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Clement Lee on What Makes a House a Home

The Founder and Chairman of Riverlee, and Gaggenau Kitchen of the Year Design Contest judge, Clement Lee, talks to us about the difference between a house and a home, the importance of usability – and what makes a kitchen comfortable.

With a robust career in property that spans over four decades, two continents and a number of disciplines, Clement Lee has a uniquely multidimensional understanding of the way we live and interact within the built environment.

His rich expertise blends a profound knowledge of town planning, architecture and property development, and has always been informed by keen appreciation of the role design plays in shaping the world around us – a quality that defined his educational choices, too.

After completing studies in Architecture and Planning at The University of Melbourne, Clement moved to Malaysia where, alongside two partners, he founded an architecture practice. Having successfully grown the studio to a team of 130 people, he set out to combine his passion for design and his vision for the future. This desire led him to branch out into the world of property development – first in Malaysia, and then in Melbourne, where in 1993 he established Riverlee, an internationally acclaimed private development and asset group.

Thriving on architectural excellence, sustainability, culture and creativity, Riverlee takes pride in immersing themselves in the communities they work with to honour the local heritage and truly understand the needs – both present and future – of the area. With the commitment to creating places centred around people, this family business fosters a sense of place and belonging in delivering design-led, visionary projects across a broad range of sectors. Caring deeply for the legacy left for generations to come, every project brings to life the values Clement himself has so thoroughly instilled over the last 28 years: design excellence, hard work, determination and strong vision for the future.

Here, we sit down with the man who was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to architecture and to philanthropy in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours to talk about the meaning of home, the significance of adjustable ergonomics – and why usability took centre stage in the kitchens at Seafarers, Riverlee’s recent award-winning project.

What does home mean to you? 

Home is family. It is the people and the environment that come together to transform a house into a home.

To me, home is a place that’s comfortable, where you feel safe and can relax and enjoy with the people most important to you. Our home has always been a place for friends and family to gather and connect and that hasn’t changed from when we were young parents to now when our grandchildren come and stay.

How does your home reflect your passions, interests and creativity?

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright has always been a source of inspiration. I love architecture that uses natural materials to create an organic feel, integrating within its environment rather than juxtaposing it. I believe that man-made human form that reflects the elements of nature will always be timeless.

Why are kitchen spaces so important to the home?  

The kitchen is an integral part and heart of the home. It is an experiential space and so the design has to be equally beautiful and intelligent. Considerations such as storage, functionality and ergonomics are what makes a kitchen enjoyable. Each element should have a considered place that makes the space comfortable and effortless, as well as aesthetically pleasing. This design philosophy informs our approach at Riverlee and is implemented across all of our work. For the kitchens at our Seafarers project, for instance, we put front and centre the useability of the space, ensuring it is a place for eating, cooking and gathering.

How do you see kitchen design changing?

Design is so personal. Good design isn’t focused on the latest trends but reflects the style of the end user. Spaces should be flexible and adaptable to varying needs. I’d love to see a kitchen with adjustable ergonomics that can create a comfortable experience for no matter who is using the space.

What insights came out of the Gaggenau Kitchen of the Year awards?

The variety of designs and styles across the kitchens was something most important to note. It shows how diverse these spaces can look and feel. Each of the kitchens is so beautiful and unique in their own way, which made judging a more considered process.

View the unique kitchens shortlisted as part of this year’s Gaggenau Kitchen of the Year Design Contest here.

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