The central role of eating and dining has changed as our hectic lifestyles dictate less time for the preparation and enjoyment of food. Whilst we require our kitchen to perform more efficiently, we also want it to be an adaptable space that works on both a functional and aesthetic level.
Wallpaper talks to the Austrian based designer Norbert Wangen about his revolutionary kitchen designs for Boffi… “Norbert is something of a maverick when it comes to problem solving. To say he revolutionised kitchen design with his K2 monoblock is no understatement and not something we say lightly.”
Do you think your architectural training is at the heart of your ability to create such a revolutionary kitchen design as the K2?
I also trained as a carpenter and later studied philosophy and did set designs for theatres so in the end it’s a wide range of influences that come together to provide solutions – a synthesis of all these aspects.
When did kitchens first become the focus of your attention?
It was through an architecture project I was doing in Munich in 1994 for an actor friend of mine. It was a complicated project – it was a studio with a small living room and a mini kitchen – so we decided to put the whole kitchen into a block close to the corridor. We then took catalogue photos of the kitchen in the loft and the effect was completely different; it looked like it had been designed so specifically for the loft. It just worked on so many levels.
So it was an element of luck really that you discovered a talent in this field?
In 1994 the kitchen industry was only interested in new handles. Everybody was happy with wooden boxes and all the designers had to play with were the handles. We were lucky in many ways to have the opportunity to create an entirely new concept. Wallpaper* was young then too.
How did people react to what was a very radical kitchen design given how little kitchens had changed in the previous few decades?
People were slow to accept in 1998 that the sliding top of the K2 was anything more than a gimmick. Then in 2001 we came out with some good photographs and a more professional presentation and gradually things started to grow.
And when did Boffi enter the equation?
Well as they say in Britain, if you can’t beat them join them. Boffi is the finest kitchen and bathroom manufacturer with a history and a global reach that a new company like mine could never touch. I wanted to return to the creative side and step away from the business elements of establishing my own company. Joining Boffi allowed me to do this. They are true professionals in their handling and also their wonderful spaces provide a perfect backdrop to frame the products. I love Piero Lissoni as well, he’s a truly gifted Creative Director – look around here – it’s like being in a theatre.
Do people want different things from their kitchens today or are people just more open-minded about experimenting with domestic fittings?
Today the kitchen is a social place where people meet. I find often when women cook they don’t like you to see what’s being done, they want to hide the mess and the dirt straight away. Men are very much about performance in cooking. So I think the kitchen has to be a stage and somewhere where everything can be hidden and cleaned almost instantly. But also I think people don’t like their kitchens to look like a kitchen nowadays. If you look at the K16, from the other side it looks like a piece of furniture. It must be professional functionally but also incredibly simple. I think in our design language we could call it minimalism.
Where can kitchen design go from here? How difficult would it be to revolutionise kitchen design again?
I think the kitchen hood will disappear – they’re the last thing that really makes a kitchen look like a kitchen. In one hand we’re living in a fast time but at the same time everything is also getting slow. Communication and technology are of course moving very rapidly but there’s a lot of industry and manufacturing that is very slow. I think with kitchens the next decade will be slow. We’ve found solutions that make sense, there’s very little more we can do.
I just wonder if there will be a return to times when we don’t feel the need to hide functions and aesthetically homogenise everything – so a phone will look like a phone, a kitchen like a kitchen and so on?
This is an interesting point. I think it’s an expression of our time isn’t it? We are in the beginning of an epoch really – our level of communication is still relatively recent and our attachments, needs and expectations from design are still very much informed by the developments of technology and communication. I can’t see these things changing in the next few decades. Our current environment creates a lot of problems: there’s too much information, everything is too abstract. If we take a step back then I feel everything will collapse. It’s a radical truth but it’s very interesting. These designs are an expression of our times – a synthesis of very complex realities.
So your reputation as the king of kitchen design will be safe for some time then?
I hope so. No, maybe you should ask someone else! I’m satisfied with what I’m seeing…