Rita Notes: designing a kitchen

Craig Fordham

As is often true with plans, a fresh pair of eyes can see the most obvious solutions. When I showed our ideas for our farmhouse to my mother, the decorator Nina Campbell, she suggested we use the three old garage bays for the kitchen. This changed everything, so I took to Pinterest for guidance on making this new large kitchen work.

The website has been invaluable for this project: initially, I put together various boards showing an overall look and feel for the house – mostly to demonstrate to my husband Phil that my vision for the house was along the same lines as his. This proved to be a constructive way to focus my mind on what I wanted and how to achieve it.

The inspirations for this kitchen came from various places. Ben Pentreath’s Dorset kitchen (seen in the August 2016 issue of House & Garden) was one; I love how it feels like a room rather than a kitchen with its good furniture and no island. Since our kitchen would also be our dining room, I needed to achieve something like this. The kitchen that Christopher Howe designed with Plain English in the basement of his London shop (shown in the August 2018 issue) was another. A long dresser that also provides a main work surface seemed the obvious thing to do, with cupboards further along to house fridges and dry goods. William Yeoward and Colin Orchard’s Gloucestershire kitchen was the third, because it was a room Phil and I both loved, and it combined elements from Ben’s and Christopher’s, such as a dresser against the wall and a kitchen table in the middle of the room.

Having worked with Plain English on earlier projects, I realised that if my budget would allow it, they would deliver the best kitchen for this house. I tried laying it out on my own, before relenting and emailing the plans to Emma Milne at the company’s Marylebone showroom. Like all good designers, she didn’t do anything very complicated, but she moved a couple of things here and there and suddenly it fell into place. I wanted one of the three garage bays to be a scullery, so I could keep the washing up out of the way.

I found a three-metre-long table at Tallboy Interiors on Instagram, which I pray will fit through the door. (The house sleeps 12, so the table had to be big.) I also wanted something old to offset the immaculate Plain English cabinetry, as I’d realised that what made Christopher’s kitchen so appealing was its vintage sinks and taps. He is such a consummate stylist in the art of old and well-worn things, and I bought an early-twentieth-century stoneware sink from him that is shallow and beautiful.

Christopher also gave me the confidence to have douglas-fir counters. Plain English is used to clients who like everything to remain perfect, but I don’t want that particularly. The wood will wear and allow the dresser to age like a good piece of furniture. This decision also did something quite unusual to the original estimate – taking it in a downward direction. Replacing a wall of china cupboards with open shelves in the scullery did the same.

There are always places where you can make savings without losing the design intent. Funnily enough, I was happier to change the cupboards than give up on the smaller details Plain English does so well – such as the baskets, the metal grill shelf over the Aga, the beautiful metal brackets, the stuff going on inside the drawers. These items come at a price but, to my mind, they are the details that set the best kitchens apart from the many pretenders.

Rita Konig's diary of a farmhouse renovation: the planning
Kitchen designs