The country house kitchen created from six knocked-together rooms to create a stunning 1,000sq ft living, cooking and entertaining space

Country Life's inaugural award for the creation of a new kitchen in an old space has been awarded to Birdsall House in North Yorkshire. Giles Kime explains more.

This year, Historic Houses and Country Life joined forces with Neptune to celebrate great examples of new kitchens in old spaces. Last week, the inaugural Historic Houses Kitchen Award was presented to the Willoughbys, owners of Birdsall House in North Yorkshire.

The story of every historic house is one of evolution: façades are updated, roofs remodelled, wings added (and removed). But in the 21st century, alterations are more likely to be functional than stylistic. Kitchens, in particular, reflect different times; fewer staff and changing lifestyles require a multi-functional space that can accommodate family and entertaining rather than merely the preparation of food.

For the members of Historic Houses, creating a large kitchen within the confines of a heavily listed space can present a challenge. The shortlist for the award included three very different responses to the conundrum: Francis Terry moved the kitchen to the drawing room, making the most of lofty proportions and beautiful light; Brian and Annabel Charlesworth repurposed furniture from other parts of the house; and the Hon James and Lady Cara Willoughby combined six separate rooms to create 1,000sq ft of space that provides room for cooking, entertaining and relaxing.

Photograph: Simon Brown/Country Life

After much deliberation, the judges — John Sims-Hilditch, co-founder of British interiors brand Neptune; TV presenter Sarah Beeny; Kate Earle of interior-design practice Todhunter Earle; and Country Life’s Executive Editor, Giles Kime — decided that the award should go to the owners who had succeeded in the greatest architectural challenge.

Without a doubt, the couple that met the criteria most closely was the Willoughbys, whose light-filled kitchen has west-facing views over the garden. The result is a space that offers the perfect setting for 21st-century living within a house with 16th-century origins.

‘Needless to say, it has been so exciting to have the collective hard work of those who created our kitchen recognised by the judges,’ says Lady Cara. ‘We hope it demonstrates the versatility of historic buildings.’

Photograph: Simon Brown/Country Life

Historic Houses membership

The Historic Houses pass (£54 for an individual adult, or £86 for a joint membership) gives free entry to more than 300 impressive castles, beautiful houses and gorgeous gardens. Together, they form Britain’s largest collection of historic houses open to the public, from Alnwick Castle to Athelhampton House, Sandringham to Sudeley. On top of free admission, members enjoy opportunities to book places on exclusive private tours of hundreds more undiscovered, lived-in, places and receive Historic House magazine four times a year. Country Life readers enjoy an exclusive £5 discount on any new membership of Historic Houses. Visit www.historichouses.org to sign up, using the code CLSCRB.