THE ONCE-NEGLECTED CORPORATE KITCHEN IS IN THE MIDST OF A RENAISSANCE. NEGLECTED BREAK ROOMS BLOSSOM INTO GORGEOUS, ENERGIZING EXTENSIONS OF THE OFFICES THEY SUPPORT THANKS TO PIONEERS LIKE DENVER-BASED VESEL CONTEMPORARY KITCHENS.
WORDS: Rob Bowman IMAGES: Raul J. Garcia
ASK ANY RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE AGENT WHAT MATTERS MOST WHEN BUYING OR SELLING A HOME, AND IT WON’T TAKE LONG FOR THE WORD “KITCHEN” TO EMERGE. NEARLY EVERYONE VALUES A GOOD KITCHEN: AN INVITING SPACE WHERE MEALS ARE PREPARED AND GUESTS ARE ENTERTAINED. A PLACE WHERE UTILITY AND BEAUTY COLLIDE, WHERE FORM AND FUNCTION INTERSECT. SO WHY DON’T MORE COMPANIES PLACE A HIGHER VALUE ON THE OFFICE KITCHEN? COUNT KEVIN VESEL AMONG THOSE WHO FORESEE AN IMMINENT SHIFT IN CORPORATE WORKPLACE DESIGN. NO LONGER SIMPLY A PLACE TO FETCH COFFEE, DINGY BREAK ROOMS ARE EVOLVING INTO DYNAMIC WORKSPACES WHERE EMPLOYEES CAN FOSTER NEW ENERGY AND NEW IDEAS. AFTER CENTURIES OF NEGLECT AND MISUSE, THE OFFICE KITCHEN IS FINALLY READY FOR ITS CLOSE-UP.
The bulk of Vesel’s work is high-end custom residential projects, but change is in the air. After an early career as a photographer, he reinvented himself in the world of furniture and lighting design and fabrication. Soon after, he transitioned to kitchens, and for nearly a decade honed his craft with Studio Como while designing and installing more than 300 kitchens. “After designing and installing so many kitchens from different European manufacturers, you learn what works and what doesn’t,” Vessel said. “From those experiences, it seemed natural to just design my own line, incorporating everything I learned.” The result is a booming business built around his own line of locally-produced contemporary cabinetry, veselbrand, which emphasizes European design aesthetics while eliminating some of the constraints associated with the industry’s heavyweights. Along the way, happy clients began to talk about the need for comparable spaces in their workplaces.
To meet that challenge, Vesel channeled his expertise into a separate division that operates on a scale and budget commensurate with the corporate environments his kitchens anchor. “It comes with the same attention to detail and customization as veselbrand,” he said, “but with a different set of client needs.”
And those needs are substantial. The most glaring issue is volume—specifically, the number of people who must be accommodated, which in even the smallest office tends to be exponentially larger than the average family. There must be enough storage space for the myriad cups and saucers and snacks, enough counter space for brewing coffee and prepping meals, and enough space in the dishwashers and refrigerators to comfortably handle a fluctuating amount of food and dishes. On the flip side, you won’t find big industrial stoves or ovens in office break rooms, creating an opportunity for a more effective distribution of space.
The shared workspace complex known as Industry, from Ellen and Jason Winkler, enlisted Vesel to create three common-area kitchens to serve the building. Each has its own personality and style: One features a “grab-and-go” cafe, another has highwalled booths to create the feeling of privacy, and another is built around an enormous community table. “It’s incredible,” said Ellen. “People from all of the different companies mingle and make new friends.”
The kitchens at Industry serve 400 people per day, running an average of 20 dishwasher loads. With such high volume also comes an increase in the demands placed on these fixtures. Cabinets are kicked and slammed. Dishes stack up. And some businesses use any leftover storage for office supplies. None of this deters Vesel.
He sees beyond the basic functionality to the broader functions that well-designed corporate kitchens provide. They are a gathering place and a de facto conference room. They promote interaction and collaboration.
Employees eat in more often, and they linger a little longer over their coffee breaks. Productivity picks up. Kristen Bland, owner of Fusion Light & Design, sees the impact of her Vesel kitchen first-hand. “It increases morale and we work better as a team because we are more connected.”
Whereas the employee break room once was relegated to far-away corners, many businesses now place the kitchen front and center, with street-facing windows. The execution of specific design choices, from sleek cabinetry to creatively-constructed seating areas, brings vitality and energy to the room. “It’s a functional art piece,” Vesel said.
This new-school blending of aesthetic beauty and functional utility bodes well for the once-neglected corporate kitchen, and for the countless employees who stand to benefit from its evolution. It is also a good sign for Vesel, who wisely tapped into his experience in the residential field to help identify and elevate the commercial potential. “The kitchen has become the hub of the home,” he said. “And for businesses, the kitchen can become a hub and a centerpiece for employees’ daily interactions.” That change, it seems, is already underway.