveying customers as part of plans to embed artificial intelligence into its furniture for future development.
Incorporating smart design into kitchens means appliances, lighting, and temperature will be controllable by the homeowner’s smartphone, but it goes beyond that. Seeing a future of kitchens with no handles, Thomas James’ lead designer Alicia Hughes is seeing fridges, cupboards, and drawers that open at the tap of a finger and cutting boards that extend and retract from inside countertops to cover the sink. “Many of our clients really want to stay on trend with emerging technology,” observes Alicia. None of this, of course, means that the kitchen of the future is destined to look like something out of the Jetsons. Darragh and Alicia look for ways to help their clients incorporate the conveniences of cuttingedge technology with as much influence from traditional design as suits their taste. “Especially at the cottage,” observes Alicia, “you have the opportunity to do something that’s modern, but you can reference the past in a way that’s really comfortable.”
Renowned throughout the region for the quality of their craftsmanship, Darragh and Alicia strive to meet customer design needs across a wide arc. Alongside an enduring interest in classically distressed pieces, they are seeing cottage kitchen design trending to incorporate modern, rustic, industrial influences characterized by big, heavy lights, steel, and clean lines. At the other end of the spectrum, natural wood and wood grains are coming back, and custom cabinetry is being used to panel in appliances, like fridges and dishwashers, to give kitchens a seamless, pre-industrial look.
TAKE IT OUTSIDE
Another trend gaining momentum in cottage design is the outdoor kitchen. More and more, cottage owners are taking food preparation into the open air. Designing a kitchen for the outdoors, though, involves much more than just copying the same infrastructure as is typical indoors. Even when it’s under a patio cover, an outdoor kitchen will be exposed to the elements. Ensuring longevity and enduring beauty means working with materials specially selected to withstand the effects of sun, wind, rain, and snow. Alicia and Darragh are seeing exciting new developments in outdoor kitchen materials, including hospital-grade injection-moulded clad PVC that is completely impervious to water, an important factor in water-level (e.g. boathouse) kitchens as well as outdoor kitchens. Cast off real wood to give it an authentic grain, the end product is virtually indistinguishable from wood, even to Alicia and Darragh.
Regardless of design style, quality craftsmanship and customer service form the cornerstones of Thomas James’ success. Alicia and Darragh take time with clients in a collaborative process to discuss possibilities for design, opportunities for innovation and, above all, to provide them with the information necessary to make an informed decision. When Alicia
recently showed up at the home of a prospective client, he exclaimed “I can’t believe you’re here!” Other cabinetmakers he had contacted had simply asked him to email photos and measurements so that they could send him a quote.
The Thomas James team operates from the understanding that cottages today are more like second homes than occasional hideaways. In fact, the cottage kitchen is likely to see more entertaining and serve more guests than the home kitchen. “It’s one thing to have a nice-looking kitchen,” observes Alicia. “It’s another for it to fit the bill functionally as well.”