13 April 2016

Out of Africa

Internationally recognised designer Mal Corboy talks to John Williams about his latest kitchen design for prominent Auckland businesswoman, Julie Christie.


As the former editor of one of New Zealand’s top design magazines, I’ve seen a lot of kitchens in my time, and this one is right up there.

And it’s not just the overall look that impressed me, the craftsmanship is second to none – from the huge, custom-made island, to the beautifully crafted stainless steel detailing in the cabinetry and benchtops. The size and style of this kitchen is not typical of anything else I’ve seen in New Zealand. It really is a unique look – something that Mal Corboy specialises in. So where did he get the inspiration for his latest creation?

“Julie’s original brief to me was that she wanted an ‘Out of Africa’ feel to the space,” explains, Mal.

“She’d recently visited a lodge in South Africa called Grande Provence, an impressive homestead owned by the same group that runs Huka Lodge… and that was the look she wanted. If you had to describe it, I guess you’d call it European Colonial lodge.

Continuing the wallpaper and artwork into the kitchen helps blur the lines between spaces.

Continuing the wallpaper and artwork into the kitchen helps blur the lines between spaces.

Armed with the look and the feel of kitchen he needed to design, Mal turned his attention to the all-important material palette. “I’d recently returned from a trip to Chicago, where I visited the studio of world-renowned kitchen designer, Mick DeGiulio,” he says. “He’s a master combining the old with the new, and that’s where I found some of the inspiration for combining modern, polished stainless steel with rustic timber.”

The 4.5m kitchen Island is framed in thick oak, ‘dinged about a bit’, then lime-washed, to give it that aged look. A stone benchtop has then been seamlessly inset into the framework of the island and wide bands of copper-coloured metal with matching faux bolt heads finish off the whole look. From a distance, the result is almost medieval, but close up, the detailing is immaculate.

The starting point for the stainless steel theme was the finish on the two Sub Zero fridges that dominate the back wall of the kitchen. Sub Zero is a relatively new name to New Zealand, but it’s the go-to brand for most high-end kitchens in the US. These American imports are lovely, but at around the same price most of us would pay for an entire kitchen, they don’t come cheap.

Stainless steel, copper and rustic timber combine for a unique look.

Stainless steel, copper and rustic timber combine for a unique look.

To balance the dominance of the oversize fridges, Mal commissioned Crosby Stainless Steel, a local company, to design full-length and overhead, glass-fronted display cabinets on the adjacent wall. They work perfectly together, and the corresponding triple-thickness benchtop leads you into the scullery behind the fridge wall.

“Because Julie uses her apartment to host events, and often has caterers in, she wanted a fully functioning kitchen out of sight of the main living area,” says, Mal. “This is the more practical, working part of the kitchen, where the ovens, the dishwasher and pantry are located.” 

Back out in the apartment, Mal has brought the living area into the kitchen by covering the wall next to the fridges with the same wallpaper that appears in the adjoining lounge, then hanging one of Julie’s many pieces of original art. This is a clever way of blurring the lines between the two spaces, making the area around the kitchen island feel more like a bar in an upmarket gentleman’s club. The ceiling detail also helps.

“The original space was very dark, the walls were black, and the ceiling felt very low,” remembers, Mal. “To create a feeling of height, an artificially lit light well was installed over the island, powered by LED strips.” It is a clever solution that has a dramatic effect.

The 4.5m kitchen Island had to be dropped in by crane.

The 4.5m kitchen Island had to be dropped in by crane.

Designing a kitchen featuring large custom-built furniture pieces is one thing, getting them up to Julie’s penthouse overlooking Auckland’s viaduct harbour was quite another. There was no way the 4.5m island benchtop was going to fit in the lift, and that went for pretty much every other component in the kitchen, including those precious fridges. There was only one solution.

“I usually have one project a year that’s a real stand-out, and this is it. ”

“Everything had to be crated up and dropped in by crane. Each piece was manoeuvred by eight really big guys, with me watching and praying,” he smiles. “I can laugh about it now, but it was a real mission… you see, it was the only way to get some of those big pieces into the apartment.” Mal is clearly very pleased with how this kitchen turned out – and he should be.

LED ceiling light strips create a dramatic effect.

LED ceiling light strips create a dramatic effect.

“It really helped that Julie was such a great client to work with. She knows what she wants, and she tells you when she’s not happy,” he says. “And if you do a good job, she’ll keep you on.” Mal must have impressed, as he has now been commissioned to design the bathroom in her penthouse, plus there’s a few more projects in the pipeline.





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