English kitchen designer Johnny Grey knows that his late aunt, the talented food writer Elizabeth David, was a terror to many, but he says her positive traits and her ideas have been a great source of inspiration for him. “She was noncondescending to children. She sort of took me under her wing, and I watched,” says Grey, whose observations of her shaped his way of approaching the design of custom kitchens. “She didn’t like orthodoxy—like those all-plastic counters and anything manufactured, particularly cheaply.”
Grey’s custom kitchens, designed and sold through his new kitchen showroom in San Francisco, start with the basic premise that the soul of the house is the kitchen. “We’re seeing the disappearance of the dining room and people bringing a couch into the kitchen,” he says. “Today’s kitchen is a social area with furniture, rather than cabinetry and receptacles.”
To that end, Johnny Grey’s eponymous British company designs and manufactures custom kitchens with careful planning and great attention to materials. Trained as an architect in London in the 1970s, Grey likes to plan kitchens around a central island to give “the cook” (he frequently assumes that role in his own home) more views than just the walls. Another favorite: perching points, where people can easily stand and chat with the chef of the day. (Grey’s ideas can be found in three best-selling books, The Art of Kitchen Design, The Hard Working House and The Kitchen Work Book.)
In this particular San Francisco kitchen, designed by Will Jameson, Johnny Grey’s California principal, Jameson, rather than building continuous rows of countertops, utilized freestanding furniture, built-in cabinets and a central work island—following Johnny Grey’s concept of “the unfitted kitchen.” The marble-topped island was designed with an open bottom, which has two benefits: It serves as a storage area and allows light to pass through, creating an illusion of expansiveness. Concrete, which acts as a natural heat insulator, was used for the sink area and perforated stainless steel drawers were positioned next to the stainless basin for quick and easy clean up. Another innovative use of space is the wall-mounted picture-frame cabinet (above left), which not only provides storage for glassware, dishes and linens, but also opens in the center to reveal a full coffee/cappuccino station.
With manufacturing done by Sweetheart Cabinets in Northern California, the firm currently has kitchen projects in seven cities in the United States.