Building a (Small) Kitchen

KITCHEN-BEFORE

KITCHEN-AFTER

When Matt and I started looking for a house to buy, we really only had one stipulation. We were spoilt with the flat we shared, although technically a “studio”, its lack of doors was made up for with high ceilings, a split level and a large, modern kitchen – something pretty unusual for a city-centre property. We had workspace for miles, storage enough for two cook’s wants and needs, and room to swing the proverbial cat. So when we decided to buy our own place, we agreed on one thing: the kitchen in the new place must be large. It’s where we spend most of our time, so it makes sense.

But it turns out, even when you only have one box to tick, sometimes compromise is necessary. Even after four seasons of Kirsty and Phil under my belt I wasn’t prepared to give up my one sticking point, but somehow, when Matt and I viewed our now-home it just felt like the right place for us – despite it’s piddly kitchen space. To be quite fair, there wasn’t a lot in the house that didn’t need transforming, and we took it all in our stride. While the prep space was small, the kitchen opened out into a huge dining room which now houses an industrial style table and benches, big enough to seat 12 comfortably – 14 at a push. As long as we had that room for people to congregate – to kick back and relax while something bubbled on the hob – we’d be content. And so the contracts were signed, the money changed hands and the renovation began.

BuildingaKitchen9

Still a bit of painting to do…

When I look at the “Before” pictures, I find it hard to even see the bare bones of it in what we have now. Work on the kitchen started in early September 2013, and finished mid-October. The breakfast bar was taken out first, followed by the cabinets, plumbing and old appliances, and actually, following an unplanned central heating system replacement and a total rewire, nothing but walls remained.

We had a reasonable budget, but we still decided to go with IKEA. The units are so versatile and we did loads of research online to dress it up and get just what we wanted from the basics. We ordered custom worktops in Iroko from WoodWorktops.com, which were then cut to size by our builders. We sanded and stained them ourselves, and I think they play a big part in making our kitchen look much more custom than it might’ve. On our honeymoon in Portland, we found some ornate doorknobs to add something else a little bit different from the norm. We went without cabinets up-top, because we thought what it offered in storage wasn’t enough to counteract the amount it would make the space appear smaller. Instead, we tiled up to the ceiling on the wall behind the cooker and ordered extra worktop wood to have thick shelves cut, held up by cheap, plain brackets that could hold large weights.

BuildingaKitchen3

BuildingaKitchen8

The open shelves became home to all our glassware, crockery and some frequently used dried herbs and spices. This was something we agreed on from the start and pulled inspiration from loads of different places – from cookery programmes on telly to Pinterest and blogs. I also found my backlog of Living Etc magazines a real source of inspiration during the whole renovation. The kind of things in those magazines are usually totally out of my price range (it’s a how the other half live kind of thing) but I jotted ideas down and then trawled the web for cheaper alternatives or things we could do ourselves.

We chose to allocate big sums of money for our appliances – nothing crazy, but a little more than we perhaps needed to, because we wanted quality. I’ve not regretted that once. A good quality fridge-freezer and oven are the kind of things that bring us joy – as sad as that may be – and we both happily sacrificed meals out or a holiday, or more money for the rest of the house, because we use them all the time. We bought a range-style oven by Belling, which gave us five hobs, two ovens and a grill. We bought a double fridge-freezer from Samsung with water and ice dispensers in the door. A slim-fit dishwasher straight from IKEA was a necessity too. Finally, a farm-style square sink and pressure washer tap to make washing up quick and painless.

BuildingaKitchen5

BuildingaKitchen6

Having a kitchen island for the past three years meant we were really loath to give it up. That one-step triangle between work-space, hob and sink was something we’d both grown used to and we didn’t want to sacrifice it, even if the alcove gap between kitchen and dining room wasn’t quite wide enough to make it comfortable. We tried repeatedly to work out a way to fit a standard size island in but it just wasn’t happening. We needed something narrower, so instead we decided to fashion our own island out of IKEA cabinets – cheap, easy enough and great for storage. It’s only 80cm wide, but that’s more than enough space to stand at. We topped and backed it with the remaining worktop wood, with an overhang to turn it into a little bar one of at can sit at if the other is cooking. It’s not the most solid or sleek thing in the world, but it’s practical, and I think it looks pretty sweet too. Once the island was fitted, the beloved one-step triangle was back, and everything was within arms reach to prepare a meal.

This kitchen really is a dream to cook in. There are a couple of things I had to learn – clean up as you go, the key, but once I developed new habits in place of old, I found everything within reach, great light and a real “heart of the home” feel. You face it as you come into the house, there are no walls or doors obscuring it from the front door, so you really do enter straight into it, so it always feels busy and welcoming.

BuildingaKitchen10

BuildingaKitchen7

In case you’re planning a kitchen renovation yourself, I thought I’d put together a few tips I picked up along the way. Whether you’ve gutted your space and you’re starting from scratch, or you want to adapt a rented kitchen to suit your needs, these will be worth bearing in mind:

1. Keep it practical

Fundamentally, you need your kitchen to work for you. If you’re here at Whip Until Fluffy, the chances are that you like to cook, or at least you’d like to start. Unless you use your oven for storage (Hello Carrie Bradshaw), then workability should be at the top of your priority list. Keep the kitchen work triangle in mind. This can be your own version – for example, I adapted that model from oven, fridge and sink to be more like workspace, oven and sink – that’s just what works for me, but nothing is more than one step away and it works really well when you’re in the zone, getting stuff done.

Try not to be fooled by super-fancy technology or gadgets – know yourself and know what you’ll use. Kitchen real-estate value is high – don’t go wasting it. Don’t adapt your kitchen design because you see something and think “My life would be so much better with one of those”. Unless, of course, it would. This ties in with point number four. 

2. Modern doesn’t necessarily mean sterile

When we decided on an IKEA kitchen, I was worried it wouldn’t look right. I was worried it would be flimsy, that it might look plastic-y and cheap. We learnt really quickly that to avoid that lightweight, sterile look a lot of modern kitchens have, you don’t need to spend a lot of cash – you just need to be inventive. Our open shelving livens things up a bit – the contents of the shelves, as long as they’re tidy and organised, add a bit of colour and interest to the room. It’s also about some of the things I mentioned earlier – splashing out on different worktops avoids that matchy-matchy look, and a few added accessories like a lamp or antique door handles can add a richer, more lived-in quality. Our spotlights are great but they’re very bright. The angle-poise lamp we clipped on to the shelves is great for lighting a specific area and gives the room more of a soft, yellow glow, great for cooking in the evenings – especially in the winter. 

BuildingaKitchen2

BuildingaKitchen1

3. Use colour to make it yours

Small spaces can be hard to make your own. Fill it up with trinkets and you risk it looking cluttered, and kitchen furniture and appliances tend to come in a bland colour palette. Personally, we like to keep walls and furniture to similar tones (we’ve done this throughout the house – with a few feature walls), but we’ve injected a bit of personality into the kitchen by using colour in smaller pieces. Our Le Creuset collection is all Volcanic, providing lovely pops of bright orange all over the room, and then we’ve mixed in smaller accents in the form of our Kitchen-Aid, which is Boysenberry, and some lovely vintage tea, coffee and sugar canisters in pale green. Cheap, bright utensils in clashing colours really aren’t for me, but little pops that compliment each other have really helped to give the room a bit of personality. We’ve kept the trinkets to a minimum but small touches like the carved wooden wine holder, an antique thermometer on the side of the fridge and the odd piece of decorative crockery are subtle nods to who we are and what we like, without dominating the room and taking up valuable space.

4. Be ruthless

I asked Matt what his advice would be to anyone building a kitchen. He had just as much, if not much more input into planning ours than I did, and his number one tip was “don’t be afraid to downsize”. When we moved from our flat we packed six large boxes of kitchen stuff. We had to unpack slowly due to the ongoing work, but we’ve been here for nearly 18 months and there are still three boxes in garage which we haven’t even touched. The best bit? I have no idea what can be in them, even though I clearly thought everything was essential when I moved. If you don’t use it on a regular basis, chances are you don’t need it. This goes for any smaller gadgets you have out on your worktop, too. If you don’t use it once a week, put it away.

If you’re redesigning from a kitchen that came before, remember that just because you think it belongs in the kitchen doesn’t mean it does. This works on a bigger scale, like a washing machine for example. Can you find an alternative space for it? Do it. Anything that doesn’t link directly to food and food prep, try to move it out. I put my washer/dryer in under the stairs and it’s so much more practical – I can do laundry while Matt’s in the kitchen without getting in his way and vice-versa, plus there’s a door in the way to help block noise. 

BuildingaKitchen11

So, that’s the story. We’re still adapting, and no doubt things will change for us over the next few years, but at the moment, I’m happy. It’s taken a lot of work and there are a few unfinished bits (anyone spot that unpainted pipe cover in the corner?) but it’s getting there. 

As for renovation inspiration, I have so many recommendations. I decided it was best to put together a whole separate post to share my favourite links. Please feel free to share any thoughts, ideas or questions down in the comments or over on Twitter @WhipUntilFluffy. I hope this has helped anyone thinking of doing it themselves.

  • Oh my goodness Lil I love it! Definitely bookmarking for when I finally do my own kitchen renovation. Its so warm and inviting, truly the heart of the home!

  • Your kitchen is gorgeous, a real heart of the home!

    Maria xxx

  • Amy

    I’m sure that renovations are stressful, but I really can’t wait until I can have a kitchen to renovate all of my own! Our current kitchen is more than big enough for just two people but has the most heinous colour palette and in my ideal world I would rip it all out and paint everything white!

    When we’ve been looking at houses to buy, I’ve been put off by the size of some of the kitchens – now I’ve had the luxury of space I’m not sure I can go back – but it’s heartening to know that it can work so well! I love the idea of putting the washing machine under the stairs (genius!). I usually cook in the kitchen on my own, so it’s not like we’d be under each others feet in the space, although the tall shelves would pose a problem for me…

Post Navigation

26