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Steal designer Hubert Zandberg’s eclectic kitchen style

Know for his sophisticated, classic-meets-contemporary interiors, the SA-born, UK-based designer shares his secrets to creating an exciting kitchen

By Piet Smedy  | April 13, 2022 | Kitchen

No stranger to the pages of House & Garden, designer Hubert Zandberg’s studio, HZI, has completed projects across the globe, from London to Moscow to Cape Town, each one imbued with his signature individualism and charm.

As the way we live and the way we interact with our homes keeps evolving, so too do our homes change and take on new roles. This couldn’t be more true in the case of the kitchen,’ says Hubert. ‘More than ever it has become the town square of the house, where families and friends meet to feast, to work, to interact – and just generally enjoy a sense of togetherness.’

Photograph: supplied

For Hubert, form follows function in the true Bauhaus spirit – ‘the functional design stands in parallel with the craftsmanship and the joy of materials,’ he says – but fundamental to the success of any kitchen design is, simply putting, planning. ‘Never underestimate the time to walk them through, brainstorm, and sometimes challenge your habits and needs to ensure that you get the most out of the space, both practically and emotionally,’ he says. ‘However, always balance the ultra-functional with a hefty dollop of soul.’

The modernists – Gio Ponti, Carlo Scarpa, Oscar Niemeyer – will always be Hubert’s go-tos, ‘the bandwidth of design across multi-facets and multiple disciplines that these masters achieved was extraordinary. This openness and curiosity about all things design is our constant inspiration.’

Photograph: Supplied

When you’re choosing the material palette for your kitchen, take liberties and break from convention – but always with practicality, durability and, ideally, a little natural texture, in mind. ‘Cork is beautifully textural and wonderfully sustainable, can be sealed and retains water,’ says Hubert. ‘There still appears to be a very strong appetite for highly figurative marbles, often used in carved monolithic blocks. However, one has to wonder about sustainability.’ Bamboo is another wonderfully sustainable material. Also, don’t overlook more humble materials, such as plywood and local steel (always upcycle!), and injecting colour to give a space a totally new feel on a small budget.

Photograph: Supplied

We never mix more than four materials – that includes your ironmongery and glass/mirror – and we like to introduce found or vintage objects and furniture into these rooms. The juxtaposition of the old and soulful with the ultra-functional and contemporary informs the mood of the space,’ says Hubert. ‘The addition of art is an easy way to add personality – the kitchen becomes an arts and crafts room or even a cabinet of curiosities.’

Photograph: Supplied

Another aspect that is often overlooked is creative approaches to lighting. Because of its very functional nature, kitchen lighting has always been quite harsh, often fluorescent lighting that strips the room of any ambience and leaves it feeling clinical and, often, cold. For the team at HZI, this is something that is easily remedied by playing with scale and provenance. An over-sized industrial light hung low over a work surface or an antique chandelier creates drama and adds personality while still producing illumination. Even in the most modern kitchens, these re-contextualized pieces add warmth and a feeling of wanting to be in the space. ‘The most important thing to remember is this: the kitchen has become informal and highly social. While it still maintains its core functionality it’s embracing a new, highly eclectic and quite bold personality and the way it is decorated must follow suit,’ says Hubert.

Photograph: Supplied

Colour – often unconventional applied – has long been one of Hubert’s most deft design plays. ‘There are no mistakes as long as you can own that and they are authentic to you. If people love the host they will love the colour they chose,’ he says. For Hubert, a sense of charisma and charm in the kitchen is vital – and quite easy to achieve. ‘Colour is a brilliant way to not only refresh the space but invigorate it. A spectrum of cream and beige is passé and restrained to the point of completely lacking interest, so opt for vibrant hues of green or blue, which will create a sense of luxury. Or, for a kitchen on a tighter budget, graphic monochrome makes for a sensationally impactful look with relative ease.