Mad Men style kitchen

Guest Blog – Kitchen Design

nest is thrilled to have worked with Design by Helium on numerous kitchen projects. Here Francesca talks us through the life & times of a kitchen designer…

I studied art & design history at Manchester Met with the intention to become an interior designer. At this time, I wasn’t aware that a kitchen designer was a job or even a service. I’d never come across it. I’m a proactive person so, while on the hunt for some career experience, I was given an admin job at a local kitchen showroom. I didn’t think much of it as the time as I didn’t really understand what they did initially. I just felt like I was on the right path. My first day there, I walked in & didn’t even know what a plinth was. I was also measuring in feet & inches (I blame my mum for that).

I used to hand draw plans for the designers, dress visuals & organise paperwork. The owner said he saw a flair in me & so he trained me up to join the design team – including working in mm! I’ve never looked back. From there, I moved around the industry a little bit. I worked with contract furniture & then moved to a German company – which led me to New York for a little while.

How was Design By Helium born?

Returning home, I couldn’t quite put my finger on where I was going next. I had all of these ideas of how I wanted a company to be & what sort of kitchens I’d be allowed to design. So, Design by Helium was born. This allowed me to do the job I love but with true flexibility, no design limits or brutal sales targets.
Nearly 3 years later, the brand is going strong. I have a great track record of satisfied clients and a tonne of interesting projects coming up.

How does your service work?

My service is super relaxed. I will go out to meet the client for a casual chat about their brief & what they want from their new kitchen. Then I’ll then go away & design the kitchen. From here, I will usually do return home visits to discuss the design. This can also be done virtually if they’re stuck for time or are not at home. I’ll always be armed with swatches & samples. When the client is ready, I have local suppliers where I can take them for that traditional showroom experience to see products. Some people jump at the chance, some people like to buy from samples at home. I’m really flexible so it works around the client & what suits their personal schedule.

How do you approach a new kitchen design and do you have a particular style?

I personally have a particular style but, as a designer, I love variety & take every single brief as it comes. My projects go anywhere from farmhouse country classic to minimal contemporary sleek. Also, some people want something that they just can’t quite put their finger on. They have something in their head but they need the guidance & inspiration to create something that can’t be bought in regular showrooms.

When I sit down with a new kitchen, I tend to already have some ideas in my mind. If I need a little help, I will head over to Pinterest & browse my boards for inspiration. Once the room is drawn up, the layout is the first thing that I will plan. This is the most important aspect to any kitchen, it needs to be functional & it needs to work for each individual household. Once I’m set on the layout, I’ll get started with the dressing, choosing materials & products along the way. It sounds simple but the process can take a few hours or a few days depending how difficult the space/brief is. Sometimes this includes me doing 2 or 3 layouts to explore what might work best.

What do you say to people who consider kitchen designers a luxury?

It doesn’t have to be! There are plenty of people/companies out there offering their design expertise, their time & their amazing ideas at very affordable rates.
For a purchase as large & as important as the kitchen, I would always recommend having a professional to help you. So many of my clients haven’t purchased a kitchen for 10 years+ & some have never purchased one. It’s not a common thing to buy during your lifetime. There are so many product innovations & new materials available so it’s best to get all the advice that you can before making a purchase.

How do you differ from kitchen showrooms which you can walk into?

A lot of my clients come to me after visiting numerous showrooms & they tell me they just feel more confused about their kitchen now. I completely understand, I’ve worked in showrooms & I’ve been in showrooms as a client. Especially in the big ones, it’s so easy to lose your train of thought. All the displays look so beautiful & sometimes it’s hard to see what you really want.

Unlike a typical showroom, we talk about the practicality & the function of the kitchen first. Sometimes I send out a “white box” design first so that a client can really think about their layout without being distracted by colours & styles.

One of the biggest differences between Design by Helium & a typical showroom is that there are no limits. While some brands offer a really great selection of kitchen styles & colours, what you see in the brochure is what you get. Helium has a solid core range of kitchens that work for most but I also work with a whole host of local suppliers. These include furniture manufacturers, stonemasons, in-frame specialists, heritage joiners & hardware manufacturers.

So, if you have a certain idea, we can bring it to life for you in a way that you won’t have seen anywhere else. The best brief that I’ve ever had & we installed in 2019 was for a “Mad Men retro-style kitchen with interesting textures & luxurious finishes.” It took some research & some time to design but we fulfilled the brief & the client was over the moon.

Mad Men style kitchen
contemporary neutral kitchen