Designer Explores Changing World of Kitchens

Chicago — Mick De Giulio is expanding his professional horizons. Having designed kitchens for the better part of three decades, De Giulio is now venturing into major all-home projects while supervising the work of interior designers brought into each project.

“We’re now fabricating our own metal work – cabinets, hoods, hardware, light fixtures and racks,” notes De Giulio, principal of de Giulio kitchen design, based here. The design firm also has a location in Wilmette, IL.

De Giulio also has his ear to the ground where potential clients are concerned, aware that their goals have taken a noticeable shift in recent years.

“People are looking to holistic design, which goes well beyond pretty cabinets and finishes and a nice backsplash,” he says. “What they’re responding to now is the [combination of possibilities] that create a whole: with everything revolving about a specific space.”

He concludes: “To me, holistic means a total design, one that combines space, color, light and proportion – everything working together to create a welcoming, comforting spirit.”

Singular Vision

Often clients start out focused on improving a single aspect of their kitchen’s current design but, with little pressure, ultimately decide to do much more. “As we all know,” he says, “the impetus to redoing most kitchens often stems from the concern about aging appliances. It turns out, of course, that dimensions have changed over the years, and there’s often no room for the most desirable new appliances.”

According to his speech at the “Driven by Design” event at this year’s K/BIS, this will also help his firm – and, indeed, all kitchen firms – to manifest a “design renaissance” through exceptional design. This culmination may very well serve as a benchmark – and lesson – for many years to come.

To achieve this, however, he strongly suggests that design-driven dealers should concentrate on pure design and expand their purview through design excursions to some of the world’s top design shows, such as Milan or London, when possible.

Do the Evolution

De Giulio, whose collaborations include SieMatic’s BeauxArts and Bari collections, maintains a firm grip on changing consumer attitudes relative to design trends. What is evolving now, he says, “has been coming about for a long time – a movement toward more personalized spaces – in other words, a need to create kitchens for people, individually, rather than formula-driven, out-of-the-catalog type designs.” For De Giulio, this signals a greater emphasis on creativity.

“Clients really want something that is unique,” he believes. “They want a clear interpretation of their lifestyle, and that interpretation will vary wildly from one designer to another. It can be expressed in either more or less creative ways. The less creative ways are what’s already been done – that’s this style, that’s this theme, we can bracket this formula. The more creative ways involve doing something new.” For example, he points out that special detailing on the windows or the treatment of flooring might make a big statement along with the cabinetry.

“I think these factors really add up to the fact that there isn’t any one way to approach design. In fact, there are many different ways to approach design, depending on the dynamic taking place within a particular space,” he stresses.

Living Dreams

De Giulio, who designed the Chicago Merchandise Mart’s first DreamHome exhibit in 2005, was selected to design the 2009 version. He also produces a cabinet collection, the Hudson Valley Line, that was included in the recent restoration of Blair House, the historic presidential guest quarters in Washington, DC.

In part because of his ongoing relationship with Sub-Zero/Wolf, the designer has developed a worldwide reputation for sleek contemporary kitchens, but his approach to style is far more eclectic.

“For me, moving away from specific styles and blending them are one and the same,” he says. “What I see more people responding to is putting different design vocabularies together. Even though they see the logic, it’s still a hard line for a lot of people to cross.”

He continues: “So, we have to talk to people about what they really want, and show them how we can mix many different elements together to produce a design that’s truly personal. After all, people are an amalgam of so many different elements: culture and nationality, family history and cooking habits. A kitchen can be just as mixed.”

On the Horizon

Although shifting into all-home design, De Giulio insists that even if a commission involves only one restricted space – such as a kitchen – overall style is definitely an important factor.

“We always need to be aware of things like proportions and detailing,” he says. “Even if we’re creating some kind of counterpoint to a design that’s there, we somehow need to respect it, pay tribute to it.

To that end, he shares a recent project he completed as an example of this approach.

“My firm just did a project in a house that was pure neo-classic French – new architecture which, from the outside, looks as though it could be in Paris. Inside, we designed a very contemporary kitchen, with ebonized walnut and stainless steel,” De Giulio describes.

He continues: “It wasn’t a stark design, but you wouldn’t look at the exterior architecture and predict this kitchen at all. There aren’t any nods toward the neo-classic style, but somehow it works. Ultimately, I think that’s the artistry of a space, the magic of good design.”

A New Experience

De Giulio confesses that he and many other kitchen design specialists often experience what interior designers come up against frequently: clients who try to compete with them, as though they themselves should be decorating their homes, not the designer they’ve hired for the project.

“Many customers think that they can do the job themselves,” he says, “but they’ll reach a point where they can go no further. Twenty years ago it would have been hard to sell people on the idea of kitchen design as a specialization. But, kitchen design is really complicated – there are so many connections.”

Ultimately, De Giulio suggests that designers use their experience to continue to grow as design professionals – and communicators.

“I’ve been doing this line of work for 35 years, so when a situation arises, I can think of many different ways to treat it. The creative track has become more comprehensive, particularly now that my firm is actually making some of the products we design. Knowing what we can do in our shop – now and in the future – will definitely add to our growth and, as time goes on, my own capability as a designer will also continue to grow.”