Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What's New in the Italian Kitchen (Part 2) - Varenna

About a 45 minute train ride from Boffi is Inverigo, home of Poliform and Varenna cabinetry.  While Varenna has only been a part of the Poliform family since the 1996, the strength of the family run Poliform ensures Varenna is on the forefront of design and innovation.  My time with Varenna was brief, but since it was immediately after the annual Furniture Fair (Salone di Mobile) in Milan, I was able to see the most recent additions to their kitchen line, as well as a surprise I wasn't expecting.

This piece of woodworking art is the IO Wardrobe.  A concept designed by Paolo Piva in 1989, it is the first thing you see when you enter the Poliform Lab. Only a few were made, but it illustrates quite clearly Poliform's commitment to tailoring their furniture to meet their clients' need. I spent several minutes inspecting every nook and cranny of the IO; I'm sure I have more to discover.

In terms of additions to their catalogue, Varenna has added one new series to their line.  Phoenix has been in the works with Varenna for a while now, and this was my first chance to see it up close.  Phoenix features an integrated handle that mimics a channel-style cabinet, and has the added feature of a "start" and an "end" handle allowing the kitchen designer to create a more furniture-like appearance in the cabinetry.  The countertop also features prominently in the design by becoming less prominent ... 6mm thick to be exact (have no fear, it's actually thicker behind the scenes and quite strong).

Combine that ultra thin stainless steel countertop edge with veneered finished panels of the same thickness and you have a kitchen that stands out due to a strengthened elegance.

And to reinforce how well thought through the Phoenix line is, here is the detailing on the handles for tall units.  Notice how they stop just shy of the bottom, recreating the terminal detail found in the horizontal handles.

This is another Phoenix display, but I'm showing it because of the storage unit that's "slicing" through the middle of the island.  It's actually made up of components from Varenna's new equipped backsplash modules.  Each module is about 7cm deep and can be combined with other modules to cover your backsplash in efficient storage rather than ceramic tile or your children's artwork.

The equipped backsplash is typical of Varenna's excellence in the area of accessories.  Having a drawer is nice; having a well organized drawer is even better.  Here's just a few examples of some of the drawer inserts and accessories on offer:

Accessories from Varenna come in a wide variety of finishes: walnut, maple, wenge, and even white Corian.  

And while it's important to keep things organized behind closed doors, open shelving is a welcome addition to any kitchen. This storage unit features Spessart Oak interiors that are trimmed with a bronze metal edge.

Finally, this is the island from the "Sharp" kitchen Varenna created with Corian and Danish architect Daniel Libeskind for Eurocucina.  They were just re-assembling it in the basement of the Lab when I was there, but the details of the project were still quite amazing.  In addition, the new version of Corian Nocturn is truly beautiful as both a countertop surface and a cabinet door.  This video clip shows the details I was unable to capture:

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What's New In the Italian Kitchen (Part 1) - Boffi

I was invited to Italy for 3 days at the beginning of May as part of Boffi's ongoing commitment to their vendor network.  It was a great opportunity to not only fine-tune my knowledge of Boffi's extensive line of cabinetry, but also to come face-to-face with their new products and finishes just introduced at Eurocucina in mid-April.

Boffi's training centre in Lentate sul Seveso (just outside Milan)  is attached to the factory where every Boffi cabinet is made.  The closeness to the factory means that everything I saw was of the latest iteration; hardware, doorstyles, and finishes were so current some weren't even in the current pricing catalogues (new catalogues are due to be released in June).  

Countertop - Weathered Pine
The most impressive additions for Boffi this year come from the finishing department.  An environmentally friendly water based painted finish called Ecolak replaces the old Mat+, and a brand new laminate finish called Lasermat offers a repairable matte finish thanks to a new nanotechnology.  There are some new wood finishes as well, most notably Core Walnut and Weathered Pine.

Aprile Cabinets - Weathered Pine
Boffi's willingness to introduce provocative new finishes is well established; the 3D wood door is still one of the most popular in the Inform showroom.  The new Weathered Pine continues the tradition; it quite simply took my breath away.  And as good as it looks as a countertop it looks even better as a cabinet door.  The juxtaposition of the Weathered Pine with stainless steel countertops and the new lacquered metal finish in Boffi's Solferino showroom was warm and rustic, while at the same time modern and efficient.

Boffi's Art Director, Pierro Lissoni, was also inspired by these rustic finishes and used them to perfection in the Madia tall unit.  Judging from the exterior you would never guess the inside held something so sleek and modern.  This piece was introduced just in time for the annual Salone del Mobile so it's unclear as to whether or not it will be added to the regular Boffi line.  The training staff at Boffi weren't even willing to divulge the price, but a little bird in the Solferino showroom told me in Italy they'd retail close to €12,000

Open - Outdoor kitchen @ Boffi Solferino
Since I've been working with European cabinet lines, I've been wondering if, finishing materials aside, North America has any influence on European design. I received my answer just outside the entrance to Solferino.  Open is Boffi's answer to the outdoor kitchen trend that is so popular with designers in North America.

What I really love about Open is that it is not simply indoor cabinetry re-imagined to withstand the elements and surrounded by cultured stone and a fake waterfall for good measure.  It it a complete re-think of how cabinetry should interact with an outdoor environment.

Stainless steel, glass and wood are practical materials for an outdoor kitchen to be sure, but the openness of the design and the way all the services are hidden within the structure of the kitchen allows Open to become a part of the landscape, not the dominant part of it.  

Salinas - by Patricia Urquiola for Boffi
Boffi is also well known for their collaborations with great designers.  This year Patricia Urquiola joined with Boffi to create a new line called Salinas. “Salinas is the beach of my childhood,” explains Urquiola. “It is the memory of the kitchen in my grandfather’s house, with views of the beach and the emotions associated with those moments.”; open shelving, herb planters, lava-stone finishes, all hearken back to the kitchen where she learned to cook with her grandparents in Spain.

Salinas is an artistic and engineering marvel.  Each kitchen is configured to the specific needs of the cook, but the look and feel of each kitchen is instantly familiar.   It's true that Salinas is a bit of a departure from the typical Boffi kitchen, but it's a departure that will no doubt push Boffi into new frontiers.

Other introductions to the Boffi catalogue include Hide, which replaces the Duemilaotto tall system of sliding and pocket doors.  The line is essentially the same, with a few spectacular new tweaks:

While some designers focus their attentions on the faces of the cabinetry, I'm all about the mechanics of the system; will this type of door system last after years of use?  In person, the bi-fold pocket doors operate very smoothly.  I had a close-up look at the hardware and while I'm not going to say they're over-built, they certainly appear strong enough to function properly for years.

On-Off Kitchen in Black Lasermat
That's something I've come to appreciate about Boffi: they won't release a new product until they are certain they can stand behind it.  A great example of this can be found in the On-Off system.  On-Off has been unavailable for just over a year now while the design team re-worked it into something that was functional, and more importantly sell-able.  I've had a look at the old catalogues and can tell you that as a designer with 20 years of experience with all sorts of different lines of cabinetry, the original On-Off was a bear to understand.

Renamed On-Off ST, the new line is designed to work with existing lines like Xila (shown here) allowing the designer to create the "hidden" kitchen look with mostly standard units.  The bi-fold units will be available in modular sizes, and are operated with an electric motor.

True to Boffi's form, the On-Off ST is still not included in the latest catalogue, and won't be added until they've "got it right".

These are just some of the more notable additions to the Boffi line-up that I saw.  Over the next few weeks the Boffi showroom will have updated samples and literature to show off everything that's new from Boffi.  Just as I had to visit Milan, you'll need to visit the Boffi showroom at Inform Interiors to see them for yourself.
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