John Pawson

The renowned British architect and designer associated with minimalism about his distinctive approach to the ideal kitchen.

John Pawson, born in 1949 and based in London in conversation with Dominic Lutyens. He has worked on projects as wide ranging as a flagship store for Calvin Klein in Manhattan and a new Cistercian monastery in Bohemia.

Dominic Lutyens: How do you use your kitchen? What sort of equipment (as in larger things like ovens and sinks) do you absolutely need to have?

John Pawson: My kitchen is the same as the ones I design for everyone else. At the most basic level, there’s got to be water and a work surface. I like gas, even though I’m told that induction heating is the future. I like gas because it’s natural – it’s a bit like having a log fire. I’d love to have a fire in the kitchen – like those pizza ovens. But we’ve got a barbecue in close proximity to the kitchen. It’s just outside, in the garden which is only separated from the kitchen by a huge sliding glass door. I’ve also got a traditional kettle which I love – an American Calphalon kettle, a present from Martha Stewart – for making oolong or lapsang souchong tea. I like the whistling sound it makes. I can’t stand those cylindrical, plastic electric ones. And I hate those taps that give you boiling water. I always burn myself on them. I always think who wants another spout? Of course, it’s useful to have a fridge and oven. I’ve got a Miele coffee-maker which grinds beans and makes expressos, but it’s hidden behind a cupboard. I’ve got a La Cornue hob built into the worksurface so all you see are its big burners. I don’t like the knobs on it so I changed these, so the guy who comes to repair it gets confused. I set it into a unit. My wife Catherine opted for a fan-assisted Gaggenau oven. It was designed 20 years ago and it’s still a really good design.


D.L.: Do you love gadgets, and if so which are your favorites? Or do you prefer manual forms of cooking? If so, which are your favorite utensils?
J.P.: Catherine prefers electric gadgets like Magimix food processors, but I hate loud noise in the kitchen, so I prefer manual to mechanical utensils like hand whisks. I’ve got a gorgeous pestle and mortar. I also love Japanese knives. They’re like Samurai swords, and don’t need a lot of sharpening.

D.L.: How do you think a kitchen should be laid out sensibly/intelligently? How is yours laid out?
J.P.: Catherine keeps going on about the magic triangle you’re supposed to have in a kitchen (an area formed by sink, fridge and oven all near each other so you can move quickly between them). But we’ve broken the rules. Our fridge is concealed behind a wall opposite – and some distance from – the sink. It’s good for a kitchen to be functional, for things to be easily accessible. But I think it’s more important to have a wonderful space, a good atmosphere. The kitchen is the centre of the home these days – as a family we only eat in the kitchen – so if you’re going to spend a lot of time in it you want somewhere that’s really nice for people to gather. A reasonably big table is really useful. You can all sit at one end and put lots of plates and all sorts of things at the other end. It can be much more than just a dining table.

D.L.: What sort of size should the ideal kitchen be?

J.P.: It doesn’t need to be all that big. Most people, us included, have too big a kitchen. The main things you need are an oven, fridge and sink but these don’t need to take up much space. If you have a bigger kitchen, you expand to fill the space. A work surface is like a carpenters’ bench or a laboratory.


D.L.: Do you spend a lot of time cooking – do you prefer to take it very slowly? Or is it a fast, functional thing for you?
J.P.: I don’t spend much time cooking because I’m too addicted to putting up buildings. When I do cook, I’m very slow. I have to measure everything, I have to follow recipes, I like to be very meticulous. Catherine won’t let me near the kitchen because I always buy expensive ingredients – like hand-picked mushrooms from Harrods. I’ve made some big mistakes: I once made a spinach soufflé and forgot to put flour into it, so it was inedible.

D.L.: Do you regard cooking and entertaining as ritual, as therapeutic?
J.P.: Yes. It can include things like collecting flowers from the garden to put on the table and laying the table, putting down beautiful, large linen napkins, even having a Japanese style bath before your guests arrive. Cooking is also about the anticipation of having people coming round.

D.L.: Where do you see the future of cooking and kitchen design?
J.P.: I think things won’t change much from how they were 10,000 years ago. People then worked out that they needed something to sit on, to put things down on. The things that are a premium – space, food, water, ecology, heat – never change. And you can never beat a real fire. And people will never give up natural materials – although they’ll want them to be in inexpensive and scratch-resistant, which is a contradiction in terms when you’re talking about something organic. But I like things to have a patina. Will people reduce how many gadgets they have? They save time, but at the end of the day you just need style, imagination and good ingredients to rustle up a good meal.