web analytics

Five Design Questions with Pete Walker


Pete Walker, Walker Designs

Pete Walker of Walker Design Group in Los Angeles has been designing kitchens for a long time and has some definite views on kitchen design. If you ask him, many design guidelines are simply outdated for today’s kitchens (which is something I’ve certainly discussed in the past. *cough*)

He proposes his own design guidelines  for kitchens, coming up with “5 Proximity Kitchensystem Principles®” based on today’s lifestyles. The 1st Principle anchors the rest:

The proper layout of a kitchen should follow, in direct relation, the functional sequence of events in cookery.

(You can find the 5 principles here.)

1) Why did you decide to make your own rules on kitchen design?

I read a book called “Blue Ocean Strategy” (Kim/Maubourgne, Harvard Business School Press) which I recommend without reservation (download and read the book.  I recommend four times. Just sayin’).

The basic idea is that most industries, whether incipient or mature, have a LOT of excess baggage.  This applies both to philosophy and durable goods.  BOS takes real-life examples (Cirque de Soleil, Southwest Airlines, Enterprise RAC, yellowtail wine, the NYPD, etc) and shows how the application of the BOS analysis can yield what they call “value innovation” for both the seller and the buyer in a given industry.  It’s brilliant.

2) Your principles of design strike me in many ways as similar to the principles of restaurant/chef kitchens, or ship/yacht kitchens. Was there some inspiration from there?

Absolutely.  Almost completely, although I feel those areas can use some tuning up as well.  The point is, the kitchen is a meal factory.  Raw material (groceries) comes in, is processed (becomes a finished product), shipped to the consumer (family, restaurant customer, seafarer…whatever: dining).  Afterward, the equipment has to be maintained and the by-products sorted.  I’m sorry to be brutal, but only an idiot would try to arrange a production facility in a triangle.

What you want is the correct sequence of work or task centers so that the flow of production can occur as easily as possible.  Thinking in task centers makes sense, but the SEQUENCE of them is even more important.  As much as possible the flow of work should move from one task set to the next logical one. If you’re building a car, you’re not going to bring the raw steel into the paint booth….

Proximity Kitchen Sink Workstation

Proximity Sink Workstation with cutting boards and serving containers ready for transport from sink to cooking equipment

3) Let’s talk about your workstation sink design (which recently won “Best in Show, Kitchen and Bath” at ICFF as part of the Semihandmade presentation). What were your thought processes behind the design?

Back when Smallbone introduced the traditional teak drainboard/china farmhouse sink arrangement to a wider audience, my first reaction was “why isn’t there a “stringer” across the front of that?”  My first response was “let’s make this more functional.”

I hate farmhouse sinks.  The look is quaint, but the diametric opposition to the ability to float a cutting board across it is (as you can imagine) supremely annoying to me.  In 1988 I was able to incorporate the first prototype of a teak “drainboard” into a kitchen in a FLW Usonian house in Bloomfield Hills, MI.  Let’s just say things have improved since then, but the result was still miles better than the farmhouse arrangement.

4) If you wanted to give homeowners only one idea that would make their kitchens better, what would it be?

Use a principled approach to your renovation.  To me, the test of whether a principle is one is this:  does it lead you to repeatable successful solutions?  As a result of its application are you able to create solutions which do NOT contain the sort of “well, except for the fact that you can’t get past the thingie when two people are working” excuses we tend to hear.  The point of evolving, discovering, inventing…whatever…principles is that they make your life easier.  This applies to everyone, not just designers.

Take one of the five currently shown on the website: In the choice between counter space and floor space, maximize the former and minimize the latter. This will encourage you to give yourself as much working counter as possible.  At the same time, it will minimize the number of paces between tasks.  Taken in conjunction with other equally valid principles, it produces more function, better relationships between task centers etc.

5) Any other tips you could provide to my readers who are thinking about remodeling their kitchens in the next few years?

1)  Spend your first money on design.  Research the designer’s work, see local examples of it if that’s possible, talk to the designer’s clients.  Be sure their thinking fits with yours.  For example, you probably don’t want to hire me to do a kitchen than involves rope- or crown moldings, fluted columns or corbels.  I hate that stuff.  Design is the key to everything.  The layout of a kitchen should be considered regardless of the style of cabinetry or a client’s aesthetic opinions.

2)  Once the layout is in place, the general design is tested against the functional principles, you then have a document which levels the playing field between your bidders.  They’ll whine and moan about how difficult the design is to execute, that it doesn’t suit their approach, etc.

This is YOUR kitchen, and you’re not leasing a car that you can turn in after two years. This is PERMANENT and no matter what you do, you’re going to be spending a considerable amount of money.  I understand that people don’t live in one house as long as they used to, but if you’re going to be there 4 years or more?  Get exactly what you want.  Don’t let some real estate idiot (sorry, but jeeeez…) tell you to decorate your life in beige so it’ll be easier for them to sell ten years from now.

Back to the bidders:  Tell them to quote what’s on the drawing. Once you’ve seen their prices, you’ll know where they fit re: your budget.  AFTER that, you can get into changes they might suggest, but I would never allow a contractor to make changes to a designer’s plan, especially if I had paid for it.

3)  RELAX.  Take three months to a year to get your design together. Get every picture of anything you like together, without thinking about what specifically you like about a given image.  Spread them out on the floor of your garage.  Look at them from a standing position, the reason being to give you a sense of the patterns that will form as a result of your “long view” of the aggregate.  It’s an exercise in “pattern recognition”.  Sounds a little bit “out there” but it really works.

My thanks to Pete for taking the time to answer the questions. You can find him at his website, Proximity Kitchen, Facebook page. Be sure to check out his designs on Houzz.

In the meantime, let’s discuss his ideas. Do you agree/disagree/have your own thoughts?

Share Button
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial