Nell’s kitchen

A kitchen ren­o­va­tion needn’t be hellish, nor should it have to break the bank. With a few well-cho­sen sec­ond­hand pieces, you can get all the func­tions of a fully fit­ted space, but at the frac­tion of the price ...

The Guardian - Cook - - Feature - Nell Card ‘Where are your beans?’ The faff fac­tor Nell Card is a free­lance food and in­te­ri­ors writer based in London; @nell­card

Splash­backs, soft-close draw­ers, in­te­grated ap­pli­ances, break­fast bars ... If you’re grap­pling with a kitchen ren­o­va­tion on a tight bud­get, th­ese are all fea­tures that have the ca­pac­ity to in­duce panic and/or to­tal ap­a­thy. What’s more, most high-street sup­pli­ers will charge up­wards of £8,000 for a fit­ted kitchen (which may or may not in­clude re­moval of your ex­ist­ing set-up). For­get about be­spoke, shaker-chic units: yours is a bland choice of lam­i­nated work­sur­faces and lack­lus­tre fit­ted units that swal­low up space and en­cour­age stock­pil­ing.

But I think I might have found an al­ter­na­tive. When my part­ner and I moved into our Vic­to­rian ter­race, we de­cided to ap­proach our kitchen as we would any other room in the house and fill it with used fur­ni­ture. Hav­ing lived with it for two years now, we know it is pos­si­ble for a free-stand­ing, sec­ond­hand kitchen to per­form the same func­tions as a fit­ted kitchen, for a frac­tion of the price. Here is how ...

Think about lay­out

Get all the bor­ing-but-vi­tal stuff fig­ured out first. De­cide where the sink must go, the boiler, the oven and the fridge. Once you have space al­lo­cated for the es­sen­tials, you’ll know what you have left for stor­age, sur­faces and seat­ing.

We in­her­ited a pokey, L-shaped kitchen fit­ted with MDF units, a built-in oven, and a mock-gran­ite work­sur­face. It only made use of one end of the room. The space was dis­sected by a chim­ney breast fit­ted with a gas stove. This seemed like an ob­vi­ous place to start, so we opened the chim­ney breast to cre­ate room for a free-stand­ing oven (our big­gest in­vest­ment). By plac­ing the oven in the cen­tre of the ac­tion, we could bring the op­pos­ing ends of the room to­gether.

Limit your op­tions

Once you’ve de­cided against a fit­ted kitchen, you will have a much broader choice of the ma­te­rial, colour, shape and size of your cup­boards and

sur­faces. If you’re in a hurry to get cook­ing, this can seem daunt­ing, so limit your op­tions. We grav­i­tated to­wards stain­less steel. It’s easy to clean, heat and wa­ter re­sis­tant and it sat com­fort­ably with the fur­ni­ture we al­ready had, mean­ing we could mix and match pieces from our old house – an old oak ta­ble, a set of school lock­ers – with our “new” kitchen.

As luck would have it

Once you’ve nar­rowed down your search you can scour eBay/auc­tions/ an­tique mar­kets for items that match your aes­thetic and – im­por­tantly – your mea­sure­ments. In­ter­na­tional An­tiques and Col­lec­tors Fairs ( hold 39 fairs in seven lo­ca­tions through­out the year. If early morn­ings and brazen hag­gling isn’t for you, then you could try a live on­line auc­tion, such as Cri­te­rion (cri­te­ri­onauc­tion­, which en­ables you to bid re­motely.

Keep your search broad, but your mea­sure­ments pre­cise: linen cup­boards, re­claimed sci­ence lab work­sur­faces, retro kitchen pantries can all work. There is al­ways a cer­tain amount of serendip­ity at play when buy­ing sec­ond­hand. We found an eBay seller spe­cial­is­ing in used stain­less steel units. He was sell­ing a sink unit we liked for £340. A visit to his yard un­earthed a sec­ond piece that fit­ted pre­cisely into the space on the other side of the chim­ney – a two-me­tre long sur­face with a cou­ple of draw­ers at each end, a shelf be­low for pots and pans, and a half-shelf above for cut­lery, spices and such like. It was ours for £200. In one af­ter­noon, we’d found ex­actly what we needed for £540, a cost slightly in­creased by an hour or two with a plumber to hook it all up.

Sim­i­larly, on a day trip to Sun­bury an­tiques mar­ket (sun­buryan­tiques. com) I found a box of Span­ish tiles for a ten­ner. I didn’t know it at the time, but they fit­ted pre­cisely in the space be­hind the oven. Splash­back sorted.

The kitchen we have doesn’t have vast amounts of stor­age. There are no cav­ernous cup­boards or over­head units stacked with teacups and Tup­per­ware. We have one gi­ant floorto-ceil­ing linen cup­board we bought for £200 at Sun­bury. It houses all of our dried, jarred goods, plates and bowls. (We re­moved the back of it so it also hides the boiler.) Our cut­lery sits on an open shelf, our teacups and glass­ware fill a sim­ple £70 glass cabi­net. When a friend vis­ited for the first time, he said, “But where do you keep your baked beans? Where’s your ce­real?” I opened the sec­ond­hand school lock­ers and showed him how per­fectly a big box of bran flakes slot­ted into the fifth door along. Serendip­ity, again.

For all the money you save on es­chew­ing a fit­ted kitchen (our re­claimed units and sur­faces cost round £1,000 in to­tal), you need to be pre­pared to spend a lit­tle (OK, quite a lot) more time on see­ing it through to com­ple­tion. There’s re­search, hunt­ing and trans­port­ing to be done – and a lot of heavy lift­ing. We soon found out that, although our shiny wide sink unit worked per­fectly in the space we had as­signed it, it didn’t fit through our nar­row kitchen door. We spent an af­ter­noon re­mov­ing a just-painted bay win­dow sash in order to post the sink in through the side of the house. Ouch.

Our free­stand­ing kitchen does force us to live with less. It has ac­tu­ally fos­tered a well-honed or­der­li­ness: we eat and use ev­ery­thing, all the time. We fit our kitchen and our kitchen fits us. Just about.

I found a box of old Span­ish tiles for a ten­ner. Splash­back sorted

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