Bespoke luxury kitchens are always a favourite find of mine. As I started my career working as Staff Writer on a Kitchen and Bathroom trade publication, kitchens and bathrooms have always held a special place in my heart. So you can imagine my delight when I first set eyes on this stunning kitchen by H. Miller Bros a few months ago. I hadn’t heard of H. Miller Bros at the time but the UK-based company was founded in 2019 by ‘Brothers in Craftsmanship’ Hugh and Howard Miller. Their vision is to combine the art of kitchen design with the mastery of modern craft to create unique wooden kitchens. I wanted to find out more about them and their bespoke luxury kitchens and luckily they agreed to an interview.
Howard Miller (left) and Hugh Miller (right) co-founded H. Miller Bros to create bespoke luxury kitchens
Can you please tell us a little about your background?
Howard: We grew up on The Wirral (over the water from Liverpool). I studied Architecture (undergrad at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and diploma at Glasgow School of Art) and I also have an MSc in Architecture Advanced Environmental Studies from the Wales Institute for Sustainable Education.
I have worked for a range of architects and started out working as a historic building architect in New York doing restoration of some of the heavily decorated ‘wedding cake’ skyscrapers. When I qualified as an architect I worked in London for architects Hayhurst and Co. on a mixture of high-end residential and educational projects and we won a number of awards during my time there.
We moved back to Liverpool when my partner and I had our first child and that is when Hugh also moved to Liverpool as we had always wanted to share a studio and work more closely together. Shortly after we moved, I won a gold medal at RHS Chelsea Flower Show for the Dark Matter Garden. It led to a number of commissions, and though I am an architect by training, the kind of design work I’ve done is quite wide-ranging, from product design, exhibitions, and landscape, to interiors, furniture and restoration as well as architecture.
Hugh: I also studied Architecture (undergrad at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and Masters at the University of Sheffield). I had always loved making things and I started a workshop making furniture when I was 24.
A key moment for me was becoming a Winston Churchill Memorial Fellow: I travelled widely in Japan researching Japanese wood craftsmanship. In Japan, they have a system of ‘national living treasures’; people who are regarded as the pinnacle of their craft tradition, and are funded for the rest of their lives to carry on producing and keep the traditional alive.
I met four of these national living treasures that specialised in woodcrafts and this experience moved my design work and making to another level. In response to the research, I created ‘The Coffee Ceremony’ which is a collection of furniture that has been shown widely, including exhibitions at the Saatchi Gallery, London, in the British Pavilion at the Cheongju Craft Biennale, South Korea, the Næstved Museum, Denmark and is about to be exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery in 2021.
When did you first become interested in design?
Howard: We used to make things like treehouses and dig up clay in the garden to make into things. Our mum used to put us to work with digging, paving and general garden construction. I taught myself to lay bricks when I was in early high school. It sounds crazy now but dad didn’t generally bat an eyelid if I asked him to pick me up a bag of cement. Family friends used to say “oh, he’ll be an architect” from about age 4… they were right!
Hugh: Our grandfather had a little workshop and I used to mess around in there. He was so patient with me letting me use tools and he helped me to make simple things. He used to make us wooden toys too; I think it was that realisation of ‘oh, if I just keep at this, I could make something like that one day’.
What is it like working with your brother?
Howard: I enjoy working with him a lot, I think that we are lucky in that we have complementary skills, we overlap when it comes to a shared vision, but in getting it realised we have totally different things to bring and tend not to get in each other’s way. We’re both naturally curious and love generating ideas at the start of a project. It tends to be that when one of us is stuck, the other will have different experience to bring to the problem to help solve it.
Hugh, can you tell us more about your interest in Japanese design?
Hugh: Initially, I was fascinated by the way that you can tell a design is Japanese; what was going on culturally to make this the case? I put it partly down to designs that appear simple on first glance but in fact a great deal of complexity is going on, its not hidden, it awaits careful inspection.
In the UK, we tend to celebrate complexity as a design feature, that would be considered showing off and something to be avoided in Japan. I just find that distinction so very thoughtful.
Howard, you aim to create tactile, beautiful, elegant spaces. How important is texture in interiors and why?
Howard: If you imagine the most beautiful place you have been in, you will probably be able to remember the effect it had on all of your senses; the smell of oiled timber, a slightly echoing sound of the space, the cool touch of a stone floor on a hot day, as well as how it looked. If an interior doesn’t give you anything but visual stimulation, it’s not wholly satisfying; it can sometimes feel a bit fake or uncanny.
That is where I think texture comes in. As humans, we’re trying to verify the information about the outside world with as many means as possible and we do this by touching, inhaling, and receiving reverberations as well as looking. Textures also describe how materials have been made, whether it be the grain of timber (showing how the tree grew) or a woven fabric say, where strands overlap to make a net. Describing how something has been made is part of designing, it’s a bit like the specific choice of words a writer might use to convey meaning.
What is it about natural materials that make them so important to your work?
Howard: I think it’s about using the right material for the right job rather than necessarily using ‘natural materials’ per se. It just so happens that timber especially is the right material for so many jobs for so many reasons. It’s sustainable, lightweight, strong, and affordable, there is massive diversity in species and properties, it’s warm and, last but not least, it’s beautiful.
Can you explain how you work with clients to ascertain what exactly they need and want from their bespoke luxury kitchens?
Howard: As well as the practical considerations, we want to try to tease out the more intangible things that might spark off a design idea that we can use to make the project genuinely original. These do tend to emerge as we get to know the client more. We have a well worked out method of doing this and essentially it starts wide and general and it becomes more and more particular and increasingly detailed to the client and their home.
Observation of how people work in their spaces, or more often what’s not working in their current situation is key. We also look at the things they choose to have around. Sometimes a couple want different things and this makes for an interesting design challenge. We also put a lot of effort into modelling the design in 3D and creating visualisations, samples and mock-ups as we go to check with the client that we are getting it right.
Which of the bespoke luxury kitchens in your portfolio was your favourite to design and make?
Hugh: Obviously the Furniture Maker’s kitchen is my favourite – because it’s my kitchen. I love using it, I think it’s every designer’s dream to do a project for themselves.
Your award-winning Furniture Makers kitchen is my favourite too. Can you tell us more about this project?
Hugh: I wanted my own kitchen to take inspiration from my love of Japanese design and their cabinet making traditions. I’ve written a book on Japanese wood craftsmanship, lectured widely on the subject, and acquired a collection of Japanese antique woodworking tools and ceramics.
My previous kitchen was within a large room that encompassed the kitchen, living and dining area. Firstly, I wanted to define the kitchen space as separate from the living area. We had a desperate need for additional storage, and with plenty of room at room-height level due to the 3-metre ceilings throughout, the idea of a three-tier kitchen with cabinets above head height began to form.
At the bottom of these three levels, a base layer of drawers and cabinets made from Iroko wood was created, with recessed inset doors that act as a foundation. Above counter level, the mid-layer is a calm, functional work zone with a Caesarstone ‘London grey’ worktop and cabinetry painted in Farrow and Ball ‘School House White’. Above this is the ‘canopy’ level defined by a long, slim, structural truss that forms a threshold between the kitchen and the rest of the living space.
Facing the truss and above the kitchen, deep storage cabinets, with undulating doors to reference the slatted screen of the truss, are reachable by a purpose-made ladder to add functionality and interest. The structural truss was a pure labour of love as the slats allow natural light to pass through and reference the shoji screens of traditional Japanese homes. The open shelving houses my ceramic collection and features Japanese shoji paper lanterns that light the space, forming beautiful silhouettes and intricate patterns through the structure at night.
What would be your dream project to work on and why?
Hugh: We would love to do a project where we design and make everything: the building, garden, interior and furniture. A total work of art in the way that Greene and Greene or Charles Rennie Mackintosh did. We would also like to build a purpose-made workshop and showroom at some point; that’s a medium-term goal.
Anything exciting on the horizon at the moment?
Howard: We’re making a really interesting set of furniture for a superyacht at the moment. We also have a kitchen due to be fitted this summer with some amazing Scandinavian and Japanese inspired features that we’re very excited to publish when it’s finished.
What an inspiration! I’d like to thank Hugh and Howard for speaking to me about their work. What do you think of the Furniture Maker’s Kitchen? Do you love it as much as I do? If you’d like to see H.Miller Bros full portfolio of bespoke luxury kitchens, head over to their website.