An interview with kitchen designer John Kirby

I was recently very lucky to be invited to Dovetail's workshop, charmingly situated in a clearing in the woods near Petersfield, and to meet kitchen designer, John Kirby. Apart from wanting to share the thinking behind his beautiful kitchens with you, I thought it was about time we had a chap on here! Dovetail kitchen

What’s the most important thing to know about you?

I would like to be known as someone who is part of a great team. Let me explain why… There are things that I am particularly good at; coming up with creative design solutions, problem solving and being able to listen to a clients' needs. However, presenting a client with a completed project needs a skill set far more comprehensive than what I have to offer. If it were just down to me, my business would be struggling! Fortunately I have the privilege of working with a team whose talents complete the set and who complement each other beautifully.

Describe a really good day and a really bad day in the life of John Kirby.

A really good day is when you meet a client who has a really knotty design issue and inspiration strikes like a flash of lightning. There's that moment when the whole thing busts open and the solutions flood out. A really bad day is when we come up with something that is so right, we know in our bones that it's brilliant, but the client just doesn't see it.

Dovetail kitchen

What inspires your ideas?

Inspiration is something that is often elusive - finding it is at the centre of what good design is all about. Sometimes it comes into your hand like ripe fruit. I was recently shown round a client’s home and we spent quite some time looking at a picture she had just bought, as she waxed lyrical about the colours and emotion it evoked. Sometimes it's like pulling teeth. Design then becomes a process of elimination, getting rid of the dross before you get to the essence of an idea that could work.

Dovetail kitchen

Describe the process you go though to turn your ideas into products.

We start by listening to the client talk about their aspirations and lifestyle, and then discuss how Dovetail can help. Together we develop a brief and agree guidelines for the project.

We then do lots of research, develop a concept, and produce an initial design. We discuss the design with the client and develop it further in light of their responses. This iterative process continues until we reach a design they love.

Once the initial drawings are signed off, we create a series of technical drawings that are required to ensure each element is manufactured correctly. The kitchen is then built in our workshop by our skilled craftsmen. Using only the highest quality materials and tools, they take pride in every detail to produce beautifully-made cabinet work.

Finally, the project is installed in the home of the client by members of the Dovetail team, with a little disruption as possible.

Dovetail kitchen

What advice would you give to an aspiring kitchen designer?

Learn about what makes people tick and how to communicate with them. Really great kitchen design isn't about knowing where to put the fridge. Its all about interpreting your client; deciphering the subliminal messages gleaned through talking to them. When talking to a client, on the surface they may seem to be saying they want this, that and the other, but you need to get underneath the surface and understand what's driving those desires - that’s what makes the difference. This is a skill that can be described as listening, but of course it’s more than that - it’s all about understanding what you are hearing. And knowing how hard I can push with each client.

Dovetail kitchen

Which three items could you not live without?

Number one would be my hot tub! That's where I do most of my creative thinking. I am an early bird and I am in my hot tub before 6am most mornings. This is when and where my best eureka moments come to me.

Number two would be my Apple computer. The way everything is laid out suits a right-brained thinker like me.

Number three would be my black iron crepe pans. There's something wonderful about objects that are so truly fit for purpose and a joy to use.

What are you most proud of?

Without question the thing I am most proud of is my team. The way they work so hard and have learned to pull together makes me very proud.

Dovetail kitchen

What’s next for you?

We're bursting at the seams in our workshop in rural Hampshire. We have planning permission to build a larger eco-friendly workshop with a huge open work area. The walls will be straw bale with a soundproof glass panel between the workshop and the office. The idea of the transparent wall is to help us see ourselves as a single team. There should be no divide between craft and design.

And, finally, what’s your favorite colour?

Verdigris!