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A Benchmark In Kitchens

By Carol D’Costa | Sunday | 09/02/2003

Any cabinet manufacturer can design a kitchen and many do. But when it comes to a smart kitchen where the difference is more often what's inside the kitchen cabinets, one company stands out: German kitchen manufacturer Poggenpohl.

It is indisputable that German precision and engineering expertise are responsible for some of the world's most outstanding products and designs.

For starters, there's the likes of Mercedes-Benz and the BMW, and probably the press that printed this magazine. And then there's Poggenpohl with its impressive history of style and function, technology and good old-fashioned craftmanship in what many would consider as world-leading kitchen design. A benchmark company for most kitchen manufacturers, Poggenpohl's sleek, minimal-ist and classic designs are becoming more prevalent in Australia where they appeal to design-savvy individuals.

Australia's well-travelled residents have now increased the demand for smart kitchens. Poggenpohl, established 100 years ago, has created a point of difference by using new, durable materials that are environmentally friendly, and allow for good ergonomics and organisational systems to create liveable workspaces that perform well in today's modern kitchen.

"I've been in this industry for a decade, and I noticed people used to have the attitude that a kitchen was just a series of boxes," says Colin Kippax, principal designer and founder of A La Carte Design, Sydney, importers of Poggenpohl kitchens.

"As long as it looked good, they thought that was all that mattered. People no longer want just boxes; they now understand that good technology makes a kitchen better. Creating a kitchen isn't about developing a space that a designer, who may have a passion about a particular style or colour, wants to impose. The kitchen designer's chief responsibility should be to inform the client of the cost and user implications of the design they choose and offer viable alternatives as needed," he says.

A client may be as keen as mustard to have aluminium finishes, but may be under budgetary constraints. Kippax has options that use aluminium edging on the drawer and cupboard panelling, for instance, but with a look-alike treatment for the fascia that certainly would fool anyone except, well, a professional kitchen designer.

A fit for comfort

A chief point of difference with a Poggenpohl kitchen is that consultants look closely at 3233how it will be used and who will use it.

"We interview the client in detail, asking questions such as the number of people who will use the kitchen space; their height; whether they're right- or left-handed; what they cook; how their weekend lifestyle differs from their weekday habits and so on," says Kippax.

To work well, a kitchen needs to be designed for comfort and efficiency. To ensure this, Poggenpohl maintains flexibility with points of style, such as differing bench heights that can range from 910mm up to a 1 metre high in a single kitchen.

What's in the box

Without smart design and good functionality inside the cabinetry, cupboard and drawer spaces are ineffective; everything needs to be easily accessible. If people are paying good money for storage capacity, good design technology that helps people quickly find what they need is essential. As Kippax says, a box is easy to make, but a box that allows everything to be seen and accessed easily is something else altogether.

That's another point of difference between a Poggenpohl and your average kitchen design.

"Poggenpohl's 1200mm-wide door system, for example, allows everything in that space to be clearly seen. Drawer systems are also designed in the kickboards, so you can store a folding, two-step ladder system or extra oven trays that aren't used regularly, but you wouldn't throw away."

The drawer closing systems in Poggenpohl kitchens have a soft-closing mechanism using a hydraulic shock absorber system so the drawers glide smoothly towards their final point of closure, then gently lose momentum and pull silently shut. The hinges in the cupboards and drawers are also designed to allow them to be opened at any angle, even the very large drawers, and the overhead cupboards have gas pistons so they stay open in an intermedi-ate position, instead of being either fully closed or fully opened.

Flexibility and function

Sell your house without a kitchen? It's a fresh idea in the southern hemisphere, but in Germany kitchens are considered to be a moveable item. It makes sense, really - you take your refrigerator with you, why not your stove and kitchen cupboards?

"In Germany, it's not uncommon to take your kitchen when you change domiciles," says Kippax. "Some of my clients here in Australia have actually sold their homes with a no-kitchen option. After all, kitchens are such personalised spaces.The flexibility of having a moveable kitchen allows the buyer to have their own installed and purchase the house for less, while the owner can take their kitchen with them and save money on a new installation in their next property."

Although only five per cent of A La Carte Design's Australian clients would relocate their Poggenpohl kitchens to another site altogether, the advantage of having moveable cabinetry means that if a home renovation allows you to increase the size of your kitchen, there's no need to strip out your existing one. A La Carte can then install any extra cabinetry.

This flexibility also means that if you want to revamp your kitchen in the future, Poggenpohl only requires a product number of the original kitchen design and a whole new set of panels, doors, door frames and so on are ordered without even the necessity of an on-site call. And if you need cabling installed for your new Web-enabled appliance, being able to easily move the cabinetry saves a lot of frustration.

Future Trends

With the increasing emphasis on technology in the home, from the fully automated home system that controls lighting, heating and security to Web-enabled devices in the kit-chen, houses are becoming 'smarter'. And people want technology. Our lives are busy, we work long hours and we don't like queueing up at supermarkets.

Kitchen appliances that communicate with each other and also organise the household shopping or their own service calls are coming onto the market, but Kippax feels there are still some glitches that need ironing out. "For instance, there are systems that will let you know what's inside your cupboards, which are essentially based on barcode readers. I perceive the difficulty is working out when the product itself is low in content," says Kippax.

"These are the sort of bugs that the programmers have to remove from the smart systems. I think this is the critical issue. Once these problems are solved, Poggenpohl will gear into full uptake of this technology."

Total integration

Poggenpohl develops kitchen styles and each style has its own structure, its own vocabulary, terminology and its own set of design rules and accompanying technology.

"The design concepts, the manufacturing and the technology are a total integration," says Kippax. "Anyone can sit down and design a beautiful kitchen, but it has to be a highly-functional kitchen.

"The technology that goes into a new design has to be developed and tested, and Poggenpohl doesn't release any of its products unless they have been tested thoroughly. For example, new products are coming out this month, but Poggenpohl in Germany has been rigorously testing them for the last 18 months. Improvements in the technology used in the kitchens are constant."

Anyone can create a pretty kitchen. The technology that goes inside makes the diff-erence between a fully-functional kitchen that's a pleasure to work in and one that may please our aesthetic sensibilities, but makes cooking a nightmare. There's no guesswork in knowing which one most people would prefer.

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