Kitchen is heart of the home for award-winning designer Simone Van Der Plas

Interior designer Simone Van Der Plas answers the phone from her “poxy” little house on a lifestyle block in Te Horo, north of Wellington. She’s lambing at the moment and has kept two as pets.

Van Der Plas started out designing exhibition spaces and displays for her family’s business. She learned to build and do architectural drawings and developed a keen eye for colour, textiles and graphics.

When she had her two children, who are now adults, she started renovating an old cottage and people started asking her to look at their interiors. She retrained, opened up shop and, “it grew exponentially from there”.


Designer Simone van der Plas of Encompass Ideas Interior Design & Architecture in Wellington.

Encompass Ideas Interior Design and Architecture is now in its third decade of operation.

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What is it about kitchens that makes them so fun to design?

People love kitchens.

I really love doing kitchens, I’m not so fond of bathrooms.

It doesn’t matter what house you go into, the kitchen is the most important room in the house, socially and functionally. There are so many materials to choose from and so many ways to solve problems (because designers are just people who solve spatial problems).

It’s such a convivial space.


Van Der Plas’ kitchen design for this Victorian villa in Wellington, won the NKBA Best Regional Kitchen Award in August and a Bronze Best Award. It was one of three Kiwi finalists in the prestigious SBID International Design Excellence Awards in 2016.

What is a New Zealand-style kitchen?

I rarely ever use lacquer kitchens these days. Most of the people I work with are households with young families or grandchildren and dogs. Kitchens are a big investment, so people want longevity out their cabinetry and their benchtops.

In my experience, New Zealanders like their spaces to look new in 10 years’ time. Whereas in Europe, people will embrace the faults and quirkiness of using a soft, porous stone like marble. They don’t mind a red wine stain, but Kiwis can’t cope with that.

All Kiwis love islands because they create a social space.


Van der Plas says her clients wanted a kitchen that would be reminiscent of their experiences eating at the chef’s table in several famous New York restaurants. Her subsequent design is described as a “New York deli meets light industrial” style. The chopping board is light and sits flush with the benchtop.

We’re seeing engineered quartz and stone products like Neale and Dekton, which are manmade, but have quality prints on them to reflect marble.

We want it to look perfect all the time, so these products are coming into their own because they’ve got the wearability factor.

Having said that, I love natural stone. It’s organic, it’s got history, it’s been buried in the earth’s crust for millions of years and pushed up by earthquakes – each piece is unique.

Design is a balancing act between meeting the client’s needs and creating something beautiful.


The bevelled subway tiles on all the walls are a 1920s reference.

What colours and aesthetics have you been working with lately?

I’m finding a lot of my customers are liking a modern interior but with a classic flavour to it. For example, I’m doing two country houses at the moment. One will be a pavilion house in black and cedar, but we’re using barn doors inside and I’ll use barn door accents on the island to bring in the country element. But I’ll do it in a modern colour rather than white.

Colours in interiors follow fashion. We’re usually about six months to a year behind European fashion. So colours for the 2020-2021 period are camel, aqua, off-white, dark navy blue, soft blue greys, dusky pink is still hanging around, coffee and caramel, a little gold and variations of karaka-type green.

Kiwis tend not to follow transient trends. They might do a wall in a trendy colour but most people decorate their house and don’t want to touch it for a decade.

We’re so outdoorsy, we tend to spend our money on travel and sporting things like a boat instead of new curtains.

Tell me about the New York deli kitchen. What made this project so special?


Other key features include a mobile granite chef’s table, which has a sturdy steel frame. Tall navy replica bronze stools provide comfortable seating for the family with five adult children, and are in keeping with the theme of the room.

I won a lot of awards with this project and was a finalist in international awards with it, but its success to me was in meeting such a detailed brief.

The clients are a large family, with five adult kids, who travelled a lot for holidays and work. New York City resonated with them. They loved to sit at the chef’s table in pizzerias and wanted to replicate that in their own space.

That’s why we’ve got the big marble high-level table with stools.


Van Der Plas introduced new ceiling beams and 1920s large-scale industrial light fittings.

They also entertained a lot and often had caterers, so they needed a kitchen within a kitchen. The scullery not only stores an amazing amount of items but is also a functional space that a caterer could use behind a closed door.

It also had to be appropriate for a four-storey, old Victorian house in Wellington. We put fake beams in the ceilings to replicate other rooms in the house and exposed the old servants’ stairs.

It’s not often as a designer that you get a project that really extends your creativity.


A large scullery functions as a second kitchen behind a roller door so caterers can prepare food behind the scenes while the family is entertaining.

How is climate change and the Covid-19 environment reshaping kitchen design?

I like items to come to the person. Rather than having a rubbish bin with a handle that you pull open, you bump it with your knee and it springs open with a space for compost, rubbish, and a couple of small bins for separating out some of your plastics. That’s a hit because you minimise the amount of dirt that gets on the front of the cabinet.

Even in cities, people are starting to look at how they can grow their own food and reuse their green waste. Kohler does a nice, long, skinny sink and often people use that to grow herbs. Or a window will open so you can reach out and grab them straight from the garden. Lockdown has encouraged people to look at how they live their life at home.


Items which are rarely used are stored in the top cabinets and are accessible by ladder. Simone Van Der Plas is pictured with her client, Emma.

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