Kitchens have to push against preconceived notions. They must perform as entertaining spaces and sites of culinary excellence. They sell homesand define “lifestyles”—but really, deep down, all we want is a place that functions well and looks good when things get messy.
Lately, we’ve been pulling away from certain expectations. While the kitchen as a showpiece (and gracious amphitheater) feels like an outdated concept, it has been innocently replaced with farmhouse touches and a blast of white tile. Which begs the question: Can the kitchen escape the eternal grip of trends?
This London project from bespoke artisan kitchen company Plain English Designreminds us what remarkable things can happen when design pushes beyond the prevailing go-to look and simply suits a space. The brand, which recently opened its first US showroom in New York, was asked to take a unique approach. “They were looking for something different, unusual and contemporary,” says Tony Niblock, Plain English Managing Director & Co-Founder, of the clients, both collectors. “[The home] is in an old-school house in Marylebone and the client gave us great flexibility to create a design that would preserve the open plan and expose some of the existing materials.”
The kitchen is located on one end of the main assembly hall, while the remaining ground floor has a dining area and expansive living space with a display area for the owners’ collection of art. With uninterrupted sightlines and expanse, the effect is similar to a New York loft, explains Niblock. The overall style isn’t typical for Plain English, which is known for their handcrafted cupboards and Georgian aesthetic. “To design a very clean look, we used our Osea cupboards as floor cupboards, which is something we don’t do very often. This creates a real sense of furniture rather than a fitted kitchen to keep the space feeling light and airy. The sleek steel shelves also add a sense of space and stop the kitchen from feeling too enclosed. We also kept to a materials palette of painted wood, blackened and stainless steel, marble and brass,” he says.
Given that the home is located in a historic Victorian building, a few compromises had to be made. The team discovered that the wall concealing the laundry room was structural and therefore couldn’t be moved. Instead, it was put to use housing the refrigerator, freezer, and ovens, as well as serving as a good way to hide a few of the bulkier cupboards. As a result, the focus is on the floor cupboards and metal cupboards—fortuitous, as this is one of the first few projects where Plain English has featured them. “The client wanted something different and loved the look of the steel which will patina over time,” says Niblock.
Most kitchens are the sum of their parts, and this particular space highlights the point. The designers leaned on the Osea design, a simple Shaker-style door that echoes the company’s classic Spitalfields and Long House cabinetry. A series of elements—like handmade steel handles, thick worktops, and the perfect shade of white (called Boiled Dishcloth and culled from Plain English’s paint collection)—converged as more than just stylish details. Each one works to support the broader design. With open concept living, the design challenge lies in the ability to seamlessly integrate the various areas like the pantry, kitchen, dining, and living areas,” says Niblock. “Rather than a room having character on its own, there is something to be said about tying in a several design elements across rooms/areas to ensure a balanced space.”
Carrera marble surface tempers any overtly traditional moments and the team crafted a metal shelving unit, which infuses some rough industrial attitudeinto the space while also separating the kitchen from the living space. Plain English also created a coffee/bar area that lives opposite main galley. A single pane of glass indulges the client’s request for something above average for this area. Yet practicality also reigns, as the screen can conceal a coffee machine or other unsightly essentials. “The process was very experiential as we replaced the glass twice in order to get the right level of opaqueness,” reveals Niblock. Which might be the ideal metaphor for the kitchen: Cool and unpretentious takes time.