A small kitchen with a Big Heart

Kitchen-O is an open-source portable kitchen that brings cooking rituals back in to refugee centres, where people don’t have the facilities to prepare their own food.


During the research phase, I visited a Red-Cross Refugee Centre in Belgium, where I observed and interviewed several asylum seekers living in the facilities.  My main objective was to understand the reality of living the centre, and how design could improve such experience. I quickly understood that people had little to do during the day, which only enhanced their precarious condition, and traumatic experience. Yet, they did not engage with other habitants in the form of a small community. While language was the main barrier, people struggled to socially integrate with other members, not only due to the various cultures, but also the mixed feelings and memories from their homelands and those that stayed behind. However, every person talked about how they missed their own food, and to cook it as well, as they have no access to cooking facilities in the centre.

This situation made me consider how food could be used as means for social integration, not just for that small community, but also to provide some comfort and a sense of belonging to these displaced families. Food is a necessity and a passport to one’s own culture. It empowers people as they can connect with a positive familiar feeling, but also invites others to join and share that moment. Meals are a crucial moment for the development of successful social situations.


1.0 - From cooking to kitchen

After researching and seeking feedback about different styles and utensils used in the cooking process, I understood that apart from the ingredients, these were very much the same. I comprehended that most of all, people needed a kitchen. The kitchen is known as the “heart of a house”, and a core space for the family, so how could such an important element be incorporated in a family room in centres?

To design a kitchen for a refugee centre, I needed to bear in mind certain requirements, such as customisation, portability, and most importantly, manufacture and cost.

1.1 - digital fabrication

As this kitchen needed to be cheap and easy to manufacture, I started considering the option that refugees could build it themselves, if they had the appropriate tools. I started thinking about this idea of an open source kitchen, where I could create the instructions and provide them to anyone who wished to build it. The centre in Belgium had a small wood workshop, however even with the appropriate tools, it would take a long time to build one single kitchen, let alone more. At that point, I started considering the idea of introducing digital fabrication, more specifically CNC routers. I started imaging a scenario where centres would have access to makers' spaces facilities, where not only the kitchen, but every single furnishing could be built in place, with locally sourced materials, thus saving money, time, and the environment. Simultaneously, I still had to consider those that would have no other option but resourcing to traditional methods to build the kitchen. To respond to both processes of digital and traditional fabrication, the design needed to be simple, and allow for cuts to happen solely in two dimensions.

1.1 - cooking is a ritual

While developing the concept, and working on its manufacturing process, I continued investigating the significant cultural role of food, and the heritage it represents.

Food and recipes are passed from generation to generation, and therefore become a living inheritance. Food is also memory, which is in turn one of the only immaterial things people can carry everywhere within themselves. Ultimately, memories connect everything and everyone. As I considered the importance of food in society, in terms of ceremonies and celebratory events, I decided to make a food sharing ritual. By baking bread and sit on the floor level to eat it, I realised how such a simple action can become strong ritual, and most importantly the value it added to the overall experience. Inspired by rituals associated with food, I focused on an aesthetic that alluded to earthly tones, and natural materials, to give people a sense of belonging, and create safe space that helps overcoming the traumatic experiences.


During the project, and especially for prototyping, drawing exploration was crucial to understand how I could incorporate a table, and yet maintain a certain a size and functionality. There was no point in making a kitchen, if one does not have a place to eat and experience the moment.

Since I started designing the product, I had always placed wheels, so it could be easily transportable from one place to another, and from that I took the idea to create a larger wheel that could double up as a table. With the final shape defined, I started projecting the product in CAD software. One of the crucial aspects of this level of precision was to understand how the wooden panels would join, especially in terms of angles and thickness, which could not be investigated solely with paper models.

final product

This kitchen gives the possibilities for refugees to manifest and share their cultural background through the food they are used to and enjoy the most. Perhaps even more important Kitchen-O allows families to provide for themselves and their loved ones. Being an open-source product, the instructions are available for anyone to reproduce it, and it is entirely digitally fabricated, thus being locally built, with locally sourced materials. Its manufacturing process gives the user the freedom and choice of the desired material. The instructions allow it to be built out of different types and qualities of wood, aggregates, or even metal, with different costs involved. Kitchen-O celebrates food, cooking, and food rituals. It brings together the four main cooking elements, which are universal to every human being: fire, water, air, and earth. Every element has its value, place and purpose inside Kitchen-O. Cooking is not a task; it is a ceremony, a celebration, a collective ritual.

“When from the distant past nothing remains, after the beings have died, after the things are destroyed and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, yet more vital, more insubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of everything else; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the immense architecture of memory.”


Marcel Proust


Kitchen-o WAS FEATURED IN WALLPAPER* (January 2018)

Whether it’s eating or drinking, baking or brewing, chopping or churning, food has been fertile ground for this year’s crop of design graduates. We’ve whipped up a kitchen’s worth of products created by the next generation of designers. Luis de Sousa, ...


May 2017

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