Simple kitchen design

Well, I posted a while back about an online class I’m working through on design. It’s called Creation of Artifacts. It was 8 week class focused on solving a design challenge of some sort, which finished up this week. I had plans to post regularly about the experience, but that just didn’t happen. (I might do a post later about what I did and didn’t like about the class.)

Anyway, I decided I’d tackle the kitchen eating area as my design project for the course (you can see the beginnings of that in this post). This was basically designing 2 things. The first was a bench of some sort. We knew going in that we wanted a bench that would run the length of the kitchen wall and turn a corner and follow the wall under the window. We also knew that we wanted a larger table.

This (sorta) Old Life: kitchen

This is our current eating area in our kitchen. It needs some work.

You can read more about my design challenge and the requirements of my final design on the website I created for the class here.

We’d been thinking quite a bit about how we wanted the area to look. What I had in mind back then was completely different than where I landed. Here’s my initial thinking about the way the bench would look.

This (sorta) Old Life: kitchen designI thought we’d really want to have more storage available in the kitchen area. Building some into the bench seemed like a no brainer at the time because it wouldn’t take up any more space. As you can see the long bench had a flip up top and the one under the window had sliding doors. I had been planning in my head how to construct these for quite a while and thought I had it all worked out.

Below is a rought 3D model of my concept.

This (sorta) Old Life: kitchen designWell, going into week 7 of my course this is where I was. I was pretty sure this was going to be a good design and the extra storage would somehow come in handy. Things started to change a bit after having a conversation with Rita, though.

We were talking about our future kitchen renovation and how we wanted to do things simply. We don’t have a lot of stuff in our kitchen and we like it that way. The idea of more storage started to sound out of line with our values. You know how it goes. The more storage you have, the more stuff you put in it. Suddenly the idea of lots of extra storage in the kitchen crammed with stuff was not appealing at all.

Luckily for me a design inspiration showed up just when I needed it. Rita and I are fans of no frills, form-follows-function type of design. You can see that in our Adirondack chair project. The Adirondack chair is a perfect example of the form of the thing coming out of the function. Nothing extra is added. No decoration of any kind. There’s a beautiful honesty about that kind of design. It’s an aesthetic I can get behind. I was looking through some chair images on google images when I came across this guy.

This (sorta) Old Life: kitchen design

Image via:

I was intrigued right away. There is a rugged honest simplicity to this chair that really is beautiful.

The designer, Enzo Mari (he’s the guy sitting in the chair), has a design philosophy that I can get behind:  He wanted good design for the masses. This chair was designed back in the 70’s as a way to get accessible design to anyone who wanted it. He’d send the plans for the chair to anyone who sent him a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Free of charge.

The beauty of the chair is that it can be made with off-the-shelf lumber. These are simple pine boards that you can find at the Depot. You just cut them to length and nail them together. That’s right. He put these together with simple nails. No glue. No screws. He wanted something simple that anyone, regardless of woodworking experience, could easily make.

He put out a book of designs for building simple furniture with off the shelf lumber called Autoprogettazione? which translates as self-designed. The book had plans for tables, chairs, bookshelves and more. The book seems impossible to find right now. I’m on the hunt for one though.

This (sorta) Old Life: Mario Enzo

This (sorta) Old Life: Mario Enzo

Here’s some of the designs in the book.

Take a look at this table. The simplicity of the design and the ingenious way the parts fit together is really cool. Anyone who does even beginning level woodwork should be able to see how easy this would be to build.

This (sorta) Old Life: Mario Enzo

The leg structure on this table is all built from simple 1 x 4 lumber nailed together. Image via

Man! This guy’s stuff is awesome. The designs are really cool and they are accessible to anyone. It’s not trying to be anything it’s not. Even though they are simple they aren’t simplistic. There is real beauty in these designs. Take a look at the chair and you will see what I mean.

This (sorta) Old Life: Mario Enzo kitchen

*image via:

The base of the chair is squareish. The consistency of width to depth creates a pleasing proportion visually. The legs are just a bit more than twice the height of the 8 inch lumber it’s made of. This creates a bit of vertical lift and keeps the chair from looking squatty. the angle of the back rest is simply formed by making the back corner of the support line up with the back of the leg.  No need to measure. The slight-tipping back of the seat fits perfectly with this angle to make a surprisingly comfortable chair.

You can see that it was simply designed and not thoughtlessly designed. I can see that there was a great deal of effort put into this simple design challenge. Here’s Mari demonstrating the strength of the chair.

This (sorta) Old Life: Mario Enzo

Even though it’s nailed together the chair is strong and durable. image via:


Looking at this really made me rethink things. I looked at everything I could find online from Mari and found this.

This (sorta) Old Life: Mario Enzo kitchen

image via:

This is a Enzo Mari-inspired design. You can see they took his basic chair and extended it in both directions to make the bench. This really is a nice interpretation of Mari’s design idea.

The more I looked at it the more I thought it would be a great solution to our kitchen design challenge. Using this image as a guide I came up with my own version of the long bench on the right. I made some modifications to the design that I think updates Mari’s design a bit. I’ll put together a how-to on how it came together soon.

In the meantime, I still have to build the other 2 pieces. I’ll convert the short chair into a storage unit. We’ve been looking for a way to store our laptop bags when we get home from work and I can see just how to modify this design to make it work.

This (sorta) Old Life: kitchen bench

Here’s a sneak peak at the bench I made. I’ll say more about it and do a how to tutorial for it soon. It’s designed to be made from one sheet of plywood.

What do you think?

Is this good design or does it look like a middle school shop project? We know the direction we’re going is in conflict with our kitchen cabinets (two totally different styles). But hey, that’s what UnDesign is all about, right? (Or not?) We always appreciate your input. Hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments.