When Everything is Put in Place
By Alexa Hotz
Photographed by Jonathan Hökklo
When a system works, you don’t have to think about it. A successful system is not designed to further complicate, but rather, to simplify, organize, and purify life of superfluous tasks. (The average person spends 60 hours a year looking for lost keys, for example.) When a home is designed with systematic purpose and the careful attention to detail, it allows for life to unfold within its walls. A life less cluttered, more focused, thoughtful, and rich with contentment. “What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty,” wrote Alain de Botton in The Architecture of Happiness. In a home architected with high-functional spaces and designed with pleasing, tactile materials, we, as individuals, might feel a little better designed ourselves. In the grand European tradition of kitchen systems, Henrybuilt, a company founded in 2001 on Vashon Island in Washington State, is dedicated to the idea of “just the right thing, in just the right place, done just the right way.” Here, life unfolds within the walls of the Henrybuilt showroom in New York City. Finally, everything is put in place.
Without a system, a kitchen is not a kitchen—or not a functioning one, at least. It’s the room in the house that most requires a high level of functionality, and it’s where Henrybuilt first started in 2001. It’s only logical that most design companies—European or other—start there too, but unique to Henrybuilt is the careful tailoring of each system to the client and their lifestyle along with the unmatched attention to materiality.
Here, “the system concept in action,” as Executive Director Chris Barriatua puts it. “You have the family of interrelated products—the wall unit, integrated lighting, a backsplash system, removable stainless shelf—that come together gracefully because of the system design work done to study each relationship.” The covered shelf is fitted with laminated glass “like an airplane windshield” that slides without any hardware. This allows the doors to glide gently and be easily removed. What’s left out on the counter are objects most used: a mortar-pestle, a carafe, tea tins, serving pieces, and a cookbook.
The rest of the house can benefit from the lessons learned in the kitchen. Clockwise from left, stools nest perfectly beneath a dining room table—out of the way and streamlined; a utility rail paired with S-hooks is the combination to solve all organization woes; a sturdy leather pocket stylishly eliminates clutter; and a row of rails keeps everything tidy from the kitchen skillet to the dustpan.
Strive for practical elegance—an intelligent luxury—not just in how things look, but in how they work, wear and feel every day you live with them, for a long time.Henrybuilt
Why go with a unified design? Says Barriatua: “Because so many smaller design considerations overlap and intertwine, the only possible way to get them all humming along together is by using a system approach. It’s just too complex to do it all ad hoc. Important pieces always get missed.” When Henrybuilt expanded outside of the kitchen, it was thanks to clients asking for “that same feeling” in the library, dressing room, entryway, and more. At upper left, a system of deep pegs (first designed for a client with an ever-expanding collection of bracelets) with stoppers on the ends, works to store accessories “but even when there’s nothing on it, it has a nice graphic and sculptural presence.” Elsewhere in the closet, Henrybuilt applies solutions in greyed American black walnut, among other materials, to deal with small things like watches, scarves, brushes, and keys.
The quality objects of our lives—little luxuries like hand-woven hats, leather baggage, wool scarves—deserve to be stored thoughtfully. And materials matter. It’s something Henrybuilt never skimps on (“there’s no ‘good enough’” they say). Quality hardwood, cold steel, and sturdy leather are the kind that feel good in the hand, are intuitive to use, and age well with the home. “There’s a peace of mind that comes with knowing there is no fragility there.”
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»Explore another chapter in The Stories:
Back to the Ancient Future: In the Studio with Romy Northover