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The Secret Designer

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The kitchen’s the beating heart of your home – a place for living and laughing. So it pays to plan it well. Here in a brand new column our interiors expert the Secret Designer gives the dos and don’ts of kitchen design. They reveal the latest trends and how to get the look on a budget; explain how to balance personality with practicality – and give the inside track on the top styles and materials.

I LOVE inner space. Furniture making and interior design runs in my family, so you could say it’s in my DNA. As a kid I was lucky to be well travelled. Whether it was Bahrain or India, there were always new ideas to absorb, new textures and materials to see; new ways to influence the built world around us. These experiences still inform my work. For me, design in the home should tell the narrative of a life well lived. I can’t bear the generic and impersonal. We are all unique and if there is one room in the house to really express that, it’s the kitchen.

Salvage yards and character kitchens

Put your stamp on a kitchen by mixing old with new. If you’re lucky enough to own a period home with original features, include them in your designs wherever possible – there is no substitute for genuine character. If not, architectural salvage yards are a useful place to find some special features. There’s a load out there, and one of my favourites is the Architectural Forum in London’s Islington. Salvage yards are Aladdin’s Caves of interesting and unusual pieces, from Edwardian wood panelling to gorgeous reclaimed cast iron radiators. Recently, I fell for some Parisian doors found nestling in a dusty back room and just had to use them in a design project.

Shabby Shaker kitchen chic – the 2014 look

In 2013 we’re seeing more of the Chelsea-look Shaker kitchen in pastel tones. The Chelsea look takes the rural simplicity of the Shaker but really focuses on highly detailed jointing and unfussy but luxurious fittings. I love the range at Chalon Kitchens, whose shabby-chic hand-painted cabinetry is beautifully atmospheric. Of course such close attention to detail comes at a price (Chalon’s start at £25,000), but there are simple ways to add your own Chelsea touches to an off-the-peg Shaker. As far as budget will allow, look for ranges with quality details like dovetailed drawer construction, well-proportioned door panels and good chunky legs on free-standing units. And remember, a decent local tradesman can often help you achieve the look at a fraction of a showroom price. Nor does it take much more technical than oils, sandpaper and elbow grease to distress a painted finish yourself, while woven wicker baskets accessorise open storage areas beautifully. Antiques shops, bric-a-brac markets and eBay are great places to find unusual door knobs.

High gloss style

For something strikingly modern, nothing rivals the high gloss of Parapan® for doors and more. It’s a smart thermoformed (heat moulded) acrylic that can be used in sweeping curves for flowing cabinetry or in sheets as an alternative to glass or stone splashbacks (of which more in my next column). On the surface, Parapan® resembles regular gloss kitchen units (vinyl-finished MDF), but that’s where the similarity ends. As a completely solid product Parapan® (seen above in a handle-less kitchen by 202 Design) maintains a lustrous finish, and really shows its value after some wear and tear as it won’t chip when knocked and scratches can be repaired. The colour range is fabulous too – with their bold Dark Cyan a vogue choice.

Feel high-end with granite or quartz

To make off-the-shelf look and feel high-end it helps to commit as much budget as you can to work-surfacing. It’s the first and last thing people notice and sets the mood of your kitchen. Worktops need to be practical – non-scratch, durable and able to handle common stains. Good wood will stay attractive for a long time though requires regular oiling to maintain and will harbour bacteria in scuffs and scratches. It also works effectively as a textural contrast alongside granite or quartz. These materials are beautiful and durable and offer exceptional performance. Quartz worktops are particularly good in kitchens that see plenty of stainy foods – I love Indian cooking and my bête noir is Turmeric. As it’s made in high-density slabs, quartz is all but stain-proof and brands like Silestone, Compac, Cimstone or Unistone offer a full spectrum of colours, finishes and prices. It does pay to beware very cheap internet deals for these products as you’ll have to live with any mistakes. Dependent on material, full-service bespoke costs should range from £1,500+ for small kitchens to around £3,000+ for family size and more for larger projects.

Natural stone contrasts

A kitchen needn’t be for life, but it helps if it doesn’t date too quickly. That’s why I’ll generally tend toward softer shades of colour and rarely recommend stark black-and-white contrasts (80s but not in a good way). So for the floor, instead of white ceramic tiles, think about natural stone; a pale Venito Luna limestone can be bought for around £60 per square metre and will balance a very clean modern kitchen with an organic nod to the more traditional. Look at charcoal or gunmetal granite or quartz as an effective alternative to pure black stone. Indian Steel Grey granite or Honed Nero Assoluto are good value; Unistone’s grey Grigio quartz is also affordable and comes both polished or in a stippled matte finish that’s great set against high-gloss doors and drawers.

In my next column I’ll be talking about kitchen planning for dummies; splashbacks and feature walls, tiles and integrated sinks, and the joys of that old classic, marble. Feel free to leave your comments:

* The Secret Designer is an independent interior designer from London. They read Interior Architecture at UAL Chelsea and have practiced for private clients, architects and design-and-build companies of distinction for more than 10 years. 

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