Sean Monk is a young talent to watch. After only a few years in the design industry, he is already turning out kitchens that are the envy of designers many years his senior.
Newmarket-based Kitchens By Design has long had a reputation for discovering and nurturing young designers, and its latest prodigy, Sean Monk, has already proven himself to have a flare and passion for design. He says that growing up in Europe certainly contributed to his design aesthetic and has helped give his kitchens a point of difference.
In what way is European design different to ours?
Primarily, they have a lot less space available for their kitchens in comparison to us. Therefore they have to be a lot smarter with their space planning, and that’s really evident when you look at some of their design concepts. I find there’s lots of great ideas over there that can be scaled to work in our kitchens.
When did you know you wanted to be a designer?
I drew a lot as a kid and I vaguely remember shifting furniture around the house with my mother and sketching the rooms. My grandmother has excellent taste in furniture and clothes, so some of that must have rubbed off.
I gravitated towards kitchens whilst I was studying interior design. Every time I was asked to draw up a full interior, I found myself spending all my time on the kitchen – I was just drawn to them. I can’t tell you exactly why, but I guess it goes back to having been brought up in Europe, where kitchens are usually small spaces and therefore need interesting and unique designs to make them work.
What do you enjoy most being a kitchen designer?
In part, it’s about getting to know people and seeing a snapshot of who they are and how they live their lives — and kitchens are a huge part of that, because these days we spend so much of our time there.
The spatial planning part of designing kitchens is probably the most interesting for me, but, as a client, it’s only when you begin to look at colours and materials that you really start getting excited about it. I love the feeling you get from introducing something new to a client and watching their faces change with delight. Also, because the kitchen is such a big part of the home these days, it’s great to get to influence some of the colours and materials used in the rest of the house.
Could you take us through the kitchen shown on these pages?
Sure. When my clients Peter and Jodie came to me, they talked about having an all-white kitchen that had a modern Scandinavian look, with stainless steel tops and dark slate on the island. I think the finished kitchen you see here has moved past that look in terms materials and colours, and that’s very typical of any project — it’s an evolution of ideas.
The plywood look was something they were both keen on right from the beginning. I ended up paring it back a lot more than they originally wanted, and I think that’s worked for the better — by applying the ‘less is more’ principle and using it selectively to highlight some of the design features, like the low table slicing into the slate island, the open shelving along the back wall, and the wine rack and storage around the fridge.
What about the colour palette?
The deep turquoise colour on the walls took its cue from the slate-clad island, which has mitred edges to make it appear as a solid block. The drawers on the back of the island have been painted in a matching colour, and the tiled splashback that uses dark uneven finished tiles gives a worn and broken-in feel – something a bit different to the normal flat glossy butchers’ tiles.
I love exploring different uses of materials and colours in my designs. Gone are the days of the one material, single colour kitchen — it’s now much more about creating visually and texturally interesting spaces.
And the unusual positioning of the ovens – what’s the thought behind that?
Lifting the ovens off the bench, as I have, allows you to offset them from the cooking area at a more usable height – and by doing so, create a usable surface above that acts as a landing space for whatever’s coming out of the ovens.
Have you got any advice for young, would-be kitchen designers?
It’s hard work, really hard work, but if you love what you do, stick with it. Definitely go to college. Kitchens are a delicate balance between the practical and the aesthetic, and you need to ensure you get the basics right before you even start to look at the materials and finishes.
The National Kitchen & Bathroom Association is an invaluable place to start. I didn’t know about the NKBA when I started, but I wish I had because it would’ve made life a lot easier. They are extremely helpful and full of advice – they also know what’s going on in the industry and if there are any jobs going for trainee designers.