How to avoid a boxy extension by moving your kitchen into one of the finest rooms in a house

For owners of historically important houses, creating a kitchen in tune with 21st-century living can be a headache. Freya Hardman spoke to the owners of Dedham House in Essex, which had been shortlisted for the the Historic Houses Kitchen Award, celebrating the best new kitchens in old spaces.

As a boy, the architect Francis Terry visited Dedham House, near Colchester, when it was the home of his father’s business partner, Raymond Erith. Years later, when the opportunity arose to buy it, he and his wife, Miranda, also an architect, jumped at the chance. ‘The house had not been changed much since it was built in the 1830s. It had two large reception rooms with a spectacular orientation overlooking the garden – I remember watching bullfinches playing in the trees as a child,’ explains Mr Terry. ‘When we moved in, like most modern families, we spent all our time in the kitchen, which was small and dark.’

Finalists in the Historic Houses Kitchen Award 2019. Architect Francis Terry and his kitchen in Dedham House, Essex. Photograph: Simon Brown/Country Life

Mr Terry eventually resolved the problem by heeding his own advice. ‘I get frustrated when clients reserve the best rooms of the house for special occasion – as a result, they hardly ever get used. Invariably, what happens is that owners add on a boxy kitchen extension and everyone lives in that.’

Finalists in the Historic Houses Kitchen Award 2019. Architect Francis Terry and his kitchen in Dedham House, Essex. Photograph: Simon Brown/Country Life

The solution was to move the kitchen to the sitting room. Into this space of perfect proportions, which has a pair of French windows facing south and two sash windows overlooking the garden, the couple installed a simple, Modernist kitchen in pale colours. ‘I felt that a traditional style of kitchen cabinetry would fight with the existing details such as mouldings and plasterwork,’ explains Mr Terry. ‘Although I’m a Classicist, Miranda comes from a Modernist background. I think it’s a style that works much better with interiors than it does with exteriors, where a clean and white aesthetic can weather badly.’

Finalists in the Historic Houses Kitchen Award 2019. Architect Francis Terry and his kitchen in Dedham House, Essex. Photograph: Simon Brown/Country Life

The couple’s approach has been sympathetic to the room: the Everhot range has no hood and there are very few wall-hung shelves. Two further elements define this wonderful space and blur the boundaries between a kitchen and a sitting room: a vast kitchen table in lieu of a fixed island and a working fireplace that ‘crackles magically during supper,’ notes Mr Terry.