Interior designed Mark Wilkinson died last year at the age of just 66. Giles Kime pays tribute to a brilliant man, and praises the vision he left behind.
The designer Mark Wilkinson was one of those many dyslexics who – like da Vinci, Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso – took more out of dyslexia than dyslexia took out of them (Winston Churchill said the same of Champagne). Not only was he a brilliant designer, but he also had an exceptional capacity for lateral thought that was married with a confidence to plough his own furrow.
In the late 1970s, when fashionable Londoners were falling head over heels in love with heavily engineered Modernist kitchens that had all the charm of an abattoir, he made kitchens initially in pine, and later in oak or painted finishes. Before long, he had a long list of clients, ranging from Michel Roux to Elton John.
Although he died last year at just 66, he lived long enough to see the pendulum swing to and fro. Fashionable Londoners, a fickle bunch at the best of times, flirted with Modernism again a couple of decades later. But by the time of his death he must have been aware that the work he had done to humanise the kitchen – first at Smallbone of Devizes and later under his own name – had not been in vain. Colour, comfort, craftsmanship and an emphasis on materials are all, once again, a key focus for anyone planning a kitchen.
Not only was Wilkinson a brilliant designer, he also had a deep understanding of the skills and technique required to create a beautiful kitchen. Most important, however, was his emotional response to his craft.
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‘I hate all this Minimalist stuff,’ he said, ‘I want more friendship, more fun, more love and more laughter.’
Much of his success lay in his innate understanding of his customers and his suspicion of media-driven modishness: ‘contemporary kitchens are those that are featured in magazines, but the classic designs get bought by customers,’ he once told me.
One of his many legacies was his recognition that kitchen design is not just about building furniture, but creating a comforting space. It’s a lesson, not just for kitchen designers, but also for anyone creating a home for themselves or for other people.
Furniture provides somewhere to sit, eat, sleep, work and relax, but thoughtful interior design creates somewhere to live.
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