For Lim Wee Li, executive chairman of Kitchen Culture, going into the kitchen business happened quite by accident – the construction materials company that his family owned was approached by a high-end German kitchen brand to represent them in Singapore.
Tasked with taking on the project, the now-52-year-old Lim became the first, and only employee. “I started out with zero knowledge about kitchens… In those days I was a one-man show. I was the project manager, the general manager, the installation guy, and the service technician.”
That was 28 years ago. Today, Kitchen Culture has grown into one of the leading importers of high-end European kitchen brands in the region, with a 15,000 sq ft showroom in Singapore; and offices in Malaysia, Hong Kong and China.
In that time, Lim has witnessed the industry gradually shift – from consumers getting more affluent, to how the lines between professional and home-use kitchen appliances are becoming increasingly blurred. Sous vide machines – once only used by top restaurants – now have smaller versions for home use. Meanwhile, ovens that previously came with knobs for only temperature and time, now can do everything from microwave to steaming, and directional heating.
While Kitchen Culture takes on projects in residential developments, it’s the retail side where one can find lavish, customised kitchens that go into the region of seven figures.
Should a kitchen cost as much as a condominium unit? “Today’s market is very different. If you look at the price of housing today, a Good Class Bungalow would cost $30 million to $60 million, easily. Spending half a million or more on the kitchens – because there might be more than one in a home like that – is not out of the question,” shares Lim.
Of course, with a price tag like that, a kitchen will be commensurate in quality – combining function, form, and cutting-edge technology.
To put things into perspective, a high-end fridge, complete with multiple temperature zones and plenty of storage, can cost upwards of five figures; while a downdraft hood that removes all odours and grease stains from cooking, like the Bora Professional 2.0, comes in in the neighbourhood of $20,000. Designing a kitchen from scratch? A custom-built worktop, like one from Italian luxury kitchen appliance provider Barazza, easily costs five figures, thanks to a high-tech fabrication process where they can manufacture stainless steel counters in virtually any shape.
Throw in all the latest gadgets, and the kitchen becomes the biggest investment in a home, bar the house itself.