Andrew Hays’ path to kitchen design is as dynamic as the materiality and finishing techniques that his brand, Cabbonet, is known for. Though he graduated with a degree in architecture, the British–bred Hays was initially drawn to live performance, establishing a multidisciplinary studio and designing sets and costumes for some of the world’s most renowned opera houses: Italy’s Teatro La Fenice, in Venice, and Arena di Verona, the Royal Opera House in London, and the Sydney Opera House.
Hays’ obsession with kitchen design was ignited when he conceived the award-winning Fourth Wall kitchen for German brand Poggenpohl, where he served as the creative director, in 2014. Employing the emotional style of storytelling and theatrical design he learned in opera, the concept was hailed for its groundbreaking innovation.
After a spell as the creative and brand director of high–end kitchen maker Smallbone, Hays co-founded the acclaimed British studio Arteim with Kimm Kovac. (Around the same time, Hays co-founded another design-led interiors company, Lanserring, which was sold a year later.) Melding design, architecture, and performance art, the multifarious practice holistically co-exists at the cross-section of the interiors and theater worlds. It’s also the creative machine behind Cabbonet, the lifestyle brand Hays launched in 2019 that is the ultimate expression of his lifelong cross-disciplinary interests. The bespoke product range celebrates the art of tactility, sourcing materials both old and new, and experimenting with traditional finishes in contemporary contexts. “Materials are tactile, expressive, and stimulating—they engage the senses beyond the visual,” Hays says. “When materials are skillfully combined, each brings out the best in the next.”
Below, Hays discusses his eccentric background, the future of kitchen design, and the possibility of applying the Arteim treatment to landscape architecture.
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When you and Kimm launched Arteim, you fused performance art and opera with furniture and product design—a pretty unorthodox offering for one design house. Why did you feel the two disciplines were symbiotic?
For years we had been working across multiple disciplines and the natural progression was to bring our creative teams together under one house where they could pool ideas and share expertise.
All of our work is experiential, whether it be architectural or live performance. Arteim’s architecture and product design feels the way it does because one discipline often creates inspiration for the other—narrative, material usage, lighting, etc.
How did your experience in opera costume and set design influence your interior and furniture work? How do you manage the balance between theatricality and functionality?
Our work in the performing arts definitely gives us a unique perspective, allowing us to create interiors that engender a strong emotional involvement and response. The influence of opera is not aesthetic—the influence comes more from the experiential nature of live performance.
In both disciplines, there must be a balance between functionality and aesthetic and it is the way you integrate materials, technology, and form.
You are a big believer in the power of tactile materials and textural treatments. How would you characterize the role these elements play in your work?
Our work is not driven by one particular style and we are constantly sourcing, developing, and re-imagining materials and finishes. Different materials can conjure up a whole range of memories and nostalgic references that add to your emotional connection to a space.
Engineering is a big component of your design work. How have you used it to solve pain points and make the kitchen and living furniture experience more seamless?
Accessibility, usability, and durability are imperative to good furniture design. Our R&D team are constantly sourcing and developing technologies such as opening mechanisms, storage solutions, and finishes. The goal is always to make something function well without compromise to the aesthetic.
How does emotion factor into your creative process and the products you design?
Part of the design process is to think about how you want to make people feel. For example, people are often triggered by nostalgia, and this can be achieved through use of form, materials, or finishes that are familiar and they hold some emotional connection to.
One of our greatest passions is Opera, which is an emotional, direct form of art in the way it combines storytelling, sound, and space. When designing in this medium, you respond to the music in a visual way—this truly comes from within.
How did the Fourth Wall project inform your thinking about kitchen design? Did you have the idea for Cabbonet at the time or did that come later?
The Fourth Wall was an experiential concept kitchen [for Poggenpohl and Electrolux Grand Cuisine] that explored the journey of food—the way it is grown, stored, prepared, and consumed. We reimagined the functional aspects of early kitchens—the larder, pantry, wine cellar, food-preparation areas, and fireplace—in a contemporary way, so that it has all the emotional satisfaction of a homelier era, combined with state-of-the-art technical performance.
This approach of looking to the past while embracing technology forms an important part of our aesthetic. Cabbonet is the culmination of all my experiences to date. Not just designing Fourth Wall, but architecture, product design, marketing, and founding various other brands. It has all come together to inform how we launch products, market the brand, build our customer service and network of partners.
What’s next up for Cabbonet? What are you currently working on?
Arteim is the innovation house and creative machine behind Cabbonet and it is in overdrive developing new concepts and products for the brand. We are launching new finishes and materials every few weeks, exploring new technology, and introducing the brand to new markets across the U.S.
What does the future of kitchen design look like? What are some of the next innovations?
The kitchen has become a space in the home not just for entertaining but also the self-expression of tastes and style. There has been a real movement away from trends that are set by big brands, with clients wanting more versatility and options to personalize, resulting in far more eclectic kitchen environments and a real move back to craft.
With constant advancements in technology, we will see an increased use of more unexpected materials and finishes being introduced to the kitchen space. The importance of provenance and sustainability of materials are also becoming increasingly important.
Are there other areas of design you’d like to add to Arteim’s capabilities?
Landscape architecture! We recently purchased a property in Italy with ancient gardens and we are itching to apply the Arteim philosophy to it. It will of course be a big vision, a combination of Niccolò Tribolo meets Capability Brown.