Kiwi spatial designer Mal Corboy wins big at international awards

The acclaimed designer says he’s always believed that if you curate your own design style and stick to it, it pays off.

Kitchen designer Mal Corboy's words ring true after he was awarded a Society of British and International Design (SBID) Award for bringing his signature flair to a kitchen, in a stylish Hekarua Bay home on Waiheke Island. 

The SBID International Awards are widely known as one of the most prestigious events in the design industry, with entries coming from more than 30 countries.

“It's definitely the crème de la crème of the design world,” Corboy says.

Another New Zealand company, The Formary, won the award back in 2010. The Wellington-based company specialises in the development of innovative textiles from agricultural and industrial fibre waste.

Awards are not new to Corboy, who has received 37 accolades during his career. But he says winning the SBID International Award for the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom category means that he’s reached the pinnacle of his career, as far as awards go.

"I went with the opinion that I'd made it as a finalist and I was very happy and very proud. Anything above that was an absolute bonus," he says.

The panel was made up of industry experts, including representatives from the Boeing Company and Google, who looked at the details of the technical content and aesthetic creativity. The organisation also represents a global network of 50,000 designers, giving Corboy a chance to rub shoulders with the who’s who in the industry, as well as putting New Zealand spatial design on the world stage.

Designing the award-winning kitchen “wasn’t a quick process”, Corboy says – it took 18 months to finish the design details, and a further 18 months in production.

He was inspired by the placement of the house on the Waiheke Island cliff top and the details already in the house, and the clients gave Corboy plenty of free reign to play with the space.

“What I tried to encapsulate for the kitchen island was the sense of floating,” he says. “We created a lovely curve in the island so that it looks like a rolling wave.”

The main materials used in the kitchen are Zebrano wood veneer on the walls and parts of the island, and Corian on the rest of the island.

Although the kitchen is visually quite striking, functionally it works well says Corboy, as the kitchen components, such as the refrigerator, are in the scullery area – this means any mess can be hidden away with the closing of a door.

Corboy also designs bathrooms, interiors and even furniture, but says the kitchen is where he’s made his mark. But despite his passion for designing great kitchens, he spends “as little time as possible” in his own.

“The myth you have to be a great cook to design kitchens is totally wrong,” he says. 

The top-end kitchen design guru has been in the business for more than 19 years, has a Certified Kitchen Designer qualification under his belt, and is a professional member of the Designers Institute of New Zealand.

Corboy describes his design style as revolving around proportion and balance, as well as having an eye for vibrant colour and detail – something that’s evident in his own fashion style with his multicoloured shirts.

Professional achievements aside, there are many incarnations of Mal: he was previously a train driver and a cabinet maker in Australia, but moved to New Zealand in 1988 to pursue a Kiwi girl.

He says he considers himself a Kiwi and his location in the world no longer has an effect on his business, thanks to the World Wide Web.

“You used to have to work within 10km of where you were, but now the world’s your showroom. The Internet has made it so easy. I can be sitting here and be designing a job in Trinidad.”

He is doing just that – currently he’s working on a design job for a house in Trinidad, which will be exported there in 2015.

He has also designed a kitchen for a professional poker player’s multimillion-dollar home in the US and regularly designs for Australian kitchens.

Corboy says he thinks New Zealand turns out some of the best product in the world.

"I think there are some fantastic designers out there but we struggle to get our voice across. There’s some beautiful work being done.”

His advice to budding designers is to follow your passion and don’t be scared to ask fellow designers about their work.

“I meet a lot of designers as I go around the world and I ask them what they’re doing, how they’re working just to make sure I’m on the right track.”

However, don’t be surprised if they don’t give away some of their trade secrets, as he sure doesn’t.

“I wouldn’t tell them how I did the floating island because that took a lot of hard work,” he laughs.