Alfred Hitchcock once said, “Happiness is a small house, with a big kitchen.” And there is one name that comes up time and time again when luxury homeowners begin designing their beloved kitchens: Mick De Giulio. He’s been designing some of the most distinctive kitchens for over 45 years. His work has been widely featured in numerous top design publications including Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Interior Design, and Traditional Home, to name a few. Indy caught up with De Giulio to learn more about his methodology, vision, and his recommendations.
You’re one of the most influential kitchen designers in the world. How did you end up with such a distinct niche?
I started very young. I think that was essential to give me the base to do what I do and think the way I do.
When I was 16 years old, after school and on weekends, I started working at my father’s cupola shop in Royal Oak, MI. I learned a lot about woodworking there. I left college after one year to help my dad when he didn’t have any other employees or money to speak of, as he still worked full-time at Ford Motor Company as a tool and die maker. Using what I had come to know about building cupolas, I started making cabinets at night —and made a hope chest for my girlfriend (she’s now my wife).
My dad saw what I had done, and became intrigued with the idea of making cabinets along with cupolas. He put an ad in the local paper advertising kitchen cabinets, even though neither of us knew much about kitchens. He turned the calls over to me and by the time I was 20, I had designed and installed a handful of kitchen projects.
That was the foundation. I just kept evolving, kept experimenting, kept pushing and playing with materials, and began to learn about proportion and scale.
I left the Detroit area with my wife and children when I was 26, taking a job as a designer with a company in the Chicago area. Four years later, in 1984, I started my own company.
My “niche” evolved too, over these 45-plus years. I have done commercial interiors and designed entire interiors of clients’ homes at their request. I also do product design (which I love), both for my own brand of products and for companies such as SieMatic and Kohler. But there’s always a connection to kitchen design.
Explain what a kitchen means to your clients.
The thing my clients have in common is that the kitchen is most important room in the house. They do everything there, not only preparing and having meals, but also hanging out with family and friends. For my clients, the kitchen is not only the heart of the home, it’s also the soul and essence of comfort and shelter in the home.
You create incredibly beautiful kitchens both for residential and commercial clients. How does your methodology differ for each?
My method is always the same, whether I’m designing a kitchen for a homeowner, a large commercial space for chefs and demonstrations, or a single product such as a sink or light fixture. The first part is listening and getting a feeling from my clients about what they love and about what they see coming out of the project in the end. That includes picking up on cues and clues from them that may not even be related to the project at hand.
The second stage in any design project, and one of the most important, is identifying the design challenge . . . figuring out what needs to be solved. Sometimes, that’s not obvious. Other times it’s very obvious but still needs to be clarified or pinpointed.
The last stage is challenging myself as a designer. I continue to ask myself, in every project, “Can this be better or am I compromising? Can I take it to another level still?”
Do you have a design philosophy?
I believe that spaces, and even objects, can be much more than the sum of their parts. They should be infused with a feeling or a spirit.
Do you consider the carbon footprint a home may have when designing?
There are so many aspects to a home’s carbon footprint. It involves not only material and product choices, but also the size of the house or new space that’s being designed, the processes involved in building, and the way the house or new space will be used and will ultimately function. A lot has to do with the mindfulness of the clients and the professionals they employ.
When you meet with the architect or homeowner, do you go through a lifestyle discovery process to design a kitchen?
For me, the discovery process involves spending time with people, listening to their stories, and learning what is important to them. I like letting things happen naturally, which, I find, is how people feel most relaxed and engaged and can have fun with the process.
How closely do you work with the home’s architect/interior designer?
Every project is different. If an architect/interior designer chosen by the client is on board, I work very closely with that person. Because the kitchen is so important to people, many times clients will hire me first and ask me to assemble the team of design professionals. With many projects, I am asked by clients to do the interior design work as well.
What is your relationship with the East End?
I’ve had the fortune of doing projects in the Hamptons with some great clients. My team and I enjoy working here. I remember the first time I visited and how struck I was with the unique beauty and relationship to nature . . . even the way the light hits in this part of the country is unique.
The kitchen you designed in Sagaponack is breathtaking. Even the butler’s pantry is stunning. Can you tell us a little about it?
This was a new home being built by past clients of mine from Chicago. I knew their preferences and how they and their family lived, and I understood the style and feel of what they wanted to do here. We hit the ground running, even though this project was completely different from what we did in Chicago. This home would be much more relaxed and informal. Michael Davis was the builder and Scott Himmel from Chicago was the interior designer. We all had a lot of fun.
Are you seeing any trends our readers might find interesting?
Of all of the types of kitchens I’ve worked on, people seem to be the happiest with open and connected kitchens, and in general, with homes with very few sectioned-off areas. Many people are now forgoing dining rooms. They are comfortable with the fact that they rarely use them and rarely entertain in formal ways. People have become more practical about the way they live from day to day, which is much more relaxed and informal, and they’re not feeling pressured by norms of what they “should” be doing.
Also, many times in new construction, we are designing the kitchen first and let everything revolve around it; the kitchen can not only determine the layout of the house but can also drive the design choices.
How are you dealing with work during the coronavirus pandemic and its lockdown?
Everyone — clients and our associates — have all been very understanding. Even though our showrooms have been locked down, many on my team are working from home to keep up with projects and not lose our timelines.
What do you do for fun?
Like everyone I’m sure, if I don’t make an effort to stay active, it’s very easy for my days to get away from me. I’ve always been into fitness. I like to run, work out, and play golf. I also just like hanging out with my wife and family at home. Reading is also a passion, and no matter how much time I spend working and designing, I can’t get enough of the design magazines.
Anything you’d like to add?
I’m very lucky to have been able to do what I love for a living.
The Sagaponack home project details:
Kitchen Design: Mick De Giulio, de Giulio kitchen design, Chicago, IL
Architect: Michael Davis, Michael Davis Design & Construction, Wainscott, NY
General Contractor: Michael Davis, Michael Davis Design & Construction, Wainscott, NY
Interior Designer: Scott Himmel, Scott Himmel Interior Architecture and Design, Chicago, IL