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It’s Easy to Fall for the “Look” – In Conversation with Neil Burley...

It’s Easy to Fall for the “Look” – In Conversation with Neil Burley

Gaggenau Kitchen of the Year Design Contest judge, Neil Burley, discusses the parallels between various design disciplines, the importance of not losing sight of what’s under the surface, and what he considers the biggest change in kitchen design in the last 30 years.

With an exhilarating career that has taken Neil Burley from architecture and graphic design to interior design and furniture, the founder of architecture and interiors practice Burley Katon Halliday and furniture store Anibou is undoubtedly one of the prominent Renaissance men of the Australian design scene.

This extraordinary fluidity in mastering a variety of disciplines and design genres has seen him stimulate and excite the national design arena in a myriad of ways. Having dropped out of the architecture degree he started in 1961 at the University of NSW to pursue his passion for graphic design, young Neil already considered the transition between fields natural. “There’s a very strong relationship between some elements of any type of design,” he explains. “Graphic design may just be two dimensional, but good layout is very much like rational planning in architecture.”

This ability to appreciate the intricate parallels between various design genres enabled him to morph his flourishing graphic design business into a broader operation, including interior and product design. That’s how Neil Burley Design was born. Neil continued to develop the practice, which was renamed to Burley Katon Halliday in 1989 to acknowledge the involvement of Neil’s partners: David Katon and Ian Halliday.

The same year, Neil’s interest in furniture culminated in the establishment of Anibou. The store originated as a distributor of European materials and products, only to grow into a renowned platform for emerging and established local designers, who – it was obvious to Neil at the time – were significantly underrepresented. While Anibou is not under Neil’s leadership anymore, the premise he so intentionally set in motion almost two decades ago continues to define the store’s direction.

Taking into consideration Neil’s multifaceted design expertise, profound appreciation of local talent and the distinct sense of pragmatism he’s developed throughout his career, it is only fitting he found himself a part of an esteemed panel of judges in the inaugural edition of Gaggenau Kitchen of the Year Design Contest.

“Food preparation is really the heart of any place where people live,” he explains. With his sensible approach to the role of a home – which for him is synonymous with safety, protection and easy access to the outside while using minimum energy – his thoughts on kitchen design trends are practical too. “While many of the entries were large and luxurious, I’m still more interested in a kitchen’s relationship to the rest of the house than trends,” he says.

“Easily the biggest change of the last 30 years is that the kitchen, and therefore the cook, is now very seldom locked off in a separate room but is central to where most living takes place,” says Neil. “I really doubt that this will reverse,” he predicts. Neil adds that he hopes we see greater emphasis on durability of both appliances and finishes. “It’s too easy to fall for a ‘look’ and overlook maintenance,” he sums up, highlighting the inherently functional character of the kitchen space.

View the full shortlist of Gaggenau Kitchen of the Year 2021 projects here.