A kitchen that’s a breath of fresh air in a world of homogeneity

Giles Kime takes a look at a new kitchen design that's taken the best elements of Victorian and Edwardian traditions without getting bogged down in the past.

In the course of any country-house tour, there’s a sense of release as you reach the Van Dyck-free zone that is the kitchen – all scrubbed pine, gleaming copper and perhaps a frisson of Mrs Patmore – and not a sniff of yet another Lely or Gainsborough.

The kitchens at Petworth, Erdigg and Castle Drogo offer plenty of inspiration to anyone wanting to create their own. What is most striking about them is the way they eloquently express the fact that function and aesthetics don’t have to be mutually exclusive, not least in the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens, whose design for Castle Drogo included an exquisite beechwood kitchen table that is in perfect harmony with the circular lantern window above it.

It is this sense of beautiful utility that informs the work of Katie Fontana, who founded Plain English in Suffolk with Tony Niblock 25 years ago,. Their designs are, however, far from nostalgic. ‘Our aesthetic references the values of the past to embrace the modern ways we live now,’ she explains.

Thus, within the context of Georgian inspired simplicity, the company creates beautifully crafted and engineered details that artfully succeed in pushing back the frontiers of kitchen design in a classic idiom.

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One of Plain English’s most recent projects is a kitchen in the basement of the London showroom of Christopher Howe, the antique dealer, designer and tastemaker who has traded from premises in or near the Pimlico Road since the 1980s.

Plain English kitchen design

In essence, the kitchen combines a 20ft dresser with base-level cupboards and drawers that are the antithesis of the school of kitchen design that secretes everything away behind doors or in larders.

The lesson it takes from the country-house model is that if you have things that you either need on a regular basis (or just love to bits), there is something to be said for having it both close to hand and on display.

True to Howe’s roots, it’s furnished with reclaimed ironmongery, pitched pine and iroko. In a world of homogeneity, it’s a breath of fresh air.