No other domestic space has to work so hard in its combination of function and warmth, life and work, and craft and technology. Yet two young firms have come to epitomise a new Scandinavian approach to kitchen design, fusing design with craftsmanship to bring the very best materials, appliances, and accessories together to make truly personal spaces.
Reform was founded by Jeppe Christensen and Michael Andersen in 2014. The company’s initial projects refinished and enhanced the standard kitchens offered by IKEA, vastly expanding their scope of materials and sense of quality. ‘We wanted to create a solution that more people could relate to in terms of both aesthetics, functionality and price,’ they say. Over time, Reform has expanded its offering by reaching out to other designers and architects to create kitchens that have a truly bespoke feel. ‘We are huge fans of all our collaborators, and we choose to work with designers we believe can and will contribute with something new, unexpected and extraordinary,’ say Christensen and Andersen. ‘We also have some really interesting collaborations in the pipeline, including Ilse Crawford, Jean Nouvel, Faye Toogood, Inga Sempé and Aspect Office.’
Wood is an integral element of every Reform design. ‘It’s crucially important for us to work with good quality materials,’ says Andersen. The company’s own modular cabinet systems are built using sustainably produced Melamine Faced Chipboard (MFC), while individual designers are encouraged to incorporate their own favourite material palette, from Muller Van Severen’s playful mix of rich marble, brass and colourful polyethylene, to the dark and natural oak used in the designs of Norm Architects or Cecilie Manz’s veneered Oregon Pine cabinet fronts. This mix of simplicity and sustainability is central to the Reform ethos. ‘The kitchen is a social, warm and welcoming space and that is exactly what we want to offer in a timeless and sustainable way,’ says Andersen, ‘We believe that the kitchen space has a big role in the traditional Danish sense of “hygge”.’
Their approach also incorporates a huge amount of flexibility. ‘We offer something for everybody, no matter their eating patterns or preferences.’ Andersen and Christensen both stress that ‘our kitchens are made to be used in everyday life. We’re reflecting the kitchen’s vital role as the centre of our homes.’ The designers and architects imbue the Reform system with subtle but decisive design elements, from handles to grips, colours, woods and patterns. ‘We want to meet the demand of everyday living for everybody around the globe - both in Scandinavia as well as for our international audience,’ they say. ‘Everybody likes good design at least to a certain extent and in that respect, we believe that it should be everybody’s right as well.’ The modern era has seen kitchen design become bolder. ‘People are experimenting with colours and materials as never before and we only expect that trend to expand further in the future,’ says Christensen.‘The kitchen is not just a room for cooking anymore but a piece of furniture. It is something people want to take care of - aesthetically and functionally.’
Kine Ask Stenersen and Kristoffer Eng set up the Ask og Eng studio in 2016, with a focus on bespoke kitchen designs that maximise the use of sustainable materials and enduring components. The chief material is bamboo, one of the hardiest and most abundant of all woods, a truly carbon neutral material that is in ready supply. Starting with a kitchen they designed and built for themselves, the company has branched out into furniture and interiors, all handmade from their workshop in the Norwegian city of Drammen. ‘We only work with our signature material, bamboo, due to its strong environmental profile,’ says Stenersen. ‘We fell in love with it thanks to its beauty, durability and versatility. Bamboo isn’t strictly speaking a wood – it’s an incredibly fast-growing weed. Once it’s been harvested it takes a mere 4-6 years to regrow. Turnover is quick, bountiful and painless and bamboo readily absorbs CO2, so it cleans the air, and it grows so naturally that no pesticides are needed to keep it healthy.’ It’s also very important to the duo that there is no material wastage.
An Ask og Eng kitchen can be fashioned in one of two ways. The ‘A’ collection adapts and extends the cabinet systems offered by IKEA using new bamboo front panels and components, with a variety of surface finishes and handle details, either added, cut or carved into the solid surface. ‘We prefer transparency and honesty in our designs, allowing the truth of the material to be visible rather than hiding it away or manipulating it to appear as something other than what it is,’ Stenersen says. ‘When we sit down to draw, we aim to create clarity, reducing a design to its most essential features.’ The ‘E’ collection is rather more bespoke, with every element tailored for a specific space. Furnishings and fittings can also extend to other rooms of the house, bringing the warmth and quality of Ask og Eng’s designs to the whole living space. ‘The kitchen is traditionally the room you gather in and have the best conversations, whether with the family or informal gatherings with friends and acquaintances,’ says Stenersen. ‘There was a period when the kitchen was seen as a “machine”, where typically the housewife had to cook for the whole family in the most efficient way possible. However, we are now on our way back to a kitchen where we cook together, talk together and find peace together.’
Stenersen and Eng describe their design process as ‘uncluttered, simple and reductive.’ ‘We follow the Japanese emphasis on the grid, and that culture’s beautiful way of thinking about structure,’ they say. Their designs also avoid contemporary trends or fashions. ‘We’d rather strive to create good, simple kitchens that age well over time and can be adapted to different and changing needs.’
Both studios represent a return to a carefully crafted simplicity, taking the production advantages offered by the sheer scale of IKEA’s operation and translating them into something that is more personal and tailored. By pairing craft with sustainability, the modern Scandinavian kitchen finds itself at the heart of a more socially-focused and inclusive home, with an honest approach to materials and products that is reflected in every single detail.