Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Kitchen Design - A Handmade Tale

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The UK’s desire for handmade kitchens and bathrooms highlights a modern twist on nostalgia. It’s often said that the British have an over-developed love of nostalgia. And so what if it’s true? After all, there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the best lessons from the past and preserving tradition while looking forward.

And it’s this kind of nostalgia that’s central to the recent resurgence in popularity of bespoke and handmade kitchen designs that reference the past, while at the same time integrating modern innovations. Resurgent British design values are concerned not with trends and fads, but with timeless class and elegance. Hence, British kitchen design in the present is being defined through reference to architecture of particular eras, to the solidity of trusted materials, the use of balance and space, period details, and by a sense of finely crafted understatement.

It’s not just how kitchens look once they’re installed, either. Bespoke kitchen companies speak glowingly of their close-knit relationship with their teams of skilled craftsmen; harking back to a time when trades were a lifelong commitment. They encourage their clients to savour the importance of traditional joinery techniques like mortice and tenon joints, and handcrafted period details like pilasters and moulded dentil cornices – this craftsmanship has become a luxury, and its vocabulary a promise of quality.

Traditionally minded though it may be, that’s not to say that this new take on heritage doesn’t have a few ingenious tricks up its sleeve. Modern space savers like pull-out larders and pop-up spice racks hide clutter; appliances are cunningly disguised, resulting of course in a kitchen that looks less modern and more traditional as a result. Materials also appeal on the basis of heritage values, but wood choice and types of grain, pattern, variation, texture and so on are more varied than ever as bespoke kitchen makers source their materials (responsibly of course) from a global marketplace.

And to differentiate their services, the companies concentrate on a different kind of history – their own. It’s a case of the older and more distinguished the better; the likes of Smallbone Of Devizes is forever associated with the hand-painted kitchen and unfitted kitchen innovations, for example, and other bespoke makers proudly incorporate techniques carried over from other vanished industries, like boat building.

It’s not just kitchens that are benefiting from this timelessness. The luxurious haven of solitude that is the bathroom is similarly well catered for. Hand-carved stone slabs and bespoke cabinet furniture are available for your private sanctuary, and the period option is a popular choice reflected in the ranges of many design company portfolios.

It’s not that Brits are dismissive of the rest of the world’s design know-how. Flick through the glossy catalogues of any bespoke kitchen, bathroom or handmade furniture designer, and you’ll regularly spot elements of German, French, Italian, American and Japanese aesthetics. The desire to make exotic interior design statements or blend different cultural reference points will never leave the multicultural British psyche after all. 

It’s more as though we’ve seen what’s on offer and opted to return, time and again, to a bit of luxury based on traditional values. And that’s surely the ultimate compelling argument for investing in one of these top-end handmade kitchens or bathrooms – heritage will never fall out of favour, and the traditional will remain eternally stylish. 

Did I just write about expensive kitchens? I sure did. Watching Masterchef for six years in a row has left a deep mark.