Like Russian Matryoshka dolls, kitchens and bathrooms are miniature projects within projects. And, with the trend to concealed pantries and cleverly hidden storage, the surprises just keep coming say Tim Dorrington and Sam Atcheson of Auckland’s Dorrington Atcheson Architects.
What is the hierarchy of form and function within these spaces?
Dorrington Atcheson Architects (DAA): Function has to take precedence. But there are also opportunities for design artistry. In kitchens, we like to tie the back wall in with the aesthetic and materiality of the overall concept – in its simplest expression, white panels in a white room. But the island bench can be far more exhibitionist – a stand-out piece of furniture.
In one project we created an island that has a deep-welled curvaceous, continuous surround in honed black granite and a timber face which makes it look like a sideboard. In another holiday home, the island has metal legs to mimic a table.
Bathrooms tend to have fewer functional stipulations so can be made up of quiet, elegant elements where the bath is presented as sculpture and lighting is not just plugged into the ceiling but thought of as another compositional object.
Bathrooms tend to be compact: how do you deal with this?
(DAA): We take one of two opposing approaches. Where we can, we’ll open the room up by ‘disappearing’ one wall completely. Interior designer Debra Gardien has a house where the section drops away into an amazing stand of native bush. There were no issues with privacy, so a full-height, full-length glass wall projecting into this allows the powder room to be like a space in a forest.
Alternatively, we intensify the experience with pattern, so it’s not like walking into a cupboard. In a renovation in Whitford, the geometry of hexagonal wall tiles is a dramatic foil to a refined composition of circular mirrors and pendant lights. Rectangular or square tiles would simply not have made the same impression.
Any other tricks for getting the most out of a small space?
(DAA): Architects are spatial illusionists. When you run a continuous line the length of a room from wall to far wall, it makes the space feel bigger. In bathrooms, that’s usually the vanity. Sometimes the vanity top will extend all the way into the shower as a shelf – another way to keep the eye moving into the distance. Wall-hung units and WCs allow a continuous expanse of flooring to complement this.
Do you still believe in the ‘working triangle’ for kitchen design?
(DAA): Yes and no. We’ve adapted the triangle and given it a tail! We group food storage and locate the fridge at the entry to the kitchen so kids and adults can grab a drink. The preparation zone is best in the middle of the island with we keep cooking on the back wall. That way we can disguise the extraction system. Off to the one side is the clean-up zone – the tail – including the dishwasher so it doesn’t impede the cook when the door is open.
There’s an explosion of new materials to use. Do you have any favourites?
(DAA): We tend not to follow trends but do love to explore unexpected ways of working with tried-and-tested products. In a Britomart apartment, we used raw steel cabinetry which suited the exposed concrete skeleton of the turn of the century building. It’s a beautiful material which rolled straight off the press with the heat marks scorched into its surface and has a lovely patina and good depth. A white-oxide concrete bench tied in with the industrial theme. Currently, we’re experimenting with using Pirelli rubber flooring as a splashback.
How has the rise of small-space living affected the way you design kitchens?
(DAA): Islands double as spatial dividers so shouldn’t look too ‘kitcheny’ and benchtop surface area is like ‘gold’ – incredibly precious. If there’s room, a breakfast bay off to one side means the jug and toaster won’t clutter the main bench. Otherwise shelving on the splashback gets items in regular use up and out of the way.
In a Kawau Island bach, we used a steel splashback with welded steel shelves wide enough for the owners to store oils, spices and tea and coffee canisters. It gave activation to the space and suited the casual nature of a holiday home. For a compact city unit, we once designed a pull-out bench on castors which slotted into the cabinetry on the main back wall and was brought out as and when needed.
What are some ways to gain optimum functionality in a bathroom?
(DAA): One trick is to create ‘wet bays’ where the shower is adjacent to the bath and does not read as a separate entity. Often it is divided from the room by a piece of frameless glass which is theoretically invisible. Bathrooms can be challenging when the family bathroom must double as a powder room. In that case we plan enough storage to hide the paraphernalia of family life and screen off the shower.
What about the trend to outdoor kitchens?
(DAA): It really suits the way we live as Kiwis. Ideally the indoor kitchen bench would traverse the wall to the exterior. Every outdoor kitchen needs real fire. Cooking over embers is perilous for the amateur but a lot more authentic.
Outdoor showers are common in baches but we have designed a scenic rooftop bathroom in a home in the inner suburbs of Auckland. It was part of an extension to an Art Deco house and completed in collaboration with stylist Katie Lockhart.
Conceptually, the master bedroom and en suite reads as one room. The vanity unit, with double sinks, backs onto the bed. Katie chose a rose-tinted mirror finish for the vanity top which cascades down to become the bedhead and captures the glamour of the Deco era. Leading off this is a roof deck with a bath, shower and timber screening.