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Kitchen Design Contest
Belen Aquino
Ryan McDonald

As I start to write this piece, I can’t help but think back to the time in the 1970s when I began designing kitchens and I first learned of Sub-Zero. I knew it was a small, family-owned company, located in Madison, Wisconsin, that manufactured very high-quality residential refrigerators and freezers that could be built into the cabinetry of a kitchen. I noticed then that whenever I saw a kitchen I liked in a design magazine, it always incorporated a Sub-Zero. By the end of that decade, when I started to have clients who wanted the very best, I began working Sub-Zeros into my designs. I was hooked.

Mick De Giulio noticed whenever he saw a kitchen he liked in a design magazine, it always incorporated a Sub-Zero

Both a former Kitchen Design Contest winner and a 2022-23 contest judge, esteemed kitchen designer Mick De Giulio shares his wisdom and experience with the readers of The Living Kitchen.

In those days, it seemed that only a few of the shelter magazines did much coverage on kitchens. The rooms thought to be the most important design statements in homes were living rooms, dining rooms, and family rooms. In the hierarchy of home design, the kitchen was at the bottom of the list.

“Sub-Zero played a major role in transforming how we think about our kitchens”

Sub-Zero played a major role in transforming how we think about our kitchens and how our homes are designed today. It was clear that the company had been listening to kitchen designers. The sizes of the refrigerators and freezers Sub-Zero offered were perfect: they were no deeper than the standard 24-inch depth of cabinetry, which had been determined, on average, to be ergonomically ideal. Because the mechanical workings and venting were uniquely engineered to be located at the top of the unit, the sides of the refrigerators (and freezers) could be sealed tightly to cabinetry—homeowners no longer needed to move these large masses to clean around. Besides being designed to last a long time, Sub-Zero products were made in such a way that designers and their clients could artistically create their own choice of façade.

Mick De Giulio has created kitchens all over the world

By the 1980s, there was an explosion of interest and awareness in kitchen design and with it came more products and more design ideas. People realized that kitchens could be functional and designed as inspiring, personal expressions.

By the 1990s, kitchen design was firmly a design force to be reckoned with, and in response to the growing lifestyle trend of comfort and informality, more homes were being designed with open plans. And the pivot point of the open plan was—and still is—the kitchen.

By that time, Sub-Zero was headed by President and CEO Jim Bakke, who had been working on a major advancement to the product line and to the kitchen design landscape: the integrated line of refrigeration. An entirely new playing field for designers was being created; refrigerators and freezers could be re-envisioned not only as cabinets but as armoires and other furniture pieces. This is exactly what designers needed for the open plan concept in order to blur the line between the kitchen and the living space.

Open kitchen floor plan concept

In 2000, Jim and his team embarked on yet another major initiative: the development of the Wolf line of cooking products, founded upon the same principles as Sub-Zero, with the focus on engineering and design.

Throughout the years, I’ve had the privilege and pleasure to be a part of other special design projects for the brand and have come to know Jim, his family, and the company well. My lasting impression has been that of integrity, passion for quality and design, and the commitment to continuous innovation and improvement by all.

Back when I was reading those early design magazines, noticing the Sub-Zero refrigerators and freezers, little did I know that I would develop one of the most cherished relationships of my professional and personal life with the company’s founding family.

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