Matthew Hufft is the president and creative director of Hufft Projects and Make Studios, a custom design/build company located in Kansas City, MO. The firm expanded beyond design into fabricating to have tighter control over the entire process, resulting in faster turn around times and better quality end-products that are closer to the design intention. Make Studios recently added a CNC studio featuring an Onsrud Panel Pro Router to their metal and woodworking skills. The additional capabilities show Hufft’s ability to evolve with the industry. Contemporary architecture education includes more fabrication curricula, encouraging designers to cultivate in-depth materials and mechanical sensibilities. Hufft shared his observations about material and design trends in residential kitchens, and throughout the home.
S&P: Hufft Projects’ body of work is definitively Euro-Modern with local sensibilities. What is the philosophy behind that?
Hufft: It is creative preference. That is what I like. Since modern is our maxim, we preach that things should be made of modern-day materials and of modern means and methods. The more traditional styles of cabinets are of old ways, means and methods. They were conceived in an era when people cut a tree down, they milled their tree and then they built their cabinets. Veneer plywood was not available. Laminates were not available. European hinges were not available. In my mind, that whole system is antiquated. Not to say that it is wrong, but just to say that it can be done in a much more efficient way today just from a functionality standpoint.
S&P: What does modern look like?
Hufft: Clean Euro-style panel cabinets and designs that speak more about material than ornament and decoration. The simpler look of big slabs, of beautifully finished wood, is gaining popularity over ornate raised-panel doors.
Another thing I see, that is fairly new, is the movement toward more surreal or whimsical surfaces coming out of European cabinet companies. They have started doing things with prints and patterns using specialty laminates and stylized surface finishes. I forecast that to continue.
S&P: What other lifestyle trends influence your kitchen design?
Hufft: Our stuff tends to be a little more minimal, more natural. It ages a little better, which is appropriate to the North American market where people want longevity and classic design regardless of whether they favor modern, traditional or artisan style. People only create a kitchen once or twice, particularly now, so they want quality and real value.
Stainless steel is popular. We also do a quite a bit of glass and dish storage in large drawers below the counter vs. cabinets above the counter. We use a lot of Blum; they make an array of different systems to organize and sub-divide drawers. I think from an ergonomics standpoint there may be an advantage to transferring dishes laterally instead of raising your arms above your head. Still, probably about half of our clientele is unsure about big lower drawers. The nice thing about doing that is the design freedom you get when the backsplash is freed up to do other things.
S&P: What happens to upper space without cabinets?
Hufft: You do something really beautiful with your backsplash like a cool piece of glass. Another trend that may not be new but that is gaining in popularity is things that hang off a wall, like sleek shelves and fixtures. They have kind of a dramatic look, but also keep things really clean and open. It really makes the kitchen look bigger and flow more freely, sometimes approaching complete integration of surfaces, from cabinetry and backsplashes to appliance faces and out into the rest of the home.
S&P: If all the surfaces in a kitchen are matched panels, do you think the design suffers any emotional collateral damage? Can kitchens become so integrated that they miss a sense of kitchen-ness?
Hufft: I think for some people, yes, but for others it is wonderful. Some European companies are going so far as to have fold-down covers for the cooktops. Ultimately, I don’t think the desire for clean, smooth surfaces is going to go away, but it still plays into the role of kitchen as the gathering place. I have yet to have a client come to us and request totally separate formal cooking, living and eating spaces. They say they want kitchen, living and dining to be one big open space, period. That is not the trend. It is the common thing now. It is how people live. The reality is, no matter the size of the home, people congregate in the kitchen. So why not celebrate that kitchen as a living space?
S&P: What materials do you like to use?
Hufft: We use almost exclusively plywood veneer, primarily supplied by Columbia Forest Products, though we source from Eggers Industries for higher-end matched and sequenced panels. In our opinion it is really a better way to construct things than solid wood, especially with big openings and big doors. It doesn’t crack or warp. Species is heavily client-driven. Being located in the Midwest, oak and walnut veneer plywood are two we look at a lot for kitchens because they are very local, affordable and I think beautiful. Particularly rift-cut oak goes well with our style; it is very clean, all the grain lines up perfectly.
In bathrooms we have a little more fun, choosing things like bamboo, ipe and teak; materials that are better for wet locations. People really view their bathrooms, particularly the master bath, as a true oasis not a room just for shaving and brushing teeth. It is an escape and should be treated as such. Its design aesthetic is much more in tune with a work of art.
In specialized locations or higher-end kitchen and bath we also use Tree Frog HPL veneers, and HPL from Formica and Wilsonart because it is more durable than veneer. We use melamine-backed particleboard from Roseberg for nearly all of our interior carcasses. For substrates we use primarily Sierra Pine’s Medite/Medex for low-emitting or NAUF. Columbia is FSC Chain of Custody Certified, and although we are not, it still means a lot to many of our customers. We have experimented with wheat board and other bio-fibers, but so far, they have not caught on with clients. The guys in the shop are interested in Durat, and are always on the look out for new materials to experiment with.
Matthew Hufft holds two advanced degrees in architecture and design. He received his Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Kansas, where he graduated at the top of the class and was the first in the university’s history to receive the acclaimed Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill Traveling Fellowship Award. He received his Master of Science Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University where he also graduated with high honors. He has been a professor of Architecture and Media at Pratt Institute. Currently he is a LEED Accredited Professional and NCARB Certified.
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