Feast Your Eyes on Designer Dries Otten’s Punchy Kitchens

Feast Your Eyes on Designer Dries Otten’s Punchy Kitchens

By Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
These spaces’ colorful cabinetry and playful joinery are more than just flashy additions—they’re meant to tell a kitchen’s design story, too.

Known for his dedication to color, texture, and material, it is not surprising to hear that Antwerp-based furniture designer and interior architect Dries Otten had artistic aspirations since childhood. "When I was young I wanted to be an artist, not a designer," Otten shares. "But painting was too radical as a choice of serious study. It’s not an easy medium and I’m not that great at drawing."

So, to appease his parents, Otten studied painting conservation at Antwerp’s esteemed Royal Academy of Fine Arts. He soon realized it was not for him. After completing his degree, he took his entire savings and headed to France. There, he found himself renovating a B&B and embarking upon a path that would include furniture design, studying interior design, and a gig as an exhibition designer for the MAS Museum in Antwerp. All of this culminated in the founding of his eponymous studio in 2012.

Otten's spaces are a multilayered mix of materials and textures that contrast each other, yet somehow harmoniously work, like this detail from his project titled Manon. 

A deep sense of craft and artistry runs throughout his work. "I get a lot of inspiration from art and cultural history," he says, citing influences that range from Memphis Movement designer Ettore Sottsass to Dutch architect Huib Hoste, Belgian artist Karel Maes, and fellow Belgian architect and furniture designer Gaston Eysselinck. 

Almost all of his designs are made by craftsmen in his workshop and Otten is constantly on the lookout for new materials. "The materials and colors we use are in constant evolution. Our material library is like a dictionary, the more materials and colors we get to know, the more refined our sentences will be," he explains. 

Otten's color choices reference historical movements. In his project Midi du Midi, he channels the bold color blocking of De Stijl. 

Polyester corrugated sheets wrap the entry of Otten's project "à la façon française." "Working with industrial materials is an idea I’m exploring as well," he says.
  Photo by Dries Otten

Recently, Otten and his illustrator girlfriend, Emma Thyssen, purchased an old shop in Antwerp, which they share as a live-work space, and are currently in the process of renovating. The storefront has beautiful shop windows and a double-height gallery-like space that they use for meeting with clients. They've filled it with whimsical pieces of brightly-colored furniture designed by Otten himself. Upstairs is a slim open mezzanine level that wraps around the perimeter of the space like a hallway and overlooks the gallery below. Otten and Thyssen keep their offices and shared bedroom upstairs, and can relax outside on central patio.

Diagonally-striped cut-out doors help mask a radiator underneath a row of windows in Otten's project, à la façon française. 

When asked about his design philosophy, Otten breaks it down into a few key principles. "Organization, because the practical use of a design is always the first concern," he explains. He also prioritizes a concept he calls "minimal input-maximal output." "I’ve always been rather lazy and don’t like to spend a lot of money," he confesses. "So I try to get the maximum [impact] with the minimum effort." Unsurprisingly, the designer also values color and material. "Color and the use of different materials is an easy way to get some structure in design, to emphasize and to soften," he says.  

And, although Otten didn't set out to be known as a kitchen designer, ("I prefer to say that we are interior designers with a focus on furniture and exhibition design") thanks to social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram, it is Dries Otten's colorful kitchens that have found a wide audience. Here, we take a look at five of his colorful and forward-thinking kitchens that stole our hearts.

Stardust

The renovation of this midcentury residence in Antwerp called for the use of a circular island. "We could only create this program with a circular island," explains Otten, who topped the salmon-colored round form with a vibrant pink concrete worktop. "Otherwise all the circulation towards the backdoor would have been blocked." High cupboards were employed to insert storage as well as to hide the microwave and the oven. 

Otten opened the kitchen of this midcentury home in the suburbs of Antwerp and inserted a custom-made kitchen island with a pink concrete countertop and electric cooktop range. Pastel shades paired with wood and brass make the salmon-colored island pop. 

"The round form was a spatial decision," shares Otten. "The client wanted an island in relation to the dining room."

High cupboards hide the microwave and the oven as well as provide storage. A terrazzo countertop lines the back wall and adds a sense of texture to the space. 

Le Fils du Boucher

Otten came up with the idea of a white-tiled, butcher shop-inspired kitchen island for a client who is the son of a butcher. Bespoke touches abound, including a hole in one of the cabinet doors to allow the family cat to access a discretely hidden litter box. 

Inspired by the occupation of his client's father, Otten opted for a butcher shop-themed kitchen, complete with a white-tiled island and a professional scale. 

Pendant lights of varying height add to the whimsical feel. 

Color-blocked cabinets include a tall, pale pink door that discretely hides the cat's litter box. 

Manon

The design for the kitchen in this new, steel construction home in Gent was aimed at making sure that it would not feel like one ambiguous space. "The [open] living area is quite spacious and contains both a seating area, the dining table, and the kitchen," says Otten. "I was afraid that everything would feel too new, too generic, or too cold." Luckily, the hexagonal ceramic floor already adds a lot of atmosphere to the kitchen. "We wanted the kitchen to breathe a certain history and character."

"We added a different finish to every function," explains Otten. "In this way, we tried to suggest that the different parts of the kitchen are dating from different building periods and the construction had been growing continuously."

The kitchen, which is meant "not to look like a kitchen" is composed of art deco-inspired shapes, such as this bold, red circular form that Otten created to wrap an ordinary range hood. Even the oven is hidden behind the custom cabinets. 

"Often, architects tend to think that if they use a lot of expensive materials such as marble, they make a good design. I also like to work with nice natural materials but mostly I have to deal with limited budgets. So we first consider a good functioning design in the existing interior. Afterward, we see what materials we can add to give a certain character to the project within the budget of the client. But bespoke furniture never comes cheap. In this case, for example, we used the 3mm thick peg-board, glued on black MDF and then painted it." 


à la façon française

The renovation of this apartment in a 19th-century mansion perhaps best exemplifies Otten’s concept of minimal input-maximal output. "The curtains are a very cheap way to create storage and hide the dishwasher and oven, and also have a big visual effect," he explains, also noting that the simplicity of this project is what he really likes about it. 

Colorful striped curtains set against a black background add color and whimsy and were a simple and budget-friendly way to create a major visual impact. 

A table top-like breakfast bar designed by Otten is inserted in the wall to divide and connect the spaces.  

Simple geometric forms and materials are layered for a clean and impactful effect. 

Kaars

Working with significant space constraints—only 35 square meters (377 square feet) for the entire kitchen, dining room, and living area—Otten focused on integrating the three functions of these spaces into one for his Kaars project. "The kitchen couldn’t look too much like a real kitchen; we used warm and classic materials such as walnut veneer and created a round kitchen island with a 20-cm thick bespoke terrazzo worktop as an abstract room divider between the living spaces and the kitchen. We also hid the oven in the island," he says.     

"When we started the design process, the space was empty, a white canvas. There were only the wooden floors and the double high windows adding character to the room," says Otten. 

Otten chose a light color palette of soft green lacquer set against sandblasted pine veneer to keep the space looking as fresh as possible. "The round form on the ceiling is just to hide the cooking hood," he says.  

"For every new project, I try to find the best solution. If a round island is the best solution, then we will design more round kitchens," explains Otten. "But I prefer to be on a continuous search and [in a constant state of] evolution."

Midi du Midi 

Otten's interior design for this Antwerp family home by POOT architects includes an open kitchen that is an inspired mix of prosaic plywood, lux pink marble, and shiny brass. He sees this project as a bridge between his "early no-nonsense work" and later, more refined projects. 

The shelving is composed of simple, Mondrian-like color blocking. 

The open kitchen and the adjacent bench are a mix of materials that include HPL, sandblasted pine plywood, brass, marble, and lacquer. 

"The planter box was an excuse and a solution to integrate the electric plugs on the counter," shared Otten. The stunning slab of pink marble which serves as the island's countertop is the result of a trade between the client, an artist, who traded a work of art for it with the art-collecting owner of Vandeweghe, the marble company, where the beautiful slab of pink marble is from. Brass cabinet doors reflect the terrazzo flooring from Bomarbre. 


Related Reading: 17 Kitchens That Go Bold With Pastels


Project Credits:

Designer: Dries Otten / @driesotten

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