Culinary Couture: discovering bulthaup kitchens, St Albans
PUBLISHED: 13:35 15 February 2016 | UPDATED: 13:35 15 February 2016
With a client list including Hugh Jackman, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kanye & Kim, plus an upcoming appearance on Grand Designs, kitchen brand bulthaup's recent installation into St Albans is a definite coup for the city.
Underneath the 16th century beams of 23 George Street, a futuristic layout lies in stark contradiction.
The building – dating back to 1530 – houses one of only 13 showrooms in the UK for elite kitchen brand bulthaup. This slice of innovation wedges itself firmly into the heart of the Romeland ‘province’ of the city centre.
“Only George Street would work,” declares Clinton Lawrence, Director and Lead Designer at bulthaup, St Albans. “Having the showroom there ties in with the value of our product. We only wanted the best. We didn’t want to be surrounded by chains. An industrial estate wouldn’t have worked. The journey took us two and a half years.”
This isn’t about egotism. Nor elitism. This brand cares about every little aspect. It’s purely an acute attention to detail – something very evident when you start scrutinizing the product itself.
The bulthaup design is clean, organic, striking and totally non-glossy. These aren’t catalogue kitchens. They’re naturally attractive without needing a smearing of Vaseline over the lens.
“These are architectural kitchens; designed totally for function over form. Architects choose to use these designs as a blueprint. They are the Rolls-Royce of kitchens,” Clinton explains.
He began working for the company following a career designing for Coca Cola. His transition into mid-century furniture 12 years ago landed him a role with Smallbone. His preference to work outside of London lead him to the discovery that bulthaup were scouting St Albans as a site for a new, rare, UK-based store. London was also why the company had St Albans on their radar. “This will be the second-to-last bulthaup showroom in the UK. The company identified St Albans as the richest city outside of London. We do hold locations in the Capital, but this is for those that don’t want to have to go there to attend an appointment with our specialists.”
So what’s the crux here? Why does a kitchen-hunter need an appointment if they’ve got their eye on a bulthaup installation? Why can’t they spend an afternoon online to place an order?
“These are not generic kitchens,” Clinton explains. “Our sales aren’t ever walk-past. It’s like being a member of an exclusive club. That’s how we treat our customers. If your client is paying a starting price of £45k, they deserve luxury attention.”
Far from ‘one size fits all’ – miles away from it, in fact – these are the kitchens for the bespoke homeowner; the kind of client that is investing their money, time and soul into the design of a new habitat. It’s a creative process – there are demonstrations to be had, conversations to arrange, sketches to be drawn, 3D renderings to be shown. It’s concept design. The package comes with a project manager, not just a couple of sinks, an oven and a breakfast bar.
“85 percent of our kitchens will be off-plan. It needs to work precisely for the customer,” says Clinton. “We are giving clients a living space, rather than simply a place to cook and eat. The UK is finally cottoning on to what Europe and the States have recognised for a long time now.”
As easy as b1, 2, 3
Much like the sleekly slotted George Street showroom, bulthaup HQ sounds just as striking. For nearly 80 years, the family-run business has remained in an area not far from Munich, named Aich. Located on the other side of the Black Forest, there’s something incredibly enchanting about the brand. Practically everyone living in Aich works for the company. The products are made from materials of the highest calibre – ash, walnut and oak (never laminated wood, always solid or venire), aluminium, steel, quartz, glass, with the option to anodize in gold or bronze.
The ‘types’ of kitchen are catalogued into b1, 2 & 3, the C Series or the Solitaire collection. While b1 only comes in white, its no fuss design is an example of simplifying the simplistic. The appliances simply drop into the thick worktops and columns – there are no fancy integrations. Yet, the b1 won’t be found with any hinges. See it to understand it.
The b2 range involves a free standing surface, which can run however long the client desires. Built as either a simple seating area of a fully-functional worktop (complete with flip-out sockets and railings for cookery ‘tools’) the b2 comes with a larder unit, designed so that everything can be hidden from view. The end product will look like a tall wooden block, complete with sliding doors to hide kitchen knick-knacks such as kettles and toasters, as well as providing standard closed off crockery storage. This design also provides hidden housing for the likes of a fridge/freezer, dishwasher and oven – all able to be slid away from view, leaving a smooth and sly finish.
Biggest seller b3 offers a total personal package – each aspect of the range being customisable. The range includes bulthaup’s own design of tap, sink, extractor, drawers (built to a unique prism shape for storage ease) and literally hangs from a kitchen wall. This outstanding idea leaves an impression of levitation. There are no feet; the units are clipped on to the edges of your kitchen and is finished with rods and panels that retain a pancake flatness.
The wall-hanging spills over into the C Series, which offers the likes of joint-less furnishings that can be slotted into the panelling; and Solitaire products are freestanding singular pieces, often where clients choose to display items of particular impression (Ming vases?)
The company have then partnered with various interior designers to pepper your bulthaup ‘living area’ with items to compliment the style of the space. Furniture designer Carl Hansen’s Danish-inspired modernist input is particularly striking – the wishbone chair notably iconic. Eames chairs also now feature at bulthaup.
For your electronic needs, bulthaup are one of only four locations selling Samsung’s new Serif TV, a stand-alone unit that has the appearance of a cabinet, without the irritation of wayward wiring and priced at a reasonable price of maximum £1,200. For a Milan toaster, bulthaup St Albans are the only place to source one in the UK. And to hammer home the highly attractive charm of an outer-city business, bulthaup champion the artwork of Simon Feneley, local architectural photographer, who lives and works in St Albans and happens to sport a style in-keeping with the brand.
The local resourcing doesn’t stop at decorative accents: “We’ll use local tradesmen we trust, to the highest level. Our lighting, for example, is installed by Harpenden Electrical,” says Clinton.
The showroom has also partnered with a variety of surrounding businesses to promote the fact that kitchens are, after all, sociable places with the concurrent theme of food. The launch event in December welcomed 70 guests including reps from Dillons, who are now in talks with Clinton about hosting tastings at bulthaup (including glass tastings - they exist!) The showroom has also caught the eye of local chef Jean Christophe Novelli, with cookery nights in mind for the traditional yet modernist venue. This reiterates that amidst the exclusivity, the genius and the often awe-inspiring mechanics that go into these kitchens, bulthaup’s mantra of form after function is fluidly present throughout.