Ask The Designer: Fi and Tom Ginnett of Witlof kitchens

New kitchen brands Witlof and Holte, were founded by Fiona and Tom Ginnett who were inspired to bring more colourful, bespoke kitchens to the market when they began looking for something individualistic for themselves. They’ve gone on to create a variety of styles, each one utilising an interesting blend of colours, materials and storage ideas – including the concept of a cat hole.

With backgrounds in fashion (Fiona) and landscape architecture (Tom), the duo bring a different perspective to their craft and today we find out what drives their ideas.

 

 

 

 

What inspired you to design your first kitchen?

 FG: “It’s a fairly typical story really! We were building an extension on our flat and couldn’t find anything we liked on the market within our price range. What we could afford felt of poor quality and unremarkable design and you had to select from a limited range of colours, finishes and handle styles. So we decided to build our own! It all snowballed from there really; some friends asked us to build one for them, then some colleagues of friends, and before we knew it we were building kitchens at the weekends!” TG: “We felt there was a lack of any sense of individuality or freedom of design on the market. When we first designed our kitchen, we loosely joked about the possibility of it becoming something but never actually expected it to become a legitimate business.”

Where do you find inspiration for collections and colour combining?

FG: “Every Witlof project is unique and we go through an extensive consultation process with our clients to establish the brief. We start by showing images of artworks, chairs and plates to get a more holistic understanding of their general taste. People can tend to get sucked into a vortex of what they think they want, perhaps fixating on one particular image of a kitchen they’ve found on Pinterest or Instagram. We hope to open up other possibilities and dispel any preconceptions such as what colour a kitchen ‘should’ be or what materials work together. Often the inspiration          might come from the client – maybe an artwork or object in their home or the surrounding scenery and landscape.”

TG: “Fi will often point out colours and combinations of colours when we’re out and about or on holiday. She’s totally obsessed with colour – choosing colours for our house is always fairly long and arduous! We think colour is a really powerful tool and people shouldn’t be afraid to be bold with it, even in the kitchen.”

Can you tell us about your own kitchen, what you wanted to include and how you use it?

FG:” When we were developing our new brand, Holte, we ripped out our Witlof kitchen and installed an Ikea one with Holte fronts, worktops and handles. We wanted to test the products ourselves, just as we did with Witlof, so that we could confidently bring the products to market having put them through their paces first.”

TG: “We love food – both eating and cooking – so first and foremost it had to be a real working kitchen. We wanted a large amount of really durable work surface so we used the leathered steel grey granite which is completely indestructible. The previous kitchen having been quite playful, we felt it should be more grown up and wanted to include some wood. Plus the obligatory cat hole of course.”

What tip could you offer other people embarking on a new kitchen?

TG: “Think about practicality before style and colour and nail the layout before you do anything else.  Functionality should always inform the finishes you choose. If you cook a lot and you’re quite messy then choose robust worktops and bombproof materials for the doors and faces.”

FG: “And storage! Do an inventory of what you have in your kitchen as well as what you’d like to add in the future and work out how much and what sort of storage is going to work best for you. Drawers are generally more accessible and space efficient but don’t forget to think about the things that just don’t really work in drawers such as glassware. Try not to get seduced by beautiful pictures of other peoples’ kitchens on Instagram and Pinterest. The format, materials or colours they have chosen might not work in your space or might be highly impractical in reality.”

Are there any kitchen’ rules’ that you’ve thrown out / that you don’t buy into?

FG: “The triangle! We have so infrequently managed to achieve it, just because it’s not possible in most peoples’ spaces. We tend to focus more on ‘zoning’ in our layouts eg grouping sink with dishwasher and bin, and we feel this is much more important to the functionality of the kitchen.”

TG: “It’s not a rule as such but I think people do overlook the importance of designing the layout in the context of the rest of the living spaces. Particularly considering the    general inclination towards open plan living, there is no reason that you can’t merge the spaces by including design features that would be typically more associated with living or dining spaces in the kitchen and vice versa.”

One of the lovely things about your kitchens is the details, such as handles, drawer inserts and wire storage – can you tell us more about the ideas behind some of them?

TG: “We really value details and trying to create unique and interesting touches in each of our bespoke projects. The handle designs are often inspired by vintage or antique pieces we come across. Fi is really passionate about materials and finding interesting ways to use them, for example the terrazzo handle pulls in our Durand Gardens project. We have also tried to include some distinctive details in our Holte products, for       example all our handles are designed by us and fabricated locally for us. We are also currently developing a range of customisable modules including metal-framed islands, folded metal shelves and open storage cabinets.”

FG: “I really like simplicity in design and using quite basic materials that have been minimally processed. For example the drawer dividers at the Durand Gardens project were perforated steel powder coated to tie in with the island framework.”

Which materials and colours are you most excited by right now personally?

TG: “Wood veneer. We work with a highly skilled 3rd generation veneer specialist and I find the skill and craftsmanship engrossing. The number and variety of species is pretty much endless and you can use it incredibly effectively either en masse or as accents.” FG: “I recently came across a company called Solidwool, based in Devon and am really excited about what they are doing. They have taken a dying out trade (the wool trade) from their local area and given it new life by creating a contemporary material that has so many possibilities.”

Can you tell us more about the striking stained black plywood De Beauvoir kitchen and what was the thinking behind it?

FG: “The client at De Beauvoir came to us with a design from a high street company that they were not happy with for a number of reasons. One of which was that they felt it was a bit generic and cold. They had found a beautiful granite they loved at a stone yard so we decided to take this as the starting point for the design. The granite is white, black and yellow so has an incredibly graphic effect and we needed something that would hold its own alongside it. Rather than use a sprayed black finish we opted for stained ply as the grain coming through gives it a warmth and depth you don’t get with a flat painted surface.”

 Have you stumbled into any unusual colour combinations in your design process that have ended up being lovely?

TG: “I am often sceptical about some of the combinations Fi suggests but they always end up being lovely! In a recent project we used Farrow & Ball Calke Green with crown cut cherry veneer and a warm grey cement-effect quartz. I wasn’t sure at first but I love it.”

FG: “I have a bit of a thing for orange and green and this seems to creep into quite a few of our projects for example ‘The Mulberry’ Witlof project and ‘Hackney Downs’ Holte project. Another interesting one was our ‘Lansdowne Drive’ Witlof project where all the colours came from some photos of the Brittany coast as our client was French and had sailed a lot there as a child. We picked out the deep blues from the sea, the white stained ply referenced the wash of the waves and the pink tones came from         the famous rose granite of the area.”

Which kitchen, other than your own, are you currently most proud of?

TG: “That’s like asking to choose your favourite child. If pushed, I would probably say Globe Road. It was a really difficult space with lots of parameters including relationship to the garden, finding enough space for a dining area and accommodating an existing boiler that couldn’t be moved. We ended up with highly functional, really well zoned space that also included fun design features such as the folded metal shelf systems and the storage wall. Above all, the clients were really great to work with and they seem super happy with it. They had us back to build some living room storage, which is a good sign.”

FG: “I love them all for different reasons! But I would probably say Durand Gardens. It was the most challenging project with a really extensive brief, however this gave us the opportunity to push outside our own boundaries a bit. The clients are a really charismatic and lively family and made the project so enjoyable. It was a true collaboration at every stage and you can see their input everywhere you look in the kitchen.”

How did Holte – which brings customers your designer doors, handles and worktops for Ikea units – evolve from Witlof and where are the names from?

TG: “We were frustrated that our kitchens weren’t accessible to everyone because of the cost of the materials and processes we use and the heavy emphasis on design. We passionately believe that good design should not be exclusive. It should be possible to create a unique aesthetic using products that have been carefully considered without it costing the earth. Holte means a wooded area in Olde English. ”

FG: “Witlof is what the Dutch and Australians call a white Belgian endive. We wanted the name to be rooted in food and finding something interesting and unique was a bit of a challenge. We were keen that Holte had the same essence as Witlof as we apply the same design principles when developing the product range.”

We love your raised island units – what was the thinking behind them and are the colour options quite limitless for customers?

FG: Absolutely, you could have any colour under the sun! We have always thought that kitchen islands can feel quite monolithic. By raising the island off the ground you       can see the floor continue underneath it and it creates a greater sense of space and openness. I suppose they are more akin a piece of furniture, much like the kitchen table that would be found at the centre of most kitchens until the early 20thCentury. It was both the workhorse of the kitchen and where everyone gathered to gossip!”

TG: “There’s also a huge opportunity to detail them in an individual character to the rest of the kitchen, making them a statement piece. Plus you could take them with you when you move.”

 









Jill Macnair

About

Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.


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