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Publication Date: 2018-09-18

Design Insights

Kitchen Maestro Matthew Quinn on Mastering the Art of Functional Design

As Dering Hall expands its offerings in kitchens and bath, we asked Matthew Quinn, perhaps America's best known kitchen designer and author of Quintessential Kitchens by Matthew Quinn (Parrish Press) for his wisdom and insights on kitchens, baths, and closets—the most practical rooms in the house that have also become among the most glamorous. In the weeks ahead, Matthew, a principal at Atlanta's Design Galleria Kitchen and Bath Studio, will share his hard-won wisdom on lighting, cabinetry, surfaces, and layouts, as well as other issues and decisions that go into making functional spaces with great style. 

Matthew Quinn at his showroom in Atlanta. Photo: Nathan Kirkman

When you started out as a designer, did you focus on becoming an expert on kitchen design or is this something that evolved?

When I was in design school, I thought I wanted to become a restaurant and night club designer, which is ironic in that I have always struggled to stay awake past 9:30. Kitchen design really found me, as I was offered a position as a draftsmen at Design Galleria Kitchen and Bath Studio during my first semester in design school. Two years later, I was absolutely fascinated by the geometry, technicality, ergonomics, and chemistry behind designing kitchens and bathrooms, as these subjects were always my favorite classes in high school (besides windsurfing, of course). I accepted a full-time position after graduating and have never looked back.

An open kitchen and family room by Quinn in an Atlanta home. Photo: Mali Azima

Why do you think kitchens and baths have become so crucial to the American home? While other rooms have decreased in size or importance (dining rooms, media rooms), kitchen and baths seem to be only growing larger—and even more numerous.

Kitchens and bath are crucial to the American home because we all need them for daily sustenance and rejuvenation. Beside the bedroom, we spend most of our time in these spaces. The media room, formal living room, and dining room have all been absorbed into the kitchen, making it the center of life in the home. Interestingly enough, even as these spaces were becoming larger and incorporating more functions, Americans were becoming more fastidious, while also acquiring more gadgets and appliances and entertaining elements. Most kitchen projects now incorporate butler’s pantries, bars, sculleries, and working pantries. Everything has a home in a drawer, glass vessel, basket or some other Instagram or Pinterest picture-perfect container.

What has been the biggest change in kitchen design you have witnessed? Have you seen certain styles (traditional, sleek and minimal, or rustic) become more or less popular over the years?

The biggest change is the elimination of the work triangle and the one-size-fits-all mentality to kitchen design. The instant accessibility to foods from around the world, explosion of cooking channels and celebrity chefs, and advances in residential appliance technology have led homeowners to cultivating their own way to live, use, and entertain in the kitchen. Therefore, each space becomes unique. Kitchen design today is not primarily how the space looks, but how it functions for the homeowner.

As far as styles go, my career started at a time when heavily distressed finishes with crackle, residue, worm holes and rub-through were the rage. Thankfully that is way behind us, but I am starting to see glazed finishes gain in popularity again.

A kitchen in a home in Nashville. Photo: Mali Azima

What have been some of your favorite projects—and what about them has been memorable?

My favorite projects are rarely about the design; they are always about the experience and the people. I remember projects where the homeowners hated cooking in their dark and poorly designed space and then, after the renovation, became the talk of the block with their cooking and entertaining skills. I remember a project where the mother was separated from her family in a closed-in kitchen and even when the children showed interest in helping, the space did not allow it. After the renovation, the children would watch only the Food Network, and became more passionate about preparing gourmet meals with their mother, giving them incredible bonding time together. I remember projects where I was pushed so far beyond my material and color capacity by the most amazing interior designers and architects. I made it work, but their job was to make it fabulous, and the results were pure and utter art in motion. I certainly remember all of the showhouses, designed and installed in record-breaking time frames that were nothing less than sadomasochism. Somehow and some way, with teamwork, perseverance, bribes, and magic, they always came together and are some of my proudest accomplishments.

How important do you think high-tech is to the future of kitchens—apps that pre-heat the oven, refrigerators that keep track of their contents, etc.? Gimmick? Or essential in the future?

I do think high-tech is the future of kitchens, but only as long as that technology makes our lives less complicated. I don’t think we are there yet; most of the current apps and gadgets are awkward and ambiguous. I think we are very close to refrigerators being able to provide us with a list of their contents in real time, with weights, quantities, expiration dates, and even order groceries for us when they are low. I love the technology that already exists that alerts you if the power goes out, or the appliance needs a service call. As far as preheating your oven from the car, I would rather appliance manufacturers focus their efforts on creating an oven that preheats faster than operating it remotely.

A master bath for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Showhouse. Photo: Emily Followill

Do you see the rage for luxury baths as a reflection of people traveling more? Why do you think the free-standing tub has become so ubiquitous?

I see this as a result of traveling to high-end hotels, the abundance of inspiring images online and in magazines, and the desire to create our own version of a sanctuary to protect us from all of the noise outside. Unlike the kitchen, where that space typically has to cater to many needs, tasks, and people, the bathroom is selfish and indulgent and personal. Time is the ultimate luxury, and taking a bath in a beautiful sculpture is an effrontery to Father Time.

A lady's closet Quinn and his team designed for the 2017 Southeastern Designer Showhouse in Atlanta. Photo: Mali Azima

Why do you think closets have become such a luxury item—and why do women especially lust after them?

Closets have become luxury items because they are the most personal of any room in the home. Like your clothing, they are the truest expression of your personality and style. Women tend to have the most variety and quantity of clothing, so displaying them and accessing them in a way that is similar to a boutique becomes a luxury, while also a matter of convenience and saving time.

A kitchen created for the Kips Bay New York Showhouse. Photo: Josh McHugh

How long do you think a kitchen or bath renovation should last?

A kitchen and bath renovation will beome dated and need an overhaul about every 12 to 15 years, if it is a white kitchen with neutral countertops and paneled appliances. If the kitchen has specialty finishes or is very modern, then a renovation is likely to be needed after 8 to 10 years. Using the highest quality materials, neutral color tones, integrated appliances, small aperture can lighting, and metals like polished nickel, unlacquered brass, and stainless steel will give the kitchen or bath the longest shelf life.



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