My Renovation Magazine Special Feature
When it comes to designing a kitchen for a renovated listed building, quirky architectural features such as low ceilings, sloping walls and original beams are ‘par for the course’ but invariably necessitate a bespoke approach.
Bespoke is a term so over-used, it has largely lost its true meaning in everyday language. For me, a bespoke kitchen is one that has been sympathetically designed to work with the architecture of the house, not against it. When the owners of this Grade I Devon village house (image below) approached me to design their kitchen, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. A historical gem, it had gained its listing for its cruck roof – one of the earliest in England – with laboratory tests establishing that the roof timbers were felled in the early summer of 1298. Since medieval houses were usually built with green timber, 1298 is therefore presumed to be the date the house was constructed.
It’s a huge honour to be allowed into someone’s listed home and be given responsibility for their new kitchen design. It requires experience, considerable knowledge of traditional skills and work practices as well as patience. And perhaps more than anything, the designer needs to have empathy and show consideration for the building. It’s a labour of love and requires considerably more design time than your average project.
The image (above) shows the finished kitchen design. The wall units have been scribed to create a seamless join with the ceiling beams.
Of course, it’s not just about respecting the past but about looking to the future too and appreciating how lifestyles change. When many listed houses were constructed, the kitchen was principally a place of food storage and preparation. In 2014, the kitchen is the hub of the home, a place to eat, greet and so much more, it’s not simply about just cooking any more. Central island units create a superb worktop area but in addition, they provide amazing storage as well as a place to sit around for casual dining.
Lack of light can be an issue in listed properties but by discussing electrics early on and by incorporating light reflective surfaces wherever possible, this need not be a problem. Consider painting wall units in a lighter shade than the base units to create a less cluttered feel. Or do away with wall units altogether and opt for some simple wall shelves or a plate rack instead (see images below).
Listing does not freeze a building in time, it simply means that listed building consent must be applied for in order to make any changes to that building which might affect its special interest. Depending on the category of listing, local authorities aim to return a decision on smaller schemes within about eight weeks. While you’re waiting for authorisation, live in your house and let your ideas for your new kitchen evolve. Your priorities and requirements are bound to change over time. Research the kitchen makers in your local area and choose one that is familiar with the regional building methods and local materials that would have been used to build your home.
Commission a kitchen company that will treat each individual bespoke kitchen as if they were pieces of solid wood furniture. Each new kitchen should be designed, handcrafted and fitted with the same exacting attention to detail that artisans down the centuries have afforded their work. Traditional construction practices involving mortise and tenon and dovetail joints take time to create but have historically proven to give the best value for money over the years.The end result will be a quality, hand-built kitchen and a creditable addition to your listed property and one that will last a life time.
Each listed building needs the services of different craftsmen (and women) depending on the type and age of the building and the nature of its listing. For example, specialist plasterers familiar with decorative moulding and lime plastering through to cob and wattle and daub, will need to be enlisted. Your kitchen maker will gladly help you through this process.
Pat Gunning, Barnes of Ashburton
For more information, visit www.barnesofashburton.co.uk or telephone 01364 653613 to arrange for a representative to visit.