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The art of craftsman

Words by Hannah Tapping

Combining the urban with the organic, the foraged with the fascinating; this is kitchen design re-shaped and re-imaged.

Growing up on a dairy farm in East Sussex was an unlikely pre-cursor to a career in bespoke kitchen making, but that’s how it rolled for Arnold van den Dolder. Working life began with a teenage apprenticeship at a joinery, followed by a BA in Furniture Design and Craftmanship; the catalyst for Arnold’s love for the art of the kitchen. “The three year course was all about designing and making fine furniture. I learned detailed and accurate cabinet making, which is something of a dying art. In modern times, people want to change their interior styling on a more regular basis and there is now much more of a throwaway culture when it comes to furniture. It’s almost impossible to buy what I would call real furniture today, unless it’s more of a sculptural piece or a work of art.” During the course, Arnold was given the freedom to generate his own ideas, and concepts, bringing them to life in design drawings: “This is going back many years now, when designs were still done on a drawing board. Nowadays, I have someone who generates CAD drawings for my work, taking my initial sketches and turning them into working drawings, and 3D renders.”

Arnold van den Dolder

A combination of raw materials working in harmony

Arnold’s move to Cornwall was born from a desire to raise his children in a safe and enriching environment. Having left a successful landscaping business behind, Arnold had hoped to replicate this in Cornwall, but on finding a saturated market he knew he had to take a different path.” My brother was out in South Africa making kitchens and he suggested I should go over there so he could give me a crash course! As a cabinet maker I already had lots of skills, and in a way was almost a little overqualified for the classic shaker-style kitchens he was building, but I was up for the challenge and after three weeks shadowing my brother I returned to the UK and Arnolds Kitchens was born. However, me being me, I yearned for a more creative avenue, so I started to introduce varied, raw materials into my designs, experimenting with concrete and copper to great effect.”

The unique combination of raw materials and vintage accessories are what make an Arnolds Kitchen unique. Each is bespoke and the end product speaks for itself. “I like it when the materials have a history and a provenance, maybe like old handles or vintage taps,” explains Arnold. “I’m always on the lookout for the unusual and have a collection of taps and handles that I have picked up over the years that I use in my kitchens. I’m not about what’s in fashion, I prefer to push the boundaries and create organically. I love to bring all the combinations of materials together, combining wood with concrete, zinc, copper and brass. The important thing for me is that my kitchens not only look good in isolation but that they work well within the interior space, so I’m always keen to be involved with lighting and wall finishes to ensure the end result is harmonious.”

A bespoke combination of vintage and modern

Each Arnolds kitchen has its own provenance. Using natural materials that speak for themselves the designs are very much a process: “People come to me because they like my individual style and the fact that it can be adapted to suit each client’s needs and tastes.” After an initial enquiry Arnold gathers as much information as he can and then provides a plan and estimate for the kitchen along with a physical mood board made from samples. “Clients then pay an initial design fee which takes us up to full designs and a quote; a process which needs to be started in good time before the job starts.We then take a deposit, order the materials and appliances and start making the kitchen in our workshop before installing it. Often, certain design decisions are not made until the kitchen starts going in and I work with the clients to make these final choices in the space.”

There is a story and a process behind each element of every kitchen, whether that be hand-patinated metals, hand-trowelled concrete worktops, hand-painted cabinets or hand-made handles. Everything is bespoke so the clients can choose any appliances, any colours and any finishes. “We do not offer a range; every kitchen is unique,” adds Arnold. And one of the most unique aspects has to be his concrete installations, cast in-situ and used for both indoor and outdoor kitchens. Using sand from each local area, every concrete pour achieves a different effect and colour. For this reason, Arnold cites the ‘Cotswold Kitchen’ as his favourite project to date: “The concrete runs all around the worktop as well as encasing the shelving. The client was completely open to my ideas, and they just let me run with it, which made it very exciting. The result was a combination of the urban and the organic, accented by Moroccan-inspired marquetry, colours and tiling.”

The Cotswold Kitchen

His personal labour of love is his Cornish miner’s cottage – available to rent on airbnb – with its huge, uber-cool concrete peninsula in the kitchen and amazing zinc-panelled doors. “I am also very excited to be working on two outdoor kitchens this summer; one inside a pagoda and the other completely outdoors with a whole seating area and a firepit built into an outdoor table.”

When not making kitchens, Arnold embraces his love of the outdoors. “I take great pleasure from foraging and spearfishing for fish and crab. I also enjoy surfing and immersing myself in the environment, both on the water and in the countryside. I play a lot of music, particularly world music and I have a huge vinyl collection that has been added to from my trips around the world. You could say that I’m a bit of a vinyl junkie! I’m always on the lookout for interesting stuff, and love a flea market or a car boot sale... wherever I go in the world, that’s where I end up. I get a buzz from finding old vintage artefacts that are beautifully made and have a history, and that is reflected in my kitchens.”


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