Kitchen designer Hiie Härm: The kitchen as an intensely idiosyncratic space


At the start of each new year, Hiie Härm looks at the latest trends in kitchen design. Not that following them blindly is the most important thing if you want your kitchen to be a true showstopper, of course – ease of use and personal taste should always take precedence. Because a kitchen, says Hiie, should be an intensely personal space.

Black and white make for a striking contrast in a kitchen. Photo: Aunman made-to-order furniture

Hiie, how do you strike a balance between the latest trends and timeless style in a kitchen? How do you plan a kitchen space that’s very much of its time and yet won’t seem passé a few years down the line?

Each year brings with it some completely new trend in kitchens, but I’m never guided solely by them. What the client wants is always my top priority. It’s not a specific colour or a specific material that just happens to be on-trend at a given point in time that makes a kitchen great in any case. A kitchen has to be hard-wearing and easy to use. That’s why things like contrasting materials, wood and stone for instance, will always be on-trend.

Of course, the photos I show my clients for inspiration are all about the latest trends. It’s the designer’s job to showcase exciting new options and materials, after all. But at the same time, I work those into what the client wants, into their own personality. ‘Dark drama’ might be the latest trend, but that doesn’t mean that all kitchens have to be black. Far from it. On the whole, people in Estonia still prefer lighter-coloured kitchens, since we don’t get enough sun. There’ll always be fans of lighter tones here, and plenty of them at that.

The first thing I ask my clients to do is fill in a questionnaire in which there are a few questions about their lifestyle and how they use their kitchen and their tastes and preferences as well. I use lots of pictures, because they help people understand what kind of style and what colours they lean towards. If a combination of white with natural timber catches their eye in three different pictures, say, then you can be pretty sure that’s the kind of thing they’re after.

Show kitchen in the Merko Pikaliiva development. Natural stone is now being used for more than just worktops. Photo: Aunman made-to-order furniture

So it’s trends on the one hand and people’s taste on the other. That’s what a great kitchen should bring together. A kitchen like that will do you for years. And if someone remarks a few years down the line that it’s not the most modern of kitchens, you can just shrug and say: “So what!” Because you put your heart and soul into it. A kitchen is, and always should be, a very personal and idiosyncratic space.

What sort of kitchens are popular around the world at the moment?

The biggest trend at the moment is ‘Stone Age’. Everything in the kitchen is covered in imitation stone or veneer – the worktop, the doors, the end panels on the cupboards, the lot. It’s everywhere in the States these days; not so much in Estonia yet, but give it time. Before long all of our kitchen islands will be like boulders sticking up out of the ground!

People are using imitation stone and veneer on kitchen islands more and more. Photo:

Another example of a kitchen island covered in imitation stone or veneer serving as an interior design element in its own right. Photo:

What kind of kitchens do you yourself tend to go for?

I guess you could sum up my tastes as ‘white’, ‘Scandinavian’ and ‘natural timber’.

That said, I really like those big, American-style kitchens as well. They’re just huge, with the hob very clearly being designated its own space. It sticks out and has this whacking great extractor hood above it. The sink’s always big and impressive as well, and juts forward from the cupboards either side of it, too, sticking out like the hob.

American kitchens tend to have fancy cornices on the overhead cupboards, which are often of different depths and heights. You often see glass-fronted cupboards adding a touch of elegance, and doors with chequered glass. And then in the middle of the space there’s this kitchen island, so big it’s basically a kitchen continent, with these carved buttresses at the corners. It’s amazing.

I designed one just like it for a house in Saku last autumn. They’re putting it together at the moment. The owner promised to let me know when it’s finished, so I’m really excited to see it for myself.

An Estonian take on an American kitchen. With elegant cornices and glass-fronted cupboards, it makes a great alternative to Scandinavian minimalism. Photo:

A lot of people consider minimalist-bordering-on-sterile kitchens trendy. How do you strike a balance and add a touch of life or colour to that sterility?

Oh, there’s lots of things you can do. Use an exciting material for the worktop, for example. Eternal Calagatta Gold is stunning and really stylish. It’s imitation-marble quartz. You can get these innovative porcelain worktops now as well. They look like wood, but they’re actually stone, and really strong and durable.

If you have a kitchen island, you can use the waterfall effect, with the worktop plunging over the edge to form the side of the island as well.

A lot of people don’t want overheard cupboards anymore in their kitchens. Instead, they opt for one floor-to-ceiling cupboard – basically a modern-day pantry – that they stick everything in.

So even though there was a time when not having overheard cupboards was unthinkable, you don’t necessarily have to have them. Even if you don’t go for a pantry-style cupboard in their place, you can have light shelving, say, or even just stick up some framed photos from your last holiday. Photo: Aunman made-to-order furniture

It’s a great way of playing with the backdrop to your kitchen furniture. It used to stop at the overhead cupboards, the backdrop, but these days the sky’s the limit! Or the ceiling, at any rate. Or you could turn that space into somewhere to display your holiday knick-knacks or personal things that are special to you. Paintings and photos can be stuck on the walls. All of this gives a kitchen more character and ties it more naturally together with the living room.

You can add a touch of luxury in the details – imagine a kitchen with gorgeous dark-blue cupboards that have golden buttons and handles on them.

Then there’s small appliances: if you’ve got a minimalist kitchen, stick a bright red coffee machine or food processor on the bench. Something as simple as that can change the whole look. You can use actual gold and silver in a kitchen as well for a true touch of luxury.

The list is pretty much endless. You can add personality by playing with the lighting, by choosing eye-catching whitegoods, anything really. Photo: Aunman made-to-order furniture (Sergei Zjuganov)

You feature some really exciting kitchens on your blog. There’s even one that’s wall-to-wall copper. Are people in Estonia starting to make bolder choices?

Definitely. The ideas they’re coming up with are way more exciting. Partly that’s because we’re showcasing a wider and bolder range of options in our showrooms.

When you can see for yourself what a cosy Scandinavian-style country kitchen looks like compared to an ultramodern one where it’s all smooth doors with invisible recessed handles, or a stone one, or a timber one, or one with metal doors… When all these options, all these materials are on display, you get a proper feel for them. Why not go for a golden sink if it’ll work in the kitchen and you like it? They’re the sort of details you use to make a kitchen a completely idiosyncratic space.

I recommend to anyone who wants a new kitchen to make a beeline for the showrooms and take a look at the kitchen furniture that’s available. And not just look at it, but touch it, feel it, get a sense of what it’s really like.

What makes the Aunman showroom special is that the company’s owners go to furniture fairs all over the world and bring exciting materials back to Estonia, like imitation metal doors for cupboards. You won’t find many of them here yet, but I’m pretty sure they’ll take off. There are no standard modules where they’re concerned, so you can let your imagination run wild and order furniture in any shape and size you want.

Veneer doors combined with metal varnish. Photo: Aunman made-to-order furniture.

Special kitchen island solutions. Photo: Aunman made-to-order furniture.

How do you keep up with the latest kitchen technology?

Cutting-edge ovens, hobs and dishwashers have become the standard in kitchens these days, but choosing them is a science. One of my roles is to lead people through that maze. Take ovens, for example. There’s no such thing as a basic oven anymore – they come with all these added functions. So people choose an oven whose functions match their lifestyle. That might be a steaming function, or automatic cleaning, or in a family with little kids you might want an oven that has a cool-touch door. Technology’s developing so quickly that I’m always learning new things. It’s no secret that clients sometimes have things they can teach me as well. A while back one of my clients wanted an oven that had both steam and microwave functions. I wasn’t aware of any ovens like that even existing or being available in Estonia. Now I am!

Extractors have come on a long way as well. More and more manufacturers are offering hobs with in-built extractors, so you no longer have to install a massive hood. The in-built extractors are either part of the hob itself or in the worktop next to it, and they work really well. Novy and other companies offer those sorts of extractors. They always come with two options: ordinary extraction and a charcoal filter. So you can install it anywhere.

Novy’s fully integrated extractor allows you to grill in the kitchen without having to worry about setting off the smoke alarm. Photo:

Another exciting extractor option these days is the kind that hangs down from the ceiling like a lamp shade and has a charcoal filter in it.

Novy Mood ceiling extractor. Photo:

They’ve come up with some great solutions in dishwashers as well. More and more I’ve been recommending to my clients that they go for one with a lift system. That’s where you can lift the bottom shelf up and stack it or unstack it without constantly having to bend over. Kitchens should be ergonomic as well, after all. Something new I came across when writing about this year’s kitchen trends was this tiny dishwasher that was showcased at a kitchen fair in America. It looks like a sink with a cover on it.

Once you know what the client wants and what budget they’re working with, you can find the best solutions for them from the hundreds of options that are available.

What’s your own kitchen like?

Ours is old-school, solid timber. I’ve thought about what I might replace it with, but every time I do, I find it’s very hard as a kitchen designer to design a kitchen for yourself!

But if I do replace it, then in all likelihood I’ll go for all-white with a solid-timber worktop. And cupboard doors with chequered glass in them. And black handles. Or maybe gold. I want a pretty cornice on the overhead cupboards, and the cupboard doors to be framed.

For the sink I’d get a butler-style ceramic white one with a Hansgrohe Metris Select 320 tap. That’s really easy to turn on, just by pressing on it. In the bin drawer I’d have a Blum Tip-on Blumotion system, which is one that opens by pushing on it with your knee and then closes softly by itself. And that’d definitely have an internal drawer as well. There’s a trend at the moment to make the most of every nook and cranny, so that you don’t waste a single bit of space.

For cooking, I’d get a slide & hide Neff oven, where when you open the door it disappears under the oven. It makes it much easier to do stuff at the oven. And for the hob, I’d seriously consider getting a gas burner. That way, if there was a blackout, we’d still be able to feed ourselves.

So, in a nutshell, Scandinavian-style kitchen furniture with modern details and kitchen appliances.


Who’s who?

Hiie Härm – Kitchen designer through and through

Photo: Kitchen designer Hiie Härm

Just like the riddle, you might ask yourself which came first – Hiie’s love of kitchen design or Hiie designing kitchens? At first she fell into it rather by chance, as more and more people started asking her to come up with kitchens for them. But not wanting to be forever labelled ‘self-taught’, she spent fours years studying kitchen design at Chelsea College of Art & Design in London. Today she’s a full-time kitchen designer.

She is possibly also the only Estonian member of the National Kitchen & Bath Association. Thanks to the association’s newsletters and other publications, she keeps up to date on the latest trends, materials and kitchen technology. She also visits kitchen showrooms in other countries and browses kitchen magazines in search of ideas.


Current trends in kitchens

  • If your space allows, then two kitchen islands
  • Backdrops extending higher than normal
  • Stone Age cupboards, doors, worktop – the lot
  • A black kitchen with dark wood is pure luxury
  • Add a bright spot of colour to your kitchen
  • Make it metal – golden, copper or stainless
  • Nanotech: fingerprint-proof materials

Source: Hiie Härm’s blog (https://www.köö