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When award-winning builder and designer Darren James and his team transform a kitchen, they really know how to make a show-stopping statement. Photography: Cathy Schusler

Liz Barrett

Senior Content Producer

The kitchen has always been perceived as the heart of the home. Given that we are spending more time at home than ever before, it's little wonder that this remains true. Many homeowners play it safe when designing a new kitchen, but a world of possibilities opens up when one dares to be different. An Ascot residence, nestled in the northeast of Brisbane, is a perfect example of this – a bold and daring design and a willing homeowner that produced award-winning results.

When Darren James, founder and director of Darren James Interiors, was engaged to transform an existing kitchen, the brief was unusually loose. Darren explains, 'I had known the client for a while and luckily, he felt comfortable with us. He's an avid cook and entertainer, so he wanted something functional and reflected his love of cooking. Aside from a list of appliances, that's all he gave me. He left the design in my hands. It's a humbling affirmation in what we do when people say - I know you're good enough to do it, just give me something beautiful.'
The concept was to transform the outdated kitchen that was short on storage into a practical and refined entertaining space, most notably with a touch of modern glamour. The added challenge was designing around an awkward structural column going right through the benchtop. 'We had to navigate around this large structural column and make sure that removing it wouldn't impact the integrity of the house. Our engineer helped us gain the extra span which allowed us to have no steel column from the floor to ceiling and give us a beautiful open space.'

The colour and textural palette was a dramatic choice, one that has paid off. 'Initially, the client was apprehensive about going dark on dark, but there are several windows and doors behind the kitchen with quite a lot of natural light coming through into the room.' In keeping with the existing floors, which are stained in Black Japan, Darren went with a matching stain on the timber joinery.

'What sold it for him was it looked almost perfect with the floors. The combination of brass highlights and custom joinery fronts added so many interesting details to the kitchen,' Darren recalls. 'The light bounces off it in different ways, and it gives the kitchen a life of its own.'

Each element of the kitchen was meticulously designed. The intricate cabinetry, in particular, needed to be lovingly crafted, and the dark colour was unforgiving, leaving little room for errors. 'We all underestimated the number of hours it would take to make those doors by hand. At one stage, I even jumped in to work on the doors. Getting back on the tools is not something I normally do, but it's satisfying to build something so beautiful.'

Unsurprisingly, quality workmanship is in Darren's blood. He cut his teeth as a young apprentice on luxury boats before spreading his wings into the residential housing market and adding interior design to his building credentials.  
With the Christmas deadline looming for Darren and his team, it was a race against the clock. 'We were fortunate that the client was so flexible with work hours. He let us work late at night. In the end, we managed to complete it a few days before Christmas and let him take full advantage of the space on the day.'

The kitchen itself has a front-of-house area for day-to-day cooking and a recessed scullery that's fully equipped to meet the demands of catered events and parties. Within the scullery, a custom cold-room was designed with two-way glass. This doubles as a display and extra storage for catered events and sits alongside the wash zone, which includes two dishwashers – perfect for hiding party mess.

The kitchen is a perfect balancing act. The flawless workmanship of the custom cabinetry and brass detailing provide an opulent aesthetic. At the same time, the carefully designed layout, quality appliances and generous storage and bench composition provided functionality at every level.

'This kitchen incorporated a lot of technology,' says Darren. 'The cabinet drawers and overhead doors have an electronic opening system from Blum, while each drawer and door mechanisms are censored with LED lights. This required a lot of electrical componentry planning, but it was worth the effort.'
Darren and Elissa James

Darren runs the business with his wife Elissa, who heads up the furnishing and decorating arm as well as business operations and marketing. 'Without Elissa, the company wouldn't be where it's at today. She's not only marketed and branded the company, but also developed processes and shaped our company vision.'
One way the pair grabs attention is with the long list of awards the company has received. The most recent is the 2021 HIA Australian Kitchen of the Year for the Ascot residence. 'It's very rewarding,' says Darren. 'It certainly helps cement your place in the building and design industry. HIA has a tight and fair judging process. This year's win was pretty special! Being in lockdown, we got the chance to celebrate together as a family with the kids for the first time. The Ascot kitchen was probably our most complex kitchen to date, so it was fantastic to see it win this award.'



2021 HIA Australian Kitchen of the Year

Builder and designer

Darren James Interiors


Ascot, Queensland


  • Tapware: Io two-hole bench-mounted mixer with metal levers round spout and spray rinse, Perrin & Rowe
  • Sink: Bolero Box, Franke
  • Fridge: Sub-Zero Custom refrigeration; finish Dulux Gunmetal Kinetic
  • Cooking appliances: 400 Series stainless steel ovens (right and left hinged), 400 Series combi-steam oven, 400 Series warming draw, 400 Series Wok Vario gas cooktop, 400 Series full surface induction cooktop, 400 Series Vario downdraft ventilation, all from Gaggenau
  • Benchtop: Negresco Quartzite in Leathered, CDK Stone
  • Cabinetry: Custom cabinetry, American oak timber with Black Japan stain, brass sheet metal detail
  • Technology: Blum Servo-Drive touch technology; C-Bus integration to all lighting and integrated sensor-driven LED lighting in all drawers and cupboards
  • Lighting: Circuit 3 mounted light, Apparatus Studio