And Now, the Six-Figure Scullery
IT was the first day of April, overcast and chilly, and Christopher Peacock, the English kitchen designer, was giving a tour of the town that’s been so good to him.
His dark blue Audi slid easily past the white clapboard Georgian colonials on Round Hill Road, past the Norman stone “chateaus” and shingle-style “town homes,” past the castles of the hedge-fund set, the estates worth $6 million, $10 million and $20 million, many of which, said Mr. Peacock, boasted one of his now iconic white kitchens near their collections of edgy — and most likely British — contemporary art.
At a stone Georgian number — a kind of bespoke “spec” house in the Baldwin Farms area — the painters were priming Mr. Peacock’s bestseller, which he calls his Scullery kitchen, inspired by a house he saw years ago in London. It was part of the developer’s check list of brands and amenities — including nine Waterworks bathrooms, Ann Sacks tiles upstairs and down and a wine cellar with space for 4,500 bottles — chosen to lure buyers to the $5.9 million house.
Emulated by everyone from movie set designers to local builders, national purveyors like Wood-Mode, Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware (though genuine market synchronicity could also be at play), this particular white kitchen, with its gutsy chrome hardware, white marble counters, vaguely prewar aesthetic and six-figure price tag, has made Mr. Peacock not just a successful man, but also a full-fledged brand.
His 15-year-old company, he said, does more than just make cabinets; it delivers and installs more than 210 kitchens a year for individuals and developers in this country as well as Australia, England, France and Israel, among others, and 100 or so mud rooms, bathrooms, dressing rooms, libraries, wine tasting rooms and butler’s pantries. Despite the slackening real estate and financial markets, orders are up more than 3 percent this quarter, he said.
This fall, a Christopher Peacock Cabinetry showroom will open in San Francisco, adding to his showrooms in Greenwich, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago; next year, he will open one in Manhattan. Starting this month, he is selling Christopher Peacock paint — 90 shades of “bespoke” color, as his publicist, Lane Brooks described it, which he developed with Fine Paints of Europe (and at $125 for two-thirds of a gallon, one of the most expensive paints out there, Mr. Brooks claimed with pride) — as well as Christopher Peacock furniture, luxuriously monastic and slightly Asian style pieces from Peacock & Beale, a tony furniture store he and the decorator Connie Beale opened on Putnam Avenue here last fall.
Mr. Peacock is not the first kitchen designer to capitalize on his name and the ongoing primacy of the kitchen in the American home. A few years back, Clive Christian, who is based in London and New York, and is the Liberace of the kitchen world, with his use of gargoyles, columns and crystal chandeliers, put his name on a perfume.
Like Mr. Peacock’s paint, the perfume’s staggering price — more than $865 for 1.7 oz. at Nordstrom — is a selling point. “Often with luxury goods you’re telling people, you want this or that,” said Scott Salvatore, a high-end Manhattan decorator who has given his clients nine Peacock kitchens over the past decade. “And sometimes they just don’t. I think Christopher really hit a nerve. Those Italian kitchens are sexy as hell, and they’re not selling here, at least not among my clients.”
Faith Popcorn, the trend-spotter, said the brands doing well right now are those selling what she called authenticity. She said: “That’s the theme I’m getting from his kitchens. You look at someone’s watch and say, oh, that’s nice, stainless? And they say, No, platinum. While big show-offy things like the big S.U.V. would be uncool to have right now, the one thing it’s still O.K. to spend on is authenticity.”
Though new, his kitchens “read” as old. Lush with creamy paint, Gosford Park-like styling and chrome and sterling silver hardware at the high end, Mr. Peacock’s Scullery, Refectory and Private Collection kitchens seem to have touched a nerve in a buying public that yearns for history and provenance.
Like the spanking new “old” house — found, say, in a development designed by Robert A. M. Stern (with whom Mr. Peacock is collaborating these days) — the kitchen is like a luxury car with retro styling.
“My husband wanted a Christopher Peacock kitchen — period,” said Lisa Skinner. Her Scullery kitchen arrived in her new Greenwich home in September, she said, over the protests of her builder, who wanted to replicate a Peacock kitchen and promised to do so for less money.
Ms. Skinner said her husband, Chip, who is a fund manager, “just kept saying, ‘When you spend a lot of money you go to a specialist.’ ”
“It wasn’t because he had to have this fancy name,” she said. “He drives a 10-year-old Defender. He’s not a Ferrari guy.” She said the couple, originally from Nashville, spent nine years in London, imbibing the British aesthetic.
Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a market research company, said the English white kitchen stands for purity and pedigree. “People who have a brief history like Americans love something with a long lineage,” he said. “It imbues us with that same halo.”
With aging-rock-star good looks and British accent, Mr. Peacock has been just the guy to deliver, never mind that his own provenance, as he cheerfully pointed out, involves a semidetached house in Essex, a London suburb.
Before he was a kitchen designer, he was a drummer in a local new-wave band called Risque. Despite having made a few records and played some well-known London clubs, he said, “we weren’t exactly making any money.” So when the lead singer’s father offered him work driving a truck for his kitchen business, it seemed prudent to take it.
Mr. Peacock graduated from driving trucks to designing kitchens, and then left for Heal’s, the English furniture store. He has been drawing kitchens ever since: for SieMatic, which brought him to New York in 1987, and for Smallbone, for whom he opened a showroom in Greenwich, just before the last recession, which cost him his job there. He’s been on his own since 1993, when a former customer asked him to build a white kitchen with a black granite counter in nearby Bedford.
Mr. Peacock and his wife, Jayne, who was the best friend of the lead singer in his old band, live in Wilton in a new colonial with their three sons, one dog, a white kitchen and two dishwashers, he said. Still a musician, on the weekends, he plays drums in a cover band called “Bob’s Your Uncle.”
Mr. Peacock likes to say that the best kitchen is a Manhattan galley kitchen, and said he spends a lot of time telling clients “that they aren’t who they think they are.” “They’re not going to be having huge dinner parties, with caterers using a pantry as a staging area every weekend.” His first act is often to cut 25 percent of the space out of new home kitchens.
For the record, a kitchen designer is not a craftsman, and Mr. Peacock is no Norm Abrams.
“People think I’m a master carpenter,” he said. “But you do not want me amid hand tools. I draw things, I don’t build them.”
For most of the ’90s he drew pretty French country kitchens, as was the style then. “There was a lot of yellow, and glazing, and stencils of roosters and fruit baskets everywhere,” he said. His kitchens were always beautifully made, first by local carpenters, and then, as business grew, by his factory in Wardensville, W. Va., which he bought near the end of the ’90s. It takes roughly 12 weeks, once a plan has been approved, to make and deliver a kitchen.
Early in this decade, Mr. Peacock was expanding rapidly. Then Sept. 11 happened, and “everything just stopped,” he said. “I almost lost my shirt.” Asked to design a kitchen for the Kip’s Bay Decorator Show House the next spring, Mr. Peacock sketched a “plain white kitchen with some cool hardware,” he said. “It was a reaction to all that pretty stuff. And everybody wanted it. The white kitchen just took off, and we’ve been labeled with it ever since.”
Not that he’s complaining. “It’s what put us on the map,” he said.
Last week, there were Molton Brown candles flickering alluringly in every room of the Peacock showroom here, and hushed groups at the vast wood and marble islands: clients, all women, and their designers parsing the meaning of honed statuary marble versus semi-honed breccia imperiale marble. Mr. Peacock showed off the leather straps on shelves in the Refectory kitchen, the cunning stainless steel lip on a garbage drawer in the Scullery kitchen, and the sterling silver knobs and hinges in the Private Collection kitchen.
Aren’t those a lot of work?
“The person who buys this kitchen isn’t polishing their own hardware,” said Mr. Peacock, stating the obvious. The Private Collection, he said, is an heirloom-quality room, with more detailing, hand-selected woods, those silver knobs, and a higher price, about 25 to 30 percent more than his other kitchens, he said, which on average, including the appliances and countertops he recommends, go for $185,000.
Tellingly, the high cost of certain products, as Mr. Pedraza of the Luxury Institute pointed out, might boost sales. Mr. Pedraza cited a recent study by researchers at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology which mapped the brains of volunteers as they drank red wine. Though the wine offered was the same cheap plonk ($5 a bottle), the pleasure receptors of the brains of the study group lit up more when the subjects were told the price was $45. “Knowing you are able to pay for the best is a very special thing, and it gives you real endorphins,” he said.
Donald Albrecht, curator of architecture and design at the Museum of the City of New York, offered a different analysis about the draw of a Peacock kitchen. The latch of the Refectory kitchen, which recalls antique ice-box hardware, is “the Humvee of hardware,” Mr. Albrecht said.
“It’s a lot of elaborate protection for just a kitchen cabinet, and of course we live in a time where people are obsessed about protection,” he said.
Certainly they are still obsessed with their kitchens. If whiz-bang gadgetry — appliance garages! smart refrigerators! — marked the kitchen in the first part of this decade, nearer the decade’s end the space has become a philosophical arena, with the locavore and Slow Food movements transforming the very act of cooking into something political.
“The kitchen is less and less of a showplace, with people relying on convenience foods, and more of a place to make healthy, fresh and local food you prepare with your family,” said Amy Elbert, senior architecture editor at Traditional Home magazine, who featured a Peacock kitchen in her coming special issue on kitchens.
Mr. Peacock concurred. “I have lately seen a strong movement back to the basics of what a kitchen is all about,” he said. “With everything going on in our world and the environment, the kitchen is more and more of a hub. It’s where it all comes together.”
He described the kitchen as a sensual experience, a place for smelling, tasting and touching. “It’s a caveman-type thing,” he said.
A Designer's Punch List
Here are 10 items Christopher Peacock said clients have asked for but don't often use, and 10 items they don't think to ask for, but should consider.
Two-tier island countertops
GOOD TO HAVE
Refrigerator and freezer drawers