‘I believe the kitchen can be both a sanctuary and a pleasure palace.’
The kitchen comes in two main forms these days. There is the traditional separated space focused entirely on the art of cooking and the contemporary open free-flowing space in which almost every aspect of family (household) life takes place. The former can happen in properties where the options to change are more severely limited, or in flats for instance, but if there are no practical or legal restrictions such as Listing, most properties seem to be able to head towards the more contemporary solution which has been in favour for about ten or more years now. Perhaps it was generated by the advent of the celebrity chefs who often worked on sets that were like converted factories, so the space was not pre-ordained as ‘the cooking room’. Everyone got used to the more informal chatty presentation which signalled food preparation can be social and on view like Jamie Oliver or Mary Berry, rather than a set-piece denouement of a culinary masterpiece via the hatch or on the trolley like Fanny Craddock or Mrs Beeton!
So the house refurb/extension or new build design is underway. The Architect is almost universally asked for a space which is light and bright and connects well to the garden via the terrace area which will also be used for entertaining. So far so good. At some point it will emerge whether the clients’ tastes for the units will be more Shaker or minimalist modern. This starts to set the tone of the space. The roof lights may veer towards lanterns or flatter styles, the glazed doors either French doors and side lights or concertina bi-folds or sliders, the windows, ironmongery, lighting design etc… tend to be one of a piece, though not invariably.
The practical space and the access point from the Hall is very important. It is the major room in the house now and all aspects of how you enter that space become important. You don’t want to be walking straight into a kitchen unit, and you do want to have a moment of ‘wow’. A largely unobstructed view of the garden for instance (if there is one to be had) is special. Whilst you have entered from a Hallway which is almost inevitably darker than the Kitchen anyway, if the Kitchen is too light it can glare which is not desirable. Some balance needs to be achieved.
In my opinion, the best kitchen units run quite quietly down one wall without offsets, corners or other complications, with an island in front to match so that the units blend into the wall. The ‘Family Kitchen / Garden Room’ needs to say ‘I am a room which has some cooking going on in it, not ‘a Kitchen which has space for other stuff’. The choice of which wall is often determined by practicals such as drainage routes, extract ventilation from hoods and this can be agreed with clients who all have their own preferences.
The new/old must have is the Larder which often can be integrated into a space adjacent to the end of the unit run maybe behind a pocket sliding door to save space in which simple shelving can accommodate all the difficult bigger pots and pans, occasional and seasonal use items and maybe even some dry goods. Cheaper pro rata than extra units and ultimately variable to suit your needs. This might even connect to a Utility Room, Boot Room and side door.
Working with a really good Kitchen Designer fits in here. They must offer design flexibility and reliable service and have a good working knowledge of current materials and products. They must also be prepared to work with the Client and Architect to understand and respond to the brief, budget, project timescale and key deadlines. Often several designers are approached and their options and solutions will be different from each other. This is the moment for the Client to choose (with help if needed) which one to pick. Their design will have specific requirements for electrical and piped services which need to be integrated into the build on site before the units arrive – whether fitted by the Contractor or the by the fitters from the supplier. There are pros and cons to each, but a good builder should have enough skills available to fit a Kitchen unless it is very specialised. Bringing extra people onto site can impact the progress of other areas and can be a source of tension especially if there is a deadline and they are Ex-Contract, but if this is integrated into the programmed works having been sorted-out at an early stage, it is well worth consideration.