Johnny Grey

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Johnny Grey (born 1951) is a British designer of kitchens.


Johnny Grey (born 10 March 1951) is a British designer, author and educator, specialising in kitchens. He is widely acknowledged to have been at the forefront of kitchen design since the 1980s, aiming above all to make kitchens the sociable heart of the home. He runs Johnny Grey Studios, which has designed kitchens for high-profile clients since 1978, has authored five books, and is visiting professor of design and kitchen culture at Bucks New University.

Early life and education[edit]

Grey read architecture at the Architectural Association from 1970–76 (AA Dip Arch), studying under Jeremy Dixon and Mike Gold. One of the first kitchens he designed was for his food writer aunt, Elizabeth David, who indelibly influenced his thinking.

Early career kitchen design[edit]

Whilst studying architecture, Grey focused on craft aspects of historic buildings, dealing and restoring antique eighteenth century furniture with his brother. After graduating he set up a workshop making furniture and kitchens in a Sussex barn. His career took off in 1980 with a Sunday Times article, "Why this awful fixation with fitted kitchens?".[1][2][3]

Grey’s 'Unfitted' kitchen is known for using original freestanding furniture combined with ergonomics, aiming to create efficient, friendly kitchen spaces, experienced like traditional furnished rooms, in contrast with wall-based fitted cabinetry common at that time and still prevalent today.

Johnny Grey Studios[edit]

Grey’s studio adapts interiors into sociable kitchens, "living rooms in which you cook", that are linked to the garden and outdoor spaces.[4] Architecture and product and lighting design form part of this work, which is based on insights from neuroscience. Each project is an individual case.

Johnny Grey Studios have worked all over the world, from Ancona, Burgundy, Barbados, Cyprus, Jersey, Limerick, Melbourne, Mustique and Rome to Zurich.

USA projects began in 1994. Grey currently collaborates with San Francisco architect Kevin Hackett. Over thirty JG projects have been installed across the US including showcase houses in San Francisco and New York.

Design innovation[edit]

Over his career Johnny Grey has been responsible for a series of innovations in kitchen design, ideas that permanently altered the way kitchens are lived in, manufactured and sold.

In the late 1970s he adapted the end-grain butchers’ chopping block for domestic use, incorporating this into a piece of freestanding furniture, often with a drawer or two. He launched the Unfitted Kitchen, made up of freestanding furniture, in 1984.[5][6][7] This at the time unorthodox idea attracted some criticism for its nostalgia and lack of application for small kitchens. The enduringly popular practice of using woven willow baskets as drawers was introduced by Grey as part of the Unfitted Kitchen. Willow baskets woven into cabinetry were registered by Grey jointly with Smallbone of Devizes in 1987 for copyright, though Mark Wilkinson raised the objection that basketry can be traced to historic African applications.[8]

From appreciating the social function of the customer counter in American diners, Grey incorporated this dynamic into his kitchen designs by including a central island whenever possible. Grey’s islands blend form and function with level changes and concentrated work surface areas in a sculptural body-friendly shape.[9]

Another of Grey’s innovations was applying insights from the Alexander Technique for body alignment to kitchen design in the form of customized dimensions to counter tops, sinks and dishwasher heights.[10] Dedicated Work Surfaces, the sequence, organization and ergonomic order in kitchen planning into limited task-driven areas, developed this understanding further.[11][12] Low-level counters for smaller appliances (and children’s cooking), as well as raised-height dishwashers are now widespread in kitchens.[13][14]

'Soft Geometry' is Grey’s term for his 1990s move towards curved furniture inspired by the relationship between peripheral vision and body movement.[15][16] In the mid 2000s his meeting with neuroscientist and sociologist John Zeisel brought new insights into building 'happy spaces' into kitchens and home design.[17][18][19] He developed this line of thinking further with 'the living room in which you cook' (2014), the restriction of the culinary zone to leave space for other sociable activities the kitchen needs to accommodate.[20] Eye contact as key to design was another neuroscience-inspired design idea alongside the identification of each kitchen’s physical Sweet Spot as the location for a key piece of furniture such as the central island.[21][22][23]


Smallbone of Devizes contracted Grey in 1986 to develop his ideas for their company. Around 150 pieces of furniture made up a collaborative version of the Unfitted Kitchen. This was launched in 1987 in the UK (two years later in the US) and displayed in all the company’s showrooms. In 1990 Smallbone bought designs for a new Inlay Collection that included designs for the bedroom and bathroom as well as the kitchen.

Grey has also worked as a product and furniture designer, producing a bedroom collection for Heal’s (1981) and the Conran Shop (1989). He was the beneficiary of a government Bursaries for Design scheme, awarded four times from 1981–84, when he designed restaurant and hotel chairs for Morgan Furniture and Clover Leaf Ltd. He designed the Foxtrot Oscar restaurant in Battersea in 2000.


Grey’s first book The Art of Kitchen Design (Cassell 1994, edited by Chris Fagg) included the first social history of the kitchen. It sold 125,000 copies worldwide, a large proportion in the United States, and was in print for fourteen years. In 1997 Cassell published The Hardworking House, a collection of essays on the history of home design that also included Grey’s non-kitchen projects. In the same year The Kitchen Workbook spearheaded a new series of home design books for Dorling Kindersley, selling 150,000 copies in 11 languages. This was amalgamated into The Complete Home Design Workbook (1998), a multi-author compilation in Dorling Kindersley’s Home Design series. Grey’s Kitchen Culture was published by Jacqui Small in 2004, with English, American, Russian and Asian editions.

Education and teaching[edit]

Grey is a longstanding advocate of university-level education for kitchen designers, with the aim of creating a kitchen design profession. He seeks to address the lack of formal training in the UK for kitchen designers, despite some comments that this could be an unnecessarily elitist requirement. He also participates in a new initiative creating a training scheme for the sector involving apprenticeships.

In 2012 Grey was appointed Visiting Professor of Design and Kitchen Culture at Buckinghamshire New University. He wrote the kitchen design foundation degree course with Professor Alison Shreeve. Content of the course encompasses interior design, architecture, furniture and product design, the study of design history and kitchen culture, use of materials, marketing and social media, business and project management skills.[24] It was launched in 2013 as a blended format, its first students graduating in summer 2017.[25][26][27]

Within the School of Design, Craft and Visual Arts, Grey forms links between the kitchen industry, design professions and tertiary education. He founded the Kitchen Education Trust in 2016 with Craig Matson of Roundhouse and David Gillett, Bucks New University course leader. This is a registered charity for the funding of education and provision of bursaries in kitchen design.

In 2017 Johnny was introduced to Sevra Davis, then director of education at the Royal Society of Arts, by Patrick Bonnet who is deputy director of the National Innovation Centre for Ageing in Newcastle. This was to help expand accessible design education into home and kitchen design. The collaboration resulted in a brief for a Student Design Challenge, Eat, Share, Live, which in 2018 attracted over 100 entries from 40 universities, 17 from outside the UK. Grey obtained sponsorship from AEG, Blum UK, Blanco, Kesseboehmer GmbH, the Office of Disability Issues, Symphony kitchens and The Kitchen Education Trust to fund the challenge.

Research, public talks, and consultancy[edit]

Grey has spoken at over 45 conferences in the UK, the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada on design, creativity and innovation. These include The Arrival of Kitchen Living (San Francisco, April 2005); Space, Architecture and the Brain (Winchester, 2006);[28] Senses, Brain and Spaces with John Zeisel (Salford 2009);[29] Global Furniture conference (Bucks New University, November 2013) where he delivered a paper 'The Rise of Kitchen Furniture',[30][31] and the Long Kitchen (Newcastle University, October 2013).[32] In 2015 and 2016 he spoke at the Smart Kitchen Summit in Seattle.[33]

In In July 2017 he accepted a role as design ambassador at the National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA)[34] helping orchestrate their first workshop with Voice North focus group. This explored the concept of the Four Generational Kitchen, a home space that works for people of all ages and abilities[35]

In August 2017 Grey addressed the Smart Kitchen Summit in Tokyo on the 4G Kitchen, followed by taking a delegation to the summit’s counterpart in Seattle that included Professor Peter Gore who spoke on aspects of ageing and NICA director, Patrick Bonnett, on opportunities for innovation Grey co-wrote the Royal Society of Arts Student Design Challenge ‘Eat, Live, Share’, launched in October 2017:[36]

He also spoke at Bond Custom in San Diego in October 2017 on The Recreational Kitchen and the role of play, innovation and decadence in high end design.

Grey has worked as a consultant for the kitchen industry since 1997 when Jill Mcdonough, department director of Leo Burnett, Chicago, commissioned a media campaign for Jennair entitled ‘Turning Kitchens Into Living Rooms’. The company had been bought by Maytag and wanted to rebuild the brand’s prominence. The media tour brought 43 million consumer impressions and won media awards. A further campaign was commissioned from Mcdonough, ‘the Kitchen of the Future’ launched at the Royalton Hotel with 50 key US journalists in attendance. Electrolux USA commissioned NKBIS kitchen concepts for booths in 2005/6 with Grey as design spokesman, coordinated by public relations firm Weber Shandwick. A design tour on the theme of 'Sociability and Sanctuary in the Kitchen' was organised in 2006 by Hettich, New Zealand NKBA, Fisher and Paykel and the Australian Housing Industry Association, taking in five Australian cities and Auckland and Vancouver. In 2005, Grey was invited onto the judging panel of the Electrolux Global Design Awards in Stockholm. In 2009 he joined the panel of the Hettich International Design Awards in Herford, Germany.

Grey has judged the KBB Review UK Kitchen and Bathroom Design Awards since 2008. He was an expert legal witness at the High Court of Justice Chancery Division Patent Court on the case between Neptune (Europe)Ltd and DeVOL Kitchens Limited conducted in July 2017, advising Gowling WLG.


Grey’s private clients include Elizabeth David; Sting and Howard Jones, musicians; Cameron Mackintosh, impresario; Steve Jobs, Apple founder; Peter Bazalgette, Chair Arts Council and ITV; Andrew Solomon, writer; Loretta Tomasi, CEO English National Opera; the late Felix Dennis, publisher and poet; Aubert de Villaine, chief wine maker at Domaine de la Romanée Conti; Rory Tapner, recent CEO Coutts Bank, Arthur De Curtins, Vice Chair UBS Wealth Management; Michael Sharp, CEO Debenhams; Tony Purnell, head of Jaguar Racing; Stuart and Grania Bromley of Russell and Bromley; Roy and Janine Naismith, CFO of French Connection; Peter Macdonald, proprietor Body Shop Ireland; Alix Van Buren, Middle East reporter at La Repubblica.


Grey received the Simon Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award (2008) from Designer Kitchen and Bathroom for outstanding contribution to the British kitchen and bathroom industry.[37] He was given Designer Kitchen and Bathroom’s Service to Industry Award in 2016.[38]

Personal life[edit]

Grey is the third of five children born in London to Dr Christopher Grey, Chief medical officer at Imperial College and GP. His mother Diana was artistic. In 1984 he married Rebecca, daughter of Libby Bryant, teacher and craftswoman, and Peter Hall, Australian architect of the Sydney Opera House. They have four children, Harry, Felix, Augusta and Benedict, and live in West Sussex.


  1. ^ Studios, Johnny Grey. "Handmade Kitchens, Individually Designed, Hand-Crafted by Johnny Grey Studios | Johnny Grey Studios". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  2. ^ KOENENN, CONNIE (2000-06-08). "'Unfitted' Kitchens Create Home Around the Range". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  3. ^ "Nooks for cooks". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  4. ^ Studios, Johnny Grey. "Handmade Kitchens, Individually Designed, Hand-Crafted by Johnny Grey Studios | Johnny Grey Studios". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  5. ^ "The Hoosier Cabinet in Kitchen History". Indiana University Press. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  6. ^ "Meet Johnny Grey". ELLE Decor. 2008-09-11. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  7. ^ KOENENN, CONNIE (2000-06-08). "How to 'Unfit'". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  8. ^ "Five questions for: Johnny Grey". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  9. ^ The center of the home: The kitchen island, retrieved 2017-02-20
  10. ^ Salant, Katherine. "Katherine Salant: Room-by-Room - Kitchen". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  11. ^ "Johnny Grey's top 10 tips for kitchen design". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  12. ^ "A modern country kitchen - Country - Kitchen - Hampshire - by Johnny Grey Studios". Houzz. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  13. ^ Salant, Katherine (2009-04-11). "Kitchens Where Every Last Detail Is Weighed and Measured". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  14. ^ parts, KATHERINE SALANT Correspondent / Second of two. "Well-designed kitchen is welcoming for kids". Sarasota Herald. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  15. ^ Landis, Dylan (1993-12-02). "'Soft Geometry' In Kitchen Design". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  16. ^ "Kitchen of the Week: Sinuous Curves in an Unusual Kitchen Design". Houzz. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  17. ^ "Johnny Grey: Intelligent design - Arkitexture". Arkitexture. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  18. ^ "'Happy space' the final frontier of design". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  19. ^ Wilkinson, Tara Loader (2010-12-03). "A Kitchen to Comfort Your Soul". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  20. ^ "Adare Manor five-bed with a Johnny Grey kitchen for €2.1m". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  21. ^ "Interiors: Don't worry, be happy; In association with smart Adding colour and curves to your home can lift your spirits. - Free Online Library". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  22. ^ "How to plan a kitchen". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  23. ^ Salant, Katherine (2009-04-11). "Kitchens Where Every Last Detail Is Weighed and Measured". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  24. ^ University, Bucks New. "Further your career choices in the kitchen design sector with a flexible foundation degree". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  25. ^ University, Bucks New. "Foundation Degree (Arts) Kitchen Design". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  26. ^ "New Foundation Degree in Kitchen Design". Woodworkers Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  27. ^ "New kitchen design degree course - The Kitchen Think". The Kitchen Think. 2015-08-20. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  28. ^ "Space, Architecture and the Brain". Art&Mind. 2013-08-14. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  29. ^ Jarvis, By Tim. "Mood, memory affected by your home -". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  30. ^ "Global furniture issues to be examined at Buckinghamshire New University conference | Furniture Production Magazine". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  31. ^
  32. ^ "Staff Profile - Institute for Ageing - Newcastle University". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  33. ^ Ray, Joe. "Your Kitchen Is Connected, But It Still Needs to Get Smarter". WIRED. Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  34. ^ "National Innovation Centre for Ageing".
  35. ^ "The 4 Generation (4G) Kitchen".
  36. ^ "Brief 6:Eat, Share, Live".
  37. ^ "The Simon Taylor Award". Retrieved 2017-02-20.
  38. ^ "SPONSORS & WINNERS | The Designer KB Awards". Retrieved 2017-02-20.

Further reading[edit]

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