Home Front: How to make your dream kitchen reality
Cate Burren of Cambridge's Angel and Blume Interior Design reflects on what we really want from our kitchen - and how to go about creating it
We are bombarded with images of kitchens – not just what they should look like but how we should or could live in them. On TV for example, I am particularly struck by the difference between Downton Abbey where there is a crushing silence if one of the upstairs crowd appears, right through to Nigella Lawson’s programmes which show us how to effortlessly impress, feed and entertain friends without ever leaving the kitchen. The pressure on the presentation of our kitchen and culinary life feels quite full on to me and I remember a while ago that there was an article on how the modern way was to have a shelf full of the latest cookery books and a shopping basket full of ready meals. I am afraid when I read it I felt completely rumbled, although I have long since realised that I prefer eating to cooking - the sense of anxiety rather than joy that I feel when I occasionally watch an episode of MasterChef, or the like, is a clue. The moral of this is that good design depends on honesty about how we live, and there is no shame in that.
There has been a tremendous trend in recent years to open plan living and many walls have been removed and extensions built so that the functions of cooking, eating and relaxing can all be incorporated into one area. At best, this can create a wonderful area for family and guests to all be together but I have found with some of my clients that these spaces need a little bit of division, to allow for different and simultaneous uses of space (as an example, TV and discussion are not always happy bedfellows). However much a cook loves to cook, sometimes having hungry diners being able to watch every blood, sweat and tear can remove some of the joy. The balance between residents of a space feeling connected but having somewhere to call their own is tricky but important.
What goes into your kitchen depends on what other spaces you have available. In the extensive kitchens of old stately homes, there were an extraordinary range of other rooms that alleviate pressure on the demands of the kitchen and some of these are making great comebacks as we mourn their loss both in terms of tremendous functionality and wonderful aesthetic. A larder or pantry are now highly desirable, not just for storage, but also for providing additional worksurface if you are lucky and there are also rooms such as a utility room, laundry room, boot room (these are ideally different as clean laundry and wet coats/dogs don’t work that well together), butler’s pantry or flower room (if you are a bit posh) and others. The position of these rooms within the house, and in connection with the kitchen, are just as important as the location of the kitchen space itself, as they help to take some of the pressure off the gastronomic purpose of the heart of the home.
When planning the storage of your kitchen, I think the first step is to work out what you need to hand on a day-to-day level. I bet this is less stuff than you originally think you need. We all have some items that are used, at best, on a monthly basis but could be less than that – the ice cream maker, the large Tupperware container, the Christmas cake tin, cookie cutters, a fish kettle – and these don’t need to reside in the kitchen cupboards that are much better used for day to day items. If you have storage in the house other than the immediate kitchen cupboards, you will avoid filling your kitchen to the brim, allowing it to function better and not to be overloaded with storage units.
There has always been a saying that when planning a kitchen, you should think of the oven, fridge, sink triangle and it is about how they are positioned and how the chef moves between them. I think their relationship is important but there seem to be more modern equivalents. For example, I think the dining table, dishwasher, plate and cutlery storage is pretty vital, and you could also throw in the sink to that journey. Also, the sink, kettle, fridge, mugs, tea-bag storage is worth a thought if you like a cuppa, and would I be revealing too much about myself if I mentioned the fridge, wine glass, crisp storage relationship?
Whilst planning these routes, it is also worth thinking about where those allowed into the kitchen when the cook is at work, can perch. Bar stools seem to be de-rigueur in the modern kitchen but I always wonder if those four bar stools in a row are a good idea. Certainly for the chef having an island unit between them and their guests keeps them out of the work area but most of us like to face each other (possibly not directly but on a corner or at least so that eye contact is comfortable) when chatting and eating. It’s worth figuring out where on-lookers in the kitchen are to be made comfortable, and whether breakfast or pre dinner drinks or other will be served in the kitchen.
When thinking about a new kitchen, it is tempting to head straight for kitchen showrooms to see what is available. I would strongly recommend doing the vast majority of your planning before visiting. However much help is available at such places, the chances are that the planners won’t ask you about other areas of your home, how much you really like to cook and whether you could manage with less units, worktops or appliances – their job is to sell those and however honourable their intentions, it’s going to be down to you to work out how much, or little, of their products you really need and want.
My final thought on your kitchen is to not regard it as any different than the rest of your home, and with that in mind, I would consider incorporating things that you might consider to be for other rooms in your home. I mean things like bookcases, rugs, accessories, lamps, chairs, artwork and so on, depending on your taste. Your kitchen has a different functionality to the rest of your home, but it doesn’t need to exclude comfort, an aesthetic layer or indeed to look or feel like a different space.
Picture: This relaxed, welcoming kitchen gives the cook space to work while not being disconnected from family or guests who can enjoy a comfortable seat. Photography: peterbennettphotography.net
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More by this authorCate Burren