Your kitchen is such an important room in your house because it is where you pour your cups of tea on a rainy morning, and whip up a creation to feed your family at the end of a busy day. The way your kitchen is designed and set up is really important from a working perspective. We can now create a custom kitchen that is both sustainable, and as individual as you would like. New products and materials are being created all the time to make this possible. Finding someone to work with you on a custom design, that is eco friendly and sustainable can be the tricky part – which is why we launched the Sustainable Home Hub. One of our members, Philippe Signer from ecocabinets in Fremantle, WA, has a design consultancy specialising in eco-aware cabinet design, which results in beautiful green kitchen design, and more.Philippe is originally a swiss trained chef who decided 17 years ago to change tack. “I studied industrial design and then worked for seven years in the art departments of film and tv eventually ending up in cabinet design. For six/seven years I was associated to a cabinet maker where I learned the specialised field of kitchen design. As I was always interested in all things “green” I made the decision to branch out on my own and start a consultancy with emphasis on recycled/recyclable/low impact in your house as well as in the way it got there” he explains. Philippe joins us today with his story and a wonderful recipe for you to make in your own kitchen.
Can you tell us about what kinds of materials you use in creating your cabinets?
These are exciting times when it comes to design as new eco friendly materials are coming onto the market continuously. The core of what I tell my clients is that my carcases are E0 and I try to use as much locally grown and manufactured boards as possible. Whilst that is not 100% possible and, arguably, not always necessarily desirable, I think it is worth my and my clients while to try and reduce the “cabinet” miles, a bit like “food” miles. It keeps more money in Australia and creates a smaller footprint.
What makes your cabinetry sustainable?
The materials are grown and manufactured to certain standards, controlled by respected organisations like Forestry Stewardship Council (FSG) and Global Green Tag. This gives my clients and myself some assurance that the claims are verified and true, which reduces the likelihood of us ending up with a situation like our (Perth) Children’s Hospital where materials were found to contain lead and asbestos in spite of being “certified”.. The certification process in some countries is not as rigorous as ours. To cut to the chase, I specify as much as possible the use of materials that have been certified by these organisations and the beauty is that they are generally only marginally more expensive and just as attractive, if not more so. This allows us to create a design that is pleasing the eye, the planet and your wallet.
Why is it important? What kinds of issues might people have if they use a mass produced cabinet for example which may have more toxic glues etc?
This is important on a number of levels. Firstly the off-gassing of materials containing toxic chemicals can and have, damaged people’s health. It is something people need to avoid in their own home, especially in the kitchen where we spend a lot of time. We know that kids are even more vulnerable than grown ups, and it is so easy now to supply E0 and low VOC cabinetry. Secondly, the cabinet makers are exposed to those chemicals during fabrication and if we can avoid that, why not? Thirdly, these boards need to be manufactured and if we can keep those workers safer for a price we can all still afford, it seems to me an easy decision. Another issue, not related to chemicals, is that mass produced cabinets, by implication, are not made for your space, so there are compromises with layouts required.
How about the impact on the environment?
Well, at some stage all things will reach an endstage, so it stands to reason to reduce the known toxic chemicals ending up in a potential landfill. And let’s not forget that the raw materials are generally grown – if we can obtain those from a sustainably farmed source, even better, from an organic and fair trade source, whilst still maintaining the quality you are entitled to seek with your hard earned dollar, it’s a win-win
What is your process when working with a client?
With the majority of jobs we meet at their place (unless we are working off plans) to get a feel for them, their place, their character, likes and most importantly, their vision. Why is this so important? I think one of the main reasons you choose a designer for your next project is that you want to have an end product that is uniquely YOU, and there is no better way to achieve this than with a good designer who knows the industry, the materials, the rules, the ergonomics etc and is in tune with your vision (and who may even add a surprise or two to it!). I then go away and develop a design – in 3d and colour. Depending on the brief, I may present them with what they had in mind or, and this is where the designer comes in to his/her own, with a concept they did not imagine themselves. Those are fun, because more often than not I then need to let the client get over their surprise! Many times their initial reaction might well be “this is too much, I had something safer in mind.” We then discuss then pros and cons and look at safer ideas, and all of a sudden those look a bit bland and the “out there” concept becomes the one we wanted all along! Once we have finalised the details, like handles, drawers, bins and so on, the project goes to my trusted trades people. They then take over and do their magic, because let’s not forget, there is a difference from an idea on paper to making it happen in reality and the trades are essential to that. They need to understand the brief and figure out a way, it is great when we all sing from the same song sheet. The great advantage of custom design is kind of implied in the word. It is a tailor made solution for your needs, tastes and imagination. There are a great many beautiful, high-quality solutions possible off the rack, but none will fit in to your life, your space and your vision exactly the way a custom design will.
Can you tell us about your background as a chef and how this fits with now designing kitchens?
I would say it taught me the importance of ergonomics in kitchen design. Generally in industrial kitchens the ergonomics take precedence over style, and we come to appreciate how much easier the work is in a well laid out working space. We are less tired, less accident prone and so can devote more energy to the creation of the art of food. This would have to be greatest advantage I now use in the layout design. That is how all my designs evolve – I start with the layout and it is only once that is down to our satisfaction that I progress to applying materials and colours.
Do you have a recipe to share with us?
Funny you should ask! I hardly ever use recipes and when I look one up I think about it and then change them so suit my likes. I would like to think that I improve them, but am sure the creator of the original recipe would strongly disagree :-). However a very long time ago a family friend shared her chocolate mousse recipe with me and to date I still haven’t had a better version, so here goes:
Malci’s chocolate mousse
125 gr dark chocolate (get a good one!!)
100gr unsalted butter at room temperature
3 eggs, separated carefully, no yolk in the whites!!
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
250ml whipping cream
- on a double boiler carefully (by that I mean, do not overheat the chocolate) melt the chocolate and the butter, stir to emulsify and set aside to cool slightly.
- In the meantime whip the yolks and sugar until very light and fluffy. fold the warm, not hot, chocolate mixture in gently.
- Whip the whites with a pinch of salt until stiff and fold in to chocolate mixture, 1/3 at a time.
- Whip the cream until just about stiff but still a tiny bit runny (you will need to learn how much is just right by making this recipe several times. I am sure your friends and family will be happy to help out!
- Fold cream into chocolate mixture, half first, then other half.
- Pour into your serving dish and set overnight in fridge.
- The chocolate mousse is now ready. However, if time permits, you should make it three days ahead of time as the mousse will improve a great deal. To prove this you should have some straight away and then some three days later 😉
The secret of getting this recipe right is temperature – if the mixture is too hot it will cook the yolks, if it is too cold the chocolate will set too quickly when added to the cream and become gritty. This part really comes down to experience.
Any tips for people on designing a kitchen on a budget? And how about for a small space?
When designing on a budget, there are some decisions that need to be taken right from the start. Generally speaking, the stone benchtops are out and the postformed laminated benchtops are the go. Luckily there are some very attractive ones available now and they come on E0 substrates. More often than not, this will solve most of the financial hurdles. If not, let’s look at using standard drawer runners instead of softclose. The right brands carry a lifetime warranty for peace of mind for both versions. Also, stick with the wall layout you have. If you respect those limits, we can achieve an economical yet beautiful custom designed eco-kitchen on a budget which often compares financially with one off the rack, once installation is taken into account.
For small spaces there are three rules; ergonomics, ergonomics, ergonomics. You have to have somewhere to cook, to wash things, and a fridge. These all need to be positioned correctly and then the rest then falls in to place.
SO much great advice from Philippe! Head to the Hub here to see more and find out how to work with him on your next project