A Grade I-listed kitchen, sympathetically transformed with a touch of drama and a flight of fancy

The country-house kitchen has been reimagined at Aynhoe Park with a touch of theatre, finds Amelia Thorpe. Photography by Nick Smith.

The restoration of 17th-century Aynhoe Park, Northamptonshire, has been a monumental task for its owner James Perkins, who bought the handsome Grade I-listed house near Banbury in 2004. Remodelled by Sir John Soane in 1798, the house was in need of tender, loving care, having been divided into flats in the 1960s. His aim was to turn the house back into a family home to share with his wife, Sophie, and their children, as well as a venue for events.

McCarron Perkins Grade I Listed Kitchen

After completing a multitude of projects, such as renovating the 41 bedrooms and the installation of a swimming pool, he was able to turn his attention to the kitchen, still in its original position in the west wing of the house. He was keen to ‘combine technology with theatre’ and to uncover a period feel.

‘When I bought Aynhoe, much of the character of the house was hidden,’ he says. He had an inkling that, beneath the modern parquet and concrete kitchen floor, he might be lucky enough to uncover the original flagstones.

McCarron Perkins Grade I Listed Kitchen

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‘It was a joy to find them. Someone had taken a sledgehammer to the ones around the edges where the radiators were, which was rather tragic, but, as someone who very much enjoys restoring these places, I was able to replace them and the floor looks wonderful again. I’m very chuffed.’

He asked long-time friend and McCarron and Company senior designer Naomi Peters to dream up a new kitchen. ‘My brief was to design furniture that was traditional and sympathetic to the age of the house, but with a modern twist,’ she explains. ‘It was to serve as a family kitchen as well as being used for dinner parties and breakfasts when the house is used for events.’

McCarron Perkins Grade I Listed Kitchen

Her solution was to design furniture with a freestanding rather than fully fitted approach. Tall cabinets with open shelving form the focal point on the rear wall, complete with a pediment inspired by Soane’s architectural detailing on the exterior of the house and painted with the Aynhoe crest. ‘This piece is about 13ft tall and designed to suit the grand scale of the room,’ explains Naomi.

Rather than setting out to create a typical kitchen, Naomi designed a baker’s table, typical of those in a Victorian country-house kitchen. It incorporates the sink, taps, a dishwasher drawer and two warming drawers, with an induction hob concealed beneath a ‘floating’ walnut chopping block. All appliances are hidden, including the ovens in the tall cabinet that boasts cupboard doors that slide into pockets, so they’re not in the way when the kitchen is in use.

McCarron Perkins Grade I Listed Kitchen

The equipment is by Sub-Zero Wolf and includes a steam oven and vacuum drawer for sous vide cooking. It was chosen, says James, for its innovative technology and semi-professional durability.

The scallop-edged shelves of the dresser are inspired by those in a painting of an early-Victorian kitchen and painted in Tarlatan by Paint & Paper Library to introduce some gentle warmth. It also complements the exposed brick walls and flagstone floor.

McCarron Perkins Grade I Listed Kitchen

‘We chose a different piece to accentuate its individuality,’ says Naomi of the painted dressers, dark-stained oak used for the tall cabinetry and a liquid-bronze coating applied to the baker’s table. ‘The metal finish has a modern and beautifully subtle feel and was chosen to accentuate the sense of drama that James wanted.’

The baker’s table has a practical honed-slate worktop and contemporary bronze knobs. The batterie de cuisine has integrated lighting and is designed to prevent the 17ft-tall room from feeling cavernous. ‘It creates a sense of lowering the ceiling height and making the space feel cosy,’ she explains.

McCarron Perkins Grade I Listed Kitchen

An antique range is used as an open fire. Chambers behind wooden doors, set high into the wall, are believed to have originally been used for curing meat. Perhaps the most dramatic touch is an 111⁄2ft biplane flying over the dining table. ‘I love the theatre of what I can do in a big house,’ James says.

For more information on McCarron and Company, visit www.mccarronandco.com. 

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