Q & A with Kate Gardham

STICKS + STONES Boutique Design + Construction                                         

Auckland-based designer Kate Gardham has worked in the UK and New Zealand design Industry, starting out her career in the fashion industry with Trelise Cooper and then later re-training in kitchen, bathroom + interior design. A lot of the skills she had used in fashion transpired to the world of Interiors. It provided her with a unique eye for integrating colour palettes and harmonising design elements that suit the needs of her clients. Kate is the founder and director of STICKS + STONES Boutique Design + Construction Business, specializing in mid to high-end design, and her absolute passion lies in kitchens and bathrooms.

After entering, as a first-time entrant, into the 2021 NKBA Awards, Kate won the First Time Entrant Award and the Auckland Chapter Recognition Bathroom Award. A number of Häfele products were chosen by Kate in this award-winning design, including the docking drawer and Kessebohmer Fineline drawer inserts.

Kate also recently received a highly commended award from TIDA for her kitchen design in which Häfele’s Hawa Concepta bi-folding door system is showcased. Along with the highly commended kitchen design – Kate also received runner-up and highly commended in the 2021 TIDA Bathrooms categories.

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How did you start your interior design career? 

When I did my OE I was inspired by the architecture, design, colour/texture integration of the different countries visited. It opened my eyes and made me realise what I was really passionate about and gave direction to the next phase of my career. I came home and re-trained with the Interior Design Institute. It was a challenging transition, from full-time work mode to studying, however, I knew that I had found my passion and my journey in life which gave me the strength to dig deep and really pursue this new line of design.

Fundamentally what does an interior designer do? And what are your everyday responsibilities when working on a project? 

Often jobs will start off with a client asking me to help them with colour and finish selections - they then realise that I can help them with both their kitchens and bathrooms also. With carefully curated insight and understanding of clients' needs and wants through ongoing communication, I guide my clients into choices that are suitable and align with their overall spend. I focus on the design that meets their needs and integrate this with customized colours, and finishes. The end game is to create a seamless flow and functionally from one space to another, how they transition cohesively is vital to the satisfaction of each client. I guide the clients to the point of final finishes and colours, consulting with them and understanding what their likes and dislikes are. Every day is different - one day I can be designing a kitchen, and the next picking out carpets and curtains.

Currently, I am working on setting up a showroom office space for a building company. This involves project managing the design, communicating, and being on-site with the building company to understand when certain elements are going to be finished so I can execute on the next phase of the design process.

Talk us through your creative process. How do you approach the project? 

The design process can be different for every job. I normally get my clients to start with a wish list, sometimes we have to scale it back, depending on budgets. Just talking to your clients you tend to get a feel for what they like. Sometimes it can be a client’s piece of artwork or culture that needs to be a focal point and then integrated into the overall design. At the moment I am working on a kitchen that is a combination of Japanese/Scandinavian fusion style, known as Japandi. This kitchen is a little nod to my client’s heritage and is very Zen. My clients follow the traditional Japanese style of eating where they sit on cushions at a low table to eat their meals. I really felt that we needed to honour this lovely tradition and incorporate this into the kitchen design, including materials and how we play with colours and texture.

How do you work with a client to define their needs? What questions are asked to determine the final look and the feel of the space? 

It’s all about designing a lifestyle: and I enjoy the journey of getting to know my clients. I believe listening and understanding what is important to our clients is key to creating a home that defines the client’s personal style and lifestyle.

Quite often I will get my clients to share their Pinterest boards, which will give me a sense of what style and colours they love. Going to sites and/or their homes will give me a sense of what they like and will open up questions about what is working or not working for them. How they live and what their lifestyle is like is equally important, for example: are they weekly shoppers or monthly shoppers? Who is the main cook? This is key when we talk about food storage, bench space, and stove design ... do you store your sweaters in the oven like Sarah Jessica Parker?! That is what I love about my job; no kitchen or space is ever going to be the same, as you are creating a space that is unique for them.

My favourite design brief was from one of my clients in Taupaki, who wanted me to design a bedroom for her son and his partner who come back to NZ two months of the year to stay. My client described their personalities and they loved everything about this room without me ever meeting them. It was so lovely hearing this, it makes me happy that they are happy and have this space to enjoy each year when they return!

Where do you find your inspiration? 

Inspiration can be found in so many places … I am totally crushing on the Britomart Hotel restaurant right now, and sometimes these things you discover or experience in everyday life are threaded and transpired into your work. I like to create a concept storyboard of the overall look and feel of the home based on the initial brief. I find this helps portray to the clients what we are also drawing in 3D. The 3D design is amazing anyway - it gives our clients a sense of the space before construction starts with all the colours and finishes.

What would be your top tip for someone who wants to renovate their kitchen and has no knowledge of who to talk to or how to start their journey? 

Your kitchen hosts a wide variety of important everyday tasks, so it needs to both work hard and look good. Whether you're cooking, cleaning, eating, or entertaining the kitchen should be a space you enjoy being in. This is one hundred percent achievable if planned with a well-thought-out design.

Start pinning on Pinterest to see what style you like. I suggest to my clients to find some time on a weekend when they are feeling relaxed to think about what works and doesn’t work in their kitchen, what they want and suggest they start writing a list of these so we can address any issues they may have and incorporate their ‘must haves’ into the final design. I also suggest that they go and look at appliances so that they get an idea of what they want and how they like to cook, clean, and store their food. Often couples will like two different looks. It is about listening to the key priorities and merging of those two styles in a way that looks beautiful and feels functional at the same time.

Looking at the hardware is very important. Often people need to consider what is behind their cupboards as this is what makes your kitchen work for you. I am an organiser, so I like everything to have a space and a place, so nothing is out of order. There is nothing worse than having to rummage around in your cupboards. This is where a Häfele pull-out pantry helps rather than shelving. I also prefer to go to the site, as I like to see the overall picture. Sometimes walls can come out or you can make a window bigger. When I am designing, I will always design what the clients have asked for and then I will give them another option of what they can also do in their space. I like to open clients up to new possibilities and options they hadn’t dreamed of.

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To find out more, or need help with your renovation on new build

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