Beyond Boxes

The artistry of kitchen design

Kelly Smith
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readMay 23, 2024


Illustration of a pink kitchen.
Kitchen illustration by the author.

For my sins, I married a kitchen designer. My husband often bemoans the fact that people think designing a kitchen is merely putting boxes in a room. “Every kitchen is different”, he says. “Every client is different”.

He has a vast mental store of implicit knowledge acquired from designing thousands of kitchens over the course of decades. He spots the little things that nobody else notices: the drawer handle which will bump into a radiator, the door which is too wide to squeeze past when it’s fully open. The details are not the details. They make the design.

I am in awe of his grasp of colour and texture, the artful way in which he mixes and matches. In another life he would have been Yves St Laurent, casually throwing silk blouses together with tuxedo jackets, effortlessly creating masterpieces on the runway. Instead he combines rose-tinted doors with porcelain subway tiles… put a curve just here to soften the outline, pull the worktop off to the side to create a slight asymmetry, and voila.

When he designed a kitchen for our home, he persuaded me to let him use smoky charcoal cupboards with walnut-veneered interiors, paired with dark granite finished with a leather texture. The stone was rippled with waves of white and orange which spread through the black rock like cream through coffee, echoed by the sugary white interior of the pendant light hanging above it. He painted the walls almost-black and clad the floor in black slate.

“I am not living in a dark box”, I said.

“Trust me”, he replied.

It was fabulous.

Cosmic leather granite in the author’s kitchen.

Of course, if you ask him about kitchens he will tell you about the practicalities of building regulations, form vs function and ergonomics. But his genius lies in the things he cannot articulate. The way the light falls through a window and illuminates a fruit bowl. The sensation on your fingers as you run them across stone engraved to feel like linen. The paint colour that’s exactly the same shade as the North Sea in August.

Details that make the difference between ordinary and extraordinary. This is his gift, and his gift to his clients.

My grandmother often used to say that beautiful things have a halo effect.

“When a lady wears a lovely dress”, she explained, “people don’t say ‘That dress is beautiful’. They say ‘That woman is beautiful’ ”.

Perfectly designed interiors evoke the same emotion. Living in the rooms he has created makes me feel more, in a way that’s difficult to define with words. More alive, more inspired, more myself perhaps. It’s not only about creating a visually appealing space; it’s about crafting an environment that resonates with the soul. True luxury isn’t just opulence and extravagance; it’s about creating places that uplift the spirit.

When you step into a room he has designed, you don’t just see the beauty of the space – you feel it. It’s as if the walls themselves radiate a quiet confidence, a sense of grace and elegance that leaves you breathless.

In the end, it’s not just about living in a beautiful room; it’s about living a beautiful life.

And in his hands, that beauty is palpable, tangible and utterly transformative. “Boxes in a room” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

In any case, there are things beyond boxes which make up a kitchen.

  • The dining table where your child will blow out their birthday candles.
  • The bar stools where you’ll sit and clink your champagne glasses after you get that well deserved promotion.
  • The easy chair where you’ll relax with a book and watch the rain running down the windows on a grey afternoon in late autumn.

He designs all of these things and more, with considered taste and more than a touch of brilliance.

“The most important thing to know about a place is who is in it”.

This is the mantra that guides his hand as he draws and redraws each design, seeking the grace of his muse in the quest for that perfect balance between beauty and utility. Watching him work, I am convinced that he must have his own personal angel whispering in his ear.

The truth of the matter, though, is that design is only ever half of the equation. A house is a dialogue between the person who designs it and the person who lives in it.

“You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

He works like a couturier - wrapping rooms in metres of measuring tape, divining his clients’ innermost desires, and making everything fit as perfectly as a Savile Row suit. But there is always a human proportion to his designs, a promise than can only be fulfilled by dwelling within them.

This, at the end of it all, is why a kitchen is more than boxes: because fundamentally it is also the people who inhabit it.