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    a conversation with Helen Parker

    Name: Helen Parker 

    Current location: Leicestershire, England

    City you were born in or raised: I was born in Chesham Bois in Buckinghamshire, raised there until I was 9 then moved to Nottinghamshire.

    Title and company: Creative Director, deVOL Kitchens

    Location of deVOL Kitchens: Headquarters at Cotes Mill in Leicestershire, two showrooms in Clerkenwell, London

    Social Media Links: deVOL InstagramdeVOL FacebookdeVOL Twitter, deVOL PinterestHelen’s Instagram

    Please give us your background prior to deVOL Kitchens: I had a creative interest from an early age and have always been a keen amateur artist and jewelry maker, selling products into Liberty’s in London when I was 18 years old. I always kept this interest as a hobby rather than a full-time career until I was nearly 40 years old. Anything that could be made I would make it—from clothing and jewelry to art, I was always making something, and this continued right into my adult life, making things for family and my children. This may have been greetings cards, recycled clothing, interior textile products, in fact, I would have a go at anything and would often be commissioned to make things for friends. Strangely, I trained as a beauty therapist, something that was creative but not really in the way I wanted, so I gave it up after a couple of years and went back to just making my own things and becoming increasingly interested in food and cooking whilst working as the manager of a fashion shop. My break came when I was 39 and a lifetime of interest culminated in me finding the perfect job at deVOL Kitchens as a Kitchen Designer. 

    Please tell us more about deVOL Kitchens brand, including the background, mission and direction: deVOL Kitchens is simple furniture, beautifully made—that is the brand and it always has been. The company was built around a range of freestanding kitchen cupboards with Georgian proportions and detailing and it has grown from that simple philosophy. We have always handmade our painted kitchen furniture here in Leicestershire and we still do. We have always been passionate about good, quality materials and employing local craftsmen and we still do that 30 years from when it all began! Our desire is always to give our customers inspiration and knowledge so they can create a beautiful classic kitchen in their home. We employ creative people who are not salespeople, but designers. The deVOL designs and style are becoming internationally recognized and we are always moving forward with every aspect of the business in a considered and careful way, embracing and rejecting technology and fashion where we see fit. Designing is becoming a bigger part of deVOL, so not just kitchens, but interiors is the direction we are moving in—but never forgetting that kitchens is what we do best (for the moment)!

    What is the signature look of a deVOL Kitchen? A deVOL Kitchen is simple and a deVOL Kitchen is not just practical, but lovely to look at. There isn’t anything too fancy or ostentatious, there isn’t anything too fashionable or glitzy, just simple cupboards that are handmade and hand painted. We don’t fill every bit of the room with cupboards as we like to leave space and we like displays, so we design open shelves and cupboards and glazed cabinets. We don’t really like too many gadgets or appliances on show and we love pantries and big cupboards. We now have 4 kitchen ranges, but the aim is still the same: to make a beautiful place to cook, entertain and spend time.

    In what cities or countries can we find your kitchens? Leicestershire and London, however, we do ship our kitchens all over the world!

    Are there plans to expand the business to new locations? We never plan too much—if we have an idea, we usually let it happen if it seems to fall into place easily. So far Cotes Mill and both of our London showrooms have almost been meant to be. So although we would love to open in the US, we don’t know when or where or if!! London and Cotes offer so much variety and are opposite ends of the showroom spectrum, so for the moment we are very happy with these destinations and we can’t imagine anything better.

    Any advice to someone who wants to go into the (furniture) design business? Be passionate about design and be able to imagine how you want things to look—it’s all about a vision and how you can make or convey this to your customer. Designers can be highly skilled at CAD but to be a great designer, you need to be a good communicator and you need to be able to guide your customer confidently through the design process and be able to give a little and push a little to ensure any design you do is something you will be proud of. Also, be prepared to compromise a little on your vision for someone else’s kitchen or piece of furniture, just enough to allow you both to be happy with the finished result! deVOL have always kept their kitchens and catalogues and ranges uncomplicated with not too many choices. This engages people and keeps them interested and excited—this is key to happy plentiful customers. It shows a confidence that customers appreciate. Since we began 30 years ago, we have always sold the same two sets of taps by Perrin and Rowe, no choice required because for our kitchens, they are the best on the market, right price, right style and made in the UK. Don’t complicate what doesn’t need to be complicated!

    What is the significance of a kitchen that people spend so much time and money designing them? Well, people do actually spend differing amounts of time, energy and money on their kitchens. But one thing that is for sure, is it is a very important room in the home. It’s a cliché, but it really is the centre of the home and small or large, it’s usually the place people congregate, so it’s on show and needs to look good. With appliances and cupboards, tiles and taps, flooring and dining areas, it has to perform lots of functions, so it does take a little more time to consider than most other rooms. It’s also a statement about a person—it says a lot about their style and how they like to live, so I guess they feel it warrants more thought.

    What materials do you consistently work with? We use natural products wherever we can. The most important part of our business is wood and we use several different types of wood depending on which range of cupboards we are making, but everyone at deVOL—especially the designers and carpenters—are passionate and knowledgeable about this wonderful product. We also work a lot with Carrara Marble and granite for our worktops and are now getting into new materials such as clay and metals with all our new artisan products.

    Any tips on finding our personal kitchen style? There are so many options! I am obviously biased towards the deVOL style, but when you buy a deVOL kitchen cupboard, it’s plain and well made, it’s simple and classic. This enables you to put your own style and creativity into the rest of the room, from the worktops and flooring to the accessorising and displays you choose. A deVOL look typically has a little vintage thrown in, maybe a lovely old table or a big old pantry cupboard—this gives the room a little more character and feels more authentic and less contrived. The less is more feel is always a good one as clutter can be distracting and makes chores or hanging out a little more complicated. So rather than style suggestions, I would recommend people keep it understated and calm, so spending time in your kitchen is a pleasure! I always like to see peoples characters on display in their kitchens: neat rows of white crockery or an eclectic mix of vintage finds says a lot about a person and I like that.

    What unexpected colors do you like in kitchens? Any patterns or materials that are good to mix and match? I think if you stick to natural products wherever possible, then materials will be easier to combine. We have quite a small selection of colours and worktops in stone and wood and we know they all work together. We move very slowly on colour changes as we want our kitchens to age gracefully and not look dated in a short time, so we are careful to keep new options quite infrequent. We want our customers to feel confident that what they are choosing is not a fad or a moment of madness! We have slowly added a darker palette to our existing muted paints and they work perfectly with our Shaker and Georgian kitchen ranges, because they are authentic. I do think greens are here to stay, the darker dare-I-say ‘Eighties’ racing green is up there with the cool colours for 2017! My prediction is for Yellow to make a comeback—not the bright primary yellow but more of an earthy yellow, which would work perfectly with a reclaimed wooden worktop for a warm slightly Moroccan feeling space. I think the spice colours are beautiful, like turmeric and deep chilli reds.

    How should we choose a color theme? Tricky and risky to guide people with colour themes I think. I would much prefer the customer to just pick what they like and go with it. I think too much emphasis is put on colour and it can make you lack confidence in your whole project, so that’s why we prefer to keep it easy. I would flick through magazines, Pinterest and the projects page of our deVOL website and just pick your favourite look and go with it—be brave and stick to your choices! Dark or light, colours all differ depending on the room they are in. If you are specific, I would paint a big board and place it in the room to see how it looks as it may be completely different to how it looks in a picture or a showroom. If on the other hand, you like the colour then just go for it. I can honestly say I don’t think in the 14 years I have worked at deVOL, that a customer has disliked the colour they chose for their kitchen.

    If you live in an apartment, what’s the best way to design your kitchen? The main things to consider in any design is how much do you want to fit in your kitchen, what do you need, will it fit through the door, up the stairs and into the room, are there fabulous views, do you need a dining area and how much do you want to spend? Once you are clear on these practicalities, then it doesn’t matter if you are in an apartment, a cottage or a huge Georgian house—you design the space to suit you and the room.

    What are some never-fail kitchen designing tips? What will never go out of style? That depends a lot I think on the person designing the kitchen and what they feel are the most important aspects. I designed kitchens for 10 years before becoming creative director and for me, the most important things were firstly that your room looked beautiful. Yes, it has to be practical, but I would rather compromise slightly on practicalities. I would never recommend having a kitchen lacking in function, of course, but if you always have in the back of your mind that you want this room to look amazing then you will find a way to make it work. I think having nice views is important, too—this maybe a view into your garden or onto a busy street, either way it’s life and watching life go by is much more fun than looking at a wall! If you don’t have special views, then look out into the rest of your house and see your family growing up!

    If you are designing your own dream kitchen, what does it look like? Paint us a picture! I love to go to pubs and bars and restaurants and I am very particular about where I sit in order to make the most of the experience—not in an obsessive way, but I do feel that where you sit to chat or eat has a big bearing on how much you enjoy the whole experience. So my ideal kitchen would be a little like walking into a bar restaurant called Polpetto in Soho, a place that offers small plates in a Venetian style. I would have a round table with a mix of dark wooden chairs and a beautiful, delicate vintage pendant draped with crisp white linen hanging above the table low down to create a low soft light. The table would be by the window and it would have a small glass jar of simple flowers in the middle, probably anemones. Nearby, I would have a big long bar area and a wall full of cookers and hobs, sinks and coffee machines and all my appliances so I could cook, prepare, wash up and do all my kitchen jobs as if behind a bar. The bar would have a foot rest in brass on the base and beautiful leather stools for sitting up and chatting to me while I’m cooking. The lighting would all be soft and low and plenty of candles in the evenings. The room would be neat and tidy so no need for too many cupboards as everything I need would be there in front of me yet tucked away behind the bar so it would seem natural rather than messy. I’m not thinking Italian Trattoria here at all—the look is dark wooden floorboards, white linens, and simple humble accessories with really high quality, stainless steel industrial appliances and kitchen gadgets. A little vintage in the form of stools and art, books and a big glazed Museum cupboard to show off all the Astier De Viallett and John Derian crockery I would love to own!

    Fire round:
    – Farmhouse sink. Gotta have it or make it stop? Farmhouse sink, Copper sink, Stainless steel sink—all good in the right place.
    – Most critical kitchen appliance? Fabulous Oven, with grills and flat plates so you can cook like you are in a restauraunt. 
    – Eat-in kitchen or separate dining room? Eat-in kitchen every time, to be near the action always!
    – Kitchen style or design you wish would go away? If I don’t like it, I don’t have to have it in my home!
    – Backsplash (slashbacks) or paint? Ingenious ways to make splashbacks look like more than just a rectangle on the wall above your cooker are the way to go—if not, then paint.
    – Quickest/least expensive/easiest way to spruce up your kitchen without a remodel? Declutter!

    stevie benanty

    stevie benanty

    Founder of a conversation.
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