Johnny Grey (born 1951) is a British designer, author and educator specializing in kitchens. He has been prominent in kitchen design since the 1980s, aiming to make kitchens the sociable heart of the home. He runs Johnny Grey Studios which has designed interiors, kitchens and furniture since 1978, and he has authored five books. He is also a pioneer of kitchen design education.

Early life and educationEdit

Grey studied architecture at the Architectural Association from 1970 to 1976 (AA Dip Arch), with tutors Jeremy Dixon and Mike Gold. One of the first kitchens he designed was for his aunt, the food writer Elizabeth David.


Early kitchen designEdit

Whilst studying architecture, Grey focused on craft aspects of historic buildings. He also dealt in and restored 18th-century furniture alongside his brother. After graduating he made furniture and kitchens in his family's barn in Sussex. His career took off with a 1980 Sunday Times article, "Why this awful fixation with fitted kitchens?".[1][2]

Grey's 'Unfitted' style of kitchen uses original freestanding furniture combined with ergonomics that create friendly spaces experienced like traditionally furnished rooms. This contrasts with the fitted style of wall-based kitchen cabinetry.

Johnny Grey StudiosEdit

Grey's studio adapts interiors into sociable kitchens, "living rooms in which you cook", that are linked to the garden and outdoor spaces. Architecture, product and lighting design form the work, which is based on insights from neuroscience. Each project is an individual case, and the studio has worked for residential clients all over the world.

Grey ran a showroom and studio at the San Francisco Design Center from 1990 to 1997 and currently collaborates in the US with Kevin Hackett of SiolArchitects. Over thirty JG projects have been installed across the country, including showcase houses in San Francisco and New York. With a focus now on socially aware design projects for corporate and charitable organizations, Grey is currently working with the 4G Kitchen Consortium and the National Innovation Centre for Ageing (NICA) and Newcastle University.

Design innovationsEdit

Grey has been responsible for a range of innovations in kitchen design that altered the way kitchens are lived in, manufactured and sold.

In the late 1970s he adapted the end-grain butchers’ block for domestic use, incorporating it into a piece of furniture, often with a drawer or two. He launched the Unfitted Kitchen in 1984. Made from freestanding furniture, this was an unorthodox idea for its time.[3][4][5] The now-widespread use of willow baskets as drawers was first invented by Grey in the Unfitted Kitchen. Willow baskets in cabinetry were registered for copyright by Grey jointly with Smallbone in 1987, though Mark Wilkinson objected that basketry can be traced to historic African applications.[6]

Grey brought the aesthetic of the diner counter into his kitchen designs by including a central island wherever possible. These islands blend form and function with level changes and a variety of work surfaces in a body-friendly shape.[7]

Grey incorporated Alexander Technique theory in kitchen design with individually customized dimensions for counter tops and sink and dishwasher placement.[8] Dedicated work surfaces, or task-driven areas, further this approach.[9][10] Low-level counters for smaller appliances (and children's cooking) and raised-height dishwashers are now widespread in kitchens.[11][12]

'Soft Geometry' describes Grey's move towards curved furniture inspired by the relationship between peripheral vision and body movement.[13][14] In the mid 2000s his meeting with neuroscientist and sociologist John Zeisel brought new insights into making kitchens into 'happy spaces'.[15][16][17] 'The living room in which you cook' (2014) restricts the culinary zone to leave room for other sociable activities.[18] Eye contact as key to design was another neuroscience-inspired idea, alongside the identification of each kitchen's 'sweet spot' as the location for a key piece of furniture such as the central island.[19][20][11]


Smallbone of Devizes contracted Grey in 1986 to develop concepts for their company, resulting in a collaborative version of the Unfitted Kitchen launched in 1987. Smallbone invested around £5 million in the launch of the Unfitted Kitchen, setting up a new production facility at their factory in Devizes. The collection of 150 designs was their showcase product between 1987 and 1991, featuring in displays in Smallbone UK and USA showrooms, with sales of the Unfitted Kitchen netting £4 million per year until the mid-nineties. Grey has also worked as a product and furniture designer, producing a bedroom collection for Heal's (1981) and the Conran Shop (1989).

Commercial influenceEdit

Worldwide, Johnny Grey Studios have sold kitchens worth £60 million. Precise figures are not available for Unfitted Kitchens sold by Smallbone but sales would likely be in excess of £25 million. If the value of products that inspired the kitchen industry sector such as willow baskets, curved furniture, end-grain blocks, plate racks, inlaid framed doors and other culinary design details were included, this figure would be substantially increased.

Johnny Grey’s vision has also shaped kitchen design at a detailed level. He devised V-groove door panels to make composite doors appear framed, suitcase-style door handles, ergonomics based on flexed elbow measurements, raised height dishwashers and freestanding kitchen furniture with specific functional features. He brought to this marketplace pattern, colour, soft shapes, multiple work surface levels on central islands and throughout the kitchen, the mixing of materials, reintroduction of homely features and normalisation of kitchens as sociable living rooms.


Grey's first book The Art of Kitchen Design (Cassell 1994, in print for 14 years) includes the social history of the kitchen. In 1997 Cassell published The Hardworking House, a collection of essays on the history of home design. In 1997 The Kitchen Workbook was also published in a series of home design books for Dorling Kindersley, later incorporated into DK’s The Complete Home Design Workbook (1998). Grey's Kitchen Culture was published in 2004 with English, American, Russian and Asian editions.

Education and teachingEdit

Johnny Grey is an advocate of university-level education for kitchen designers, with the aim of creating a kitchen design profession. He participates in the initiative to create apprenticeships for the kitchen sector. In 2012 Grey was appointed Visiting Professor of Design and Kitchen Culture at Bucks New University. He wrote their kitchen design foundation degree course with Professor Alison Shreeve. The programme covers interior design, architecture, furniture and product design, design history, kitchen culture, marketing, social media, business and project management.[21] It was launched in 2013 as a blended format, the first students graduating in 2017.[22][23][24] He resigned from the university in October 2020 and has no connection with the current course.

Within the School of Design, Craft and Visual Arts, Grey creates links between the kitchen industry, design professions and tertiary education. In 2016 he founded the Kitchen Education Trust with Craig Matson, a registered charity for the funding of kitchen design education and provision of bursaries. The Trust joined with the Furniture Industry's Education, Skills and Training Alliance (FIESTA) chaired by Gary Baker. It is establishing an apprenticeship Home and Kitchen degree, setting the kitchen in a wider cultural, research, educational and commercial context.

In 2017, Grey collaborated with Sevra Davis, director of education at the Royal Society of Arts, and Professor Peter Gore and Patrick Bonnet from the National Innovation Centre for Ageing in Newcastle, to extend accessible design education into kitchen design and assist with changing the language of disability and ageing design to focus on multi-generational design. Together they developed the Student Design Challenge: Eat, Share, Live. Grey obtained sponsorship from AEG, Blum UK, Blanco, Kesseboehmer GmbH, the Office of Disability Issues and Symphony kitchens to fund the challenge. It was followed in 2019 with the next RSA Student Design Challenge, Beyond the Kitchen Table. Students were asked to devise convivial spaces for people of diverse ages and needs in which to prepare food and eat, entertain, engage in hobbies or work and enjoy being together. In 2020 Grey obtained sponsorship from Legal and General Capital for the RSA’s Cultivating Community brief to explore re-imagining common spaces and building diverse communities around food, taking the principles of kitchen design into the public realm. Social Eating workshops were run by Grey in Barking and Nottingham, in conjunction with Company Drinks and scholar-activist Marsha Smith.[25]

Research, public talks, and consultancyEdit

Grey has spoken at conferences in the UK, the US, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada on design, creativity and innovation. These include The Arrival of Kitchen Living (San Francisco, April 2005); Space, Architecture and the Brain (Winchester, 2006);[26] Senses, Brain and Spaces with John Zeisel (Salford 2009);[27] Global Furniture conference (Bucks New University, November 2013)[28][29] and the Long Kitchen (Newcastle University, October 2013).[30] In 2015 and 2016 he spoke at the Smart Kitchen Summit in Seattle.[31]

In August 2017 he addressed the Smart Kitchen Summit in Tokyo on the 4G Kitchen and brought to its counterpart in Seattle a delegation including Professor Peter Gore and NICA director Patrick Bonnett. Grey also spoke at Bond Custom in San Diego in October 2017 on the Recreational Kitchen and the role of play, innovation and decadence in high-end design. He has worked as a consultant for the kitchen industry since being commissioned in 1997 to head a media campaign for Jennair, ‘Turning Kitchens Into Living Rooms’. The tour brought 43 million consumer impressions and won media awards. A further campaign ‘the Kitchen of the Future’ was launched at the Royalton Hotel. Electrolux USA commissioned NKBIS kitchen concepts for booths in 2005/6 with Grey as design spokesman. A design tour on the theme of Sociability and Sanctuary in the Kitchen was organised in 2006 by Hettich, New Zealand NKBA, Fisher and Paykel and the Australian Housing Industry Association, taking in five Australian cities and Auckland and Vancouver.

In June 2019 Grey spoke at the Whitehall and Industry Group conference on the role of business in an ageing society. As part of a new series Grey ran an online workshop on the Post Covid-19 kitchen hosted by Mike Wolf, founder of the Smart Kitchen Summit. He appeared in a short video introducing the idea of the evening kitchen, with a follow-up interview published by the Spoon describing a kitchen design that summons all five senses to create a warm, welcoming environment.

Multi-generational Kitchen projectEdit

Known as the Four Generational Kitchen (4GK), this research project with Professor Gore into kitchens for people of any age and any ability, received funding from Northern Accelerator Fund in 2019. Legal and General Capital subsequently funded the development work by Johnny Grey Studios, with the resulting kitchen for exhibition at the National Innovation Centre for Ageing in Newcastle in October 2020. Over 25 British and European companies have come together in the 4G Consortium to supply product and technology. The project’s purposes are to design and deliver prototypes, licence production designs both physical and virtual, offer industry and entrepreneurs opportunities for real-world testing and deliver training in layout, component design and configuration of the smart technology elements. It also facilitates collaboration between industry and university researchers. Its display kitchen will move to a number of locations in 2020 and 2021 for testing and research. On 24 January 2020 the Financial Times covered the story: ‘Meet the designer trying to build hazard-free kitchens' The kitchen prototype was completed on 1 November 2020 and is on display at NICA in the Catalyst building until Spring of 2021.[32]

Contributors include Symphony Kitchens, Quooker, Blum, Eurokera, Havwoods, Cosentino, Panasonic, Corian CDUK, Alex Zdankowicz, Linak, Lucy Turner, Cecence, Millo and Dalbergia.


Grey's private clients include Elizabeth David; Sting and Trudie Styler, Howard Jones and Jan Jones, Cameron Mackintosh and Michael le Poer Trench, Steve and Laurene Jobs, Peter and Hilary Bazalgette, Andrew Solomon, Felix Dennis, and Aubert and Pamela de Villaine, (wine makers at Domaine de la Romanée Conti).


Grey received the Simon Taylor Lifetime Achievement Award (2008) from Designer Kitchen and Bathroom for outstanding contribution to the British kitchen and bathroom industry.[33] and Designer Kitchen and Bathroom’s Service to Industry Award in 2016.[34][35] In September 2021, Grey was awarded a Special Achievement Award at the KBB review Retail & Design Awards. [36]

Personal lifeEdit

Grey is the second of five children born in London to Dr Christopher Grey, medical officer at Imperial College and GP. His mother Diana was artistic. In 1984 he married Rebecca, daughter of Peter Hall, Australian architect of the Sydney Opera House. They have four children, Harry, Felix, Augusta and Benedict, and live in West Sussex.


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  2. ^ "Nooks for cooks". The Irish Times (in American English). Retrieved 20 February 2017.
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  5. ^ KOENENN, CONNIE (8 June 2000). "How to 'Unfit'". Los Angeles Times (in American English). ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
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  7. ^ The center of the home: The kitchen island, retrieved 20 February 2017
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  19. ^ "Interiors: Don't worry, be happy; In association with smart Adding colour and curves to your home can lift your spirits. - Free Online Library". Retrieved 20 February 2017.
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  22. ^ University, Bucks New. "Foundation Degree (Arts) Kitchen Design". Retrieved 20 February 2017.
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  24. ^ "New kitchen design degree course - The Kitchen Think". The Kitchen Think (in British English). 20 August 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  25. ^ "In Nottingham, one woman is fighting food poverty with 'social eating'". The Guardian. 17 February 2015. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
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  29. ^
  30. ^ "Staff Profile - Institute for Ageing - Newcastle University". Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  31. ^ Ray, Joe. "Your Kitchen Is Connected, But It Still Needs to Get Smarter". WIRED (in American English). Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  32. ^ "The World's Most Intelligent Kitchen". Newcastle Helix. Retrieved 13 November 2020.
  33. ^ "The Simon Taylor Award" (in British English). Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  34. ^ "SPONSORS & WINNERS | The Designer KB Awards". (in American English). Retrieved 20 February 2017.
  35. ^ "KB Network talk to Johnny Grey at the Designer Awards 2016". Archived from the original on 12 December 2021. Retrieved 29 September 2021.
  36. ^ "Who won at the kbbreview Retail & Design Awards 2021?". Retrieved 29 September 2021.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit