Redesigning the kitchen is one of the most important projects you will undertake, yet creating the desired look for a period property while making it practical is a delicate balance. Get it right with PL’S complete guide
Find the latest trends and advice to create the perfect hub for cooking and entertaining
People can spend years fantasising about a new kitchen, imagining what it will look like and how it will be laid out. Added to the fact that it is one of the most expensive home improvement projects, and there can be a huge amount of expectation surrounding the end result. Yet, all homes and budgets have their limitations, and period properties often present challenges that newer builds do not, so to ensure your grand ideas come to fruition, you need to ensure your project is expertly planned out.
Where to start
Begin by accurately measuring the space and taking note of any potential obstacles, such as exposed pipework, a fuse box, vertical timbers or a chimney breast. Some issues are easily fixable, while others will require a creative solution. Draw up a scaled plan of the room and mark on it the positions of these obstacles as well as doors and windows, power points, and plumbing and gas connections.
The next step is to compile a wish-list. As a starting point, think about what you do and don’t like about your existing kitchen, so you can avoid repeating mistakes. Seek out as much visual inspiration as possible, and collate the best pictures on a moodboard. Include not just big ideas, like extending the space or including a central island, but smaller details like the type of ironmongery you prefer, and what type of storage you need for certain items. Finish by organising your priorities, highlighting the essential elements. ➤
Armed with all this information, you can begin working out what will be involved to achieve your vision, and consult with designers. You may be tempted to design the kitchen yourself, but you will likely end up happier with the finished space if you consult with an experienced professional. A good designer will think of solutions you may not have considered, spot potential issues and help you to get the most out of your budget.
Many retailers offer a free design service, but for a large-scale project, you should consider independent kitchen or interior designers.
Getting the space right
If your current kitchen isn’t big enough to include everything you want, then you need to either consider space-saving alternatives, or look how to enlarge the room. If the kitchen is located at the rear of the house, then a single-storey extension, with doors opening out to the garden, is a popular solution. It might also be an option to remove a non-load-bearing wall between the kitchen and an adjoining room to create an open-plan kitchendiner. As long as the house isn’t listed, both solutions are usually possible without planning permission – see planningportal.co.uk for details.
Designing the layout
Think of how to lay out a kitchen, and the ‘work triangle’ – with the hob, sink and fridge positioned around the cook – springs to mind. While this is quite an old-fashioned concept, it serves as a useful reminder that the key elements should be thoughtfully sited for convenience while cooking.
These days, kitchens are designed to be sociable spaces where the whole family gather, and kitchen-diners are taking the place of dedicated dining rooms. If you have room for a central island or peninsula, then not only are these perfect informal eating areas, but can become the hub of the space, allowing the cook to chat to others during food prep. They also help to break up the room’s layout, allowing for separate ‘zones’. Islands can be fitted with hobs or sinks, for the ultimate social cooking experience. Don’t forget to include a powerful and quiet extractor fan, as nothing will ruin a dinner party more than smoky air or a loud fan whirring away in the background.
If you hope to include a separate tall fridge and freezer, or American-style fridge-freezer, in the layout, consider concealing these within one wall of full-height units, alongside a pantry cupboard. Including one intense practical block is often better than spreading each item around the room, as it allows other areas to breathe and prevents the space from feeling crowded.
Which style for my home’s era?
A kitchen design that is truly authentic to the period your home was built in is not a practical or desirable option in the 21st century. Therefore, the challenge is to create a scheme that complements ➤
the property’s origins while being user-friendly and offering modern functionality. This could be a minimalist contemporary design that contrasts with the rustic shell, or it could be a classic scheme that includes elements inspired by the house’s era.
Tudor homes often have wooden beams on show, and work beautifully with simple, unadorned cabinetry. Ideally this should be freestanding, but if that’s not practical try to include one or two freestanding pieces, such as a pantry cupboard or dresser. If you already have a lot of wood in the room, avoid unpainted timber cabinets, or it could feel overbearing. Instead, opt for painted cabinets in a muted shade with oak worktops and shelving, or perhaps a timber central island, to tie the room together. Dark, matt ironmongery tends to suit Tudor style well, but keep it simple – cup or rustic pull handles are a good choice.
Georgian properties often complement a classic style of cabinetry, with or without adornments depending on your taste and the style of the house. Plain Shaker or raised and fielded panel doors are a good choice. To make the kitchen look grander, opt for an impressive mantel shelf above the cooker, decorative moulding details such as corbels, painted cabinetry and marble worktops; or to keep it more down to earth, keep adornments to a minimum and mix and match painted and unpainted finishes. Bronze ironmongery will finish it off perfectly.
Victorian-inspired kitchens might be paredback designs inspired by working sculleries with a large open dresser, butler’s sink, range cooker and antique cook’s table. On the other hand, some grander Victorian designs have higher levels of decoration than Georgian styles, with painted cabinetry, elaborate scrolls and corbels, dentil moulding and carved pilasters all frequent features. For an authentic Victorian touch, display copper items such as jelly moulds and kettles, and hang a laundry maid over the range.
Be spoke or off the shelf?
The most desirable type of kitchen is made up of solid hardwood in-frame cabinetry (where the doors sit within the frame, like a traditional cupboard), made using time-honoured methods. Not only do they look in-keeping with a period home, but they can be tailor made for awkward spaces and wonky walls, and their design can take their cue from original features in the property.
The downside to a bespoke solid wood kitchen is the cost, with prices tending to start from £15,000 for furniture only. Some companies, such as Pineland, offer more affordable alternatives made of softwood, which are still made in the same way but may not be quite as hardwearing. Prices start from around £4,000 for furniture only.
MDF flatpack units, where the doors are mounted onto the front, are the most common option and also the most cost-effective – although some better quality ones are made from solid wood. You cannot fully recreate the look of an in-frame ➤
kitchen, but you can still create a classic design using solid wood or Shaker-style moulded door fronts and décor panels, as well as other decorative elements. The units generally come in a choice of standard sizes and configurations, with filler panels or areas of open shelving making up gaps when the sizing doesn’t perfectly fit the space.
The quantity and quality of storage is one of the most important factors in the success of a kitchen design, especially in a small space. Ensure you maximise every opportunity and think about not just where to include storage, but what you are actually going to put in each cupboard or drawer, to ensure you are including the right solutions in the right areas. Deep drawers are often better for storing large items such as pans than cupboards, and for corner units a carousel or pull-out shelving is invaluable. Consider including a bespoke built-in larder cupboard, which can store the equivalent of several cabinets and keep everything in one place.
Tempting as it may be to cram the kitchen wall to wall with units, this can overwhelm the space, so make sure you also include some open shelving or plate racks to break it up.
Details such as worktops, tiles, sinks and taps, and the appliances, can make or break a kitchen, and elevate the look of cheaper cabinetry. Choosing the right worktop material is important; it needs to be durable and practical as well as good-looking. Solid wood, granite are popular options, and can beautifully complement each other when used together – for example, a granite island and wood everywhere else. Also consider stone-look quartz.
Tiles vary hugely in price depending on whether you are going for a stylish but simple option, such as a metro design, or characterful handmade tiles. You don’t have to fill every wall with tiles, and can instead opt for a statement design over the cooker, for example, and use worktop upstands elsewhere.
A Belfast or butler sink is the classic choice for a period home, and restored reclaimed versions, in particular, are highly prized. If you want to make more of a statement, opt for a rustic copper sink.
There is a wide choice when it comes to taps. Swan-neck designs are practical and lend classic elegance. Bridge taps are more ornate and work in characterful schemes. Bib or pillar taps are less practical than mixer taps, but lend a simple, retro look. Don’t be afraid to add a modern twist to the kitchen with a striking contemporary design, perhaps a sleek shape in a warm rose gold finish.
Finally, make sure your appliances are inkeeping with the scheme. Range cookers are the real heart of the kitchen, and modern designs are more practical then their predecessors. When it comes to fridge-freezers, the best options are to hide them in cabinets or opt for a statement design, such as a retro-inspired Smeg model.
Top: Distressed and waxed oak cabinetry with handpainted island and granite worktops. Bespoke kitchens from £24,000, RencraftAbove: Handmade cabinetry with curved details and breakfast bar, painted in Farrow & Ball’s Mole’s Breath and finished in oak and Carrara marble worktops. From £35,000, Lewis AldersonAbove right: Bespoke Macassar kitchen with mirrored inlays, from £50,000, Smallbone of DevizesRight: Larder with door-hung spice rack and timber drawer fronts in natural oak, £3,260, BurbidgeBelow: New Classic cabinetry with an American black walnut island, from £35,000, Martin Moore
Above: Bespoke cabinetry painted in Cornforth White and Mole’sBreath by Farrow & Ball, with Carrara marble worktops and foxed glass splashback. Cabinetry is priced from £30,000 at Naked KitchensLeft: Bespoke cabinetry with mdf carcasses and hardwood doors, from £10,000, The Shaker Kitchen CompanyBelow: The Chelsea kitchen mixes Shaker cabinetry in soft grey with an island in Farrow & Ball’s Railings, and features a Carrara quartz worktop and Siemens appliances. From £35,000, The Wood WorksBottom: Ashton kitchen with a graphite open island unit paired with off cream and white painted units from the Painted Fusion collection at Crown Imperial, from around £15,000