That Dated Feeling

Over the weekend I was talking to some friends who were making the final decisions on their kitchen fit-out. They were happy with the layout and with the finishes that the designer had offered them for the units, but when it came to the work surface, they were stumped. And this is often the case – you’ll be happy with the majority of the finishes but simply not able to be objective about the last. Let’s be honest, putting a kitchen together can be a pricey business and it’s not something you want to tackle very regularly, so you’re not alone in feeling bogged down by the selection process. There really is too much choice!

granite, marble, quartz, limestone, slate

granite, marble, quartz, limestone, slate

Kitchen styles are widely differing at the moment – from the ultra sleek and handless to shaker or more traditional panelled designs. Personal taste is going to play a big part in the look you eventually choose but remember all kitchens need good storage and good preparation space – hence the work surface being such a big deal. If you also want to ‘time-proof’ your choice, you’re really adding to the stress because the honest answer is, kitchens work hard and keeping them looking fresh is hard work!

Kitchens are something that clients recognise they need help with and most often they’ll turn to a kitchen company for that service. In terms of space planning and finishes I’m often asked to ‘cast my eye over something’ to make sure they are happy with the plan the kitchen company has come up with – I am after all in and out of my clients homes and know their lifestyle and they way they use their kitchen much better than the kitchen designer who often doesn’t leave the showroom. In the last ten years I’ve seen clients choosing a variety of styles for their kitchens from wood panelled and painted fit-outs to high gloss. It’s hard to say which is most likely to date, but with so many extensions looking like glass boxes (and you know I have nothing against glass), when that fashion changes, so too will the style of kitchen selected to enhance the space.

mixed material work surfaces

mixed material work surfaces

So, how do you future proof your kitchen? I would suggest taking a broader view than that. If your home is full of period features but you hanker after a kitchen full of mod-cons and a big glass extension to the rear to take full advantage of indoor/outdoor living, this will probably sway your choice to a sleek modern look. BUT in taking that route, you’ve linked your kitchen to the style of room it sits in, which means it doesn’t relate to the rest of your home. It will in effect, look out of keeping with everything else. If you were to choose a more traditional style, something that referenced the age of your house and put that in the modern extension, then you would visually link the two styles of architecture. It would create a more harmonious flow to the entire living area.

shaker style in modern extension

shaker style in modern extension

Conversely, putting a very sleek and modern kitchen into a space in your home that is rich in period detail will define the kitchen fit-out as something of a feature because you’re creating a relationship between it and the history of the house. I like the idea that as we’ve embraced the kitchen being the heart of the home, we’ve elevated it to a more important status and it should therefore go in a more ‘important’ room. Because the emphasis on modern units is concealing the fact that it is actually a kitchen, this sort of style is well suited to a period interior.

high gloss and high ceilings

high gloss and high ceilings

Regardless of the style you choose, there are certain elements to your kitchen space that must be considered. As mentioned storage and preparation space are crucial but lighting, electrics and drainage are equally important. These five points have to be taken into account from the very outset. You don’t have to know what style you want of the kitchen to do your spatial planning and this is the time to decide where you want the appliances and mechanics of your kitchen to go. I’m also going to be controversial and say forget about the ‘working triangle’ – the zone created by cooker, sink and fridge. In today’s kitchens, the emphasis is on islands and runs – as a result triangles end up looking like boomerangs and what you’re looking for in your kitchen is efficiency – not geometry. So put that idea to one side and if you end up creating a working triangle by chance, fantastic, but it isn’t the only way to arrange your kitchen – and nor is it a rule, although as ergonomic principles go, it is one very often considered to be set in stone. With changing lifestyles come changing needs, so relax!

Work_Triangle

First off consider the access to the exterior drainage. Try and keep that as short a span as possible. Next, where is the natural light? Can it be used to enhance your preparation area? Do you want a table in front of it? Do you need to boost the lighting? How many people do you cook for every day? Do you serve from the cooker – or take everything to the table? Is the kitchen a traffic area? Do people walk through it to get to another room or space within your house? Do you have to house a washing machine in your kitchen? How often will it be used? Where will the clothing be dried? What needs to be stored in your kitchen units? Are there some items that get used very infrequently? Do you need special cooking equipment for health reasons?

These are all issues to consider BEFORE you decide what your kitchen will look like, largely because a checklist like this will define the type of kitchen you need. When you start to feel that you understand how you have to use the room (not how you want to use it),then you can plan where you think the appliances will go. What you’re looking for is easy access; cookers and dishwashers that can be opened without obstruction, fridges that you can unload groceries into without contortion and above all the whole space needs to be safe. No carrying pans of boiling water from one side of the room to the other and absolutely no low level storage that can’t be seen easily and thus cause people to trip.

modern/original

modern/original

modern/original

modern/original

Getting the bones right is the biggest puzzle piece in kitchen planning and in my opinion, this is what stops a kitchen dating. If it is arranged to function for the purpose of efficient cooking, it will have a streamlined ease to it. The repetitive actions of pan to tap to hob will have been planned to reduce obstructions and unnecessary walking, just as will the action of fridge to kettle. You will have decided that a work surface that is robust and heat resistant will create the most efficient preparation space and you will have factored in reducing the traffic from the hob and sink areas.

How a kitchen looks is a matter of personal taste and while you are living in that space, is something that could possibly be up for debate, but how a kitchen functions is universal. Get that right and the kitchen will have appeal for many years to come.

Certain images taken from Living etc, Elle Decoration, Homes and Gardens – with thanks

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Detective Work – part 2 – the Georgian Period

What inspires people to be interested in a certain era of history? Is it reading a novel that brings the period to life or is it a television programme that casts sweeping views across a landscape or built environment? I’ve recently been completely obsessed with Georgian London and duly went to the Georgians Revealed exhibition at the British Library. The exhibition is now closed but the V&A and the Museum of London have permanent exhibits on the period and the striking thing is what a long period of history the ‘Georgian age’ was!

Blackfriar's Bridge London

Blackfriar’s Bridge London

At 116 years it encompassed four monarchs, various wars, discoveries, the loss and acquisition of colonies, changing politics, design influences and established the manner in which we furnish our homes – architects such as Robert Adam and cabinet makers such as Thomas Chippendale had catalogues that the public could use to select the style and material they wanted their furniture to be made from, indeed the two often collaborated to create a ‘complete’ interior. At the time they were considered innovative and the height of fashion; now they typify the style and manner in which we think the Georgians lived, which is something I find interesting – it appears we’ve made a lot of assumptions.

'Adamesque' the neo-classical style

‘Adamesque’ the neo-classical style

The ‘genteel’ Georgian had a full social calendar, was well informed, attended many public events and entertained at home. To be considered a good host, a certain effort had to be made, the furnishings needed to be comfortable and ‘all made nice as we could for our Guests’ (The Gentleman’s Daughter, Amanda Vickery) – which sounds very like how we approach entertaining at home in the Twenty-first century. It seems then, that less separates us from the Georgian era than time itself and for those of us living in homes built between 1714 and 1830, separation is simply a matter of degree.

Georgian details

So how do we uncover the details of a Georgian building and still incorporate our modern lifestyles? And what was so different between this and the Victorian style of architecture?

If the Victorians embraced solidity and substance, the Georgians can be said to have favoured a lightness of touch, so perhaps the biggest difference can be noted in the shape of the buildings themselves. By the mid eighteenth century many buildings were designed in the Neo-Classical style, this created proportions that alluded to the temples of ancient Greece and Rome and it is this elongated elegance that typifies Georgian architecture – from country houses to the city terrace. The windows are tall and multi-paned, the houses are tall and narrow to keep the proportions intact. The styling is refined and simple with fan lights over the front door and railings that featured spears or urns. Inside you would expect the narrow appearance to dictate the building and so it did, with many houses having only two rooms per floor and a half landing with a smaller room between the main floors. The ceiling heights also became lower above the first floor. This style of vertical living creates endless movement up and down stairs and would have felt ‘old fashioned’ in the early decades of the nineteenth century, which probably gave rise to the wider building format of the Victorian era.

fanlight and stairs

There were other decorative styles during the Georgian era, most notably Palladian (which gave rise to the Neo-Classical style so favoured by Adam), Rococo and Chinoiserie and as all are worthy of focus, we’ll look at them in more detail in future posts.

Internally the decorative features of a Georgian home would have included familiar details like the dado and picture rails. Most furniture was arranged around the edges of a room and moved into position when required – a dado rail protected the walls from being knocked by the chair backs. To further enhance the classical style the ceiling would often have mouldings to compliment the rug on the floor below. The walls too, could have had mouldings to make features of paintings and mirrors. This is the era where mirrors really became a big part of the decorative scheme – glass could now be produced in larger sizes and when framed was used as a device for increasing the amount of light in a room, indeed candelabra were often placed in front of mirrors, which had a two-fold benefit; increased light and easier cleaning. Hall floors could again be tiled, but to emulate the classical style of mosaic, were often in smaller pieces and in monochrome black and white. Windows often had panelled shutters on the inside, to create privacy and reduce drafts as many window treatments were simply draperies to dress the window and did not close to provide insulation at night.

Strictly speaking the room in the image above is earlier than the Georgian period, (the main indicator is the lower ceiling height) but its most famous resident Dr Samuel Johnson (who published ‘The Dictionary of the English Language’ in 1755) lived and worked from this space. The house has been preserved as a museum of the era of his residence and what is interesting is the way the room is divided by panelled doors. Presumably the merchants who built the property used this space as both showroom and living quarters and having the flexibility of being able to divide the room allowed for the dual purpose of a home and a workspace. We’re in the habit of thinking that live/work environments are a modern concept, but the idea of multi-functional space was very much a feature of the Georgian way of life, especially in an urban setting.

Dr Johnson’s house shows very clearly the type of features that illustrated the Georgian style; dado rails, window shutters, panel mouldings, multi paned windows, furniture around the edges of the room and it’s also easy to imagine this space with more modern furnishings. Because of the revived interest in wood flooring and pared back furnishings we could simply move our belongings in and have them look right at home.

There’s no question that the Twenty-first century is an eclectic age, but given the way the Georgian era is portrayed in period dramas, I think we can be forgiven for not recognising the many social and decorative aspects of life we’ve borrowed from them – in 250 years not a lot has changed!

Clear View

Several weeks ago I posted about using glass as a construction material or feature finish in your home, in the post Glass Half Full. We’ve now finished the work on the stairwell and I thought I’d show you what we’ve achieved. I mentioned that we had some frustrations with this project, but I’m so happy with how it looks – and so are the clients!

glass insert and balustrade

glass insert and balustrade

vision panel - or wall?

vision panel – or wall?

The feature wallpaper isn’t green but it seems to pick up the colour of the glass. On the landing, because the light is directly overhead it is the mushroom/stone colour that we expected – but the balustrade is 12mm thick and so the green tint is very dominant. You can get glass without the tint, its called low iron glass and is a little more expensive, but if green isn’t your colour, it’s worth considering.

Luckily the clients like green and it’s one of the colours that comes up in the stone they’ve used on their kitchen floor. Now that the room is linked to the stairs with the glass insert, I wanted to be able connect the spaces visually and the glass tint helps with that.

handcap and handrail

handcap and handrail

Because so many developments use glass on their balconies, I really wanted to stay away from that ‘sea-side feel’ and because we’ve used oak elsewhere in the interior, I was keen to use this to finish our balustrade. We could have left it without a hand-cap, but that too could have looked rather more commercial than domestic. I did want to achieve that balance of modernity within this home, but given the way people naturally run their hand along a balustrade, glass doesn’t really lend itself to being held and as the balustrade is formed of two panels, there is an air gap of 10mm between them which would really hurt if you caught your hand on it, hence the decision to use a hand-cap on the balustrade and a handrail on the opposing wall.

air gap between panels

air gap between panels

balustrade and handrail

balustrade and handrail

What’s really nice is the tunnel effect that the handrail and hand-cap create. At the top of the stairs, you’re in bright light and at the bottom in much more subdued conditions, but the glass and the handrail lead you down. They create that visual link and because the wall has been replaced with the glass insert, the kitchen borrows the light from above and now feels lighter and less enclosed than it did.

Despite the problems that using glass can throw up, it gives the most wonderful finish, increases light and updates the style of your home all at the same time. This is the sort of refurbishment that will add value, it’s unusual, stylish and practical, just the sort of thing that estate agents like to push as a key feature on a listed property. Because of this, give of a lot of thought to how you spend your money when you start doing refurbishments. If you are mindful of your property’s resale potential – and with the way London house prices are rising right now, it’s hard not to be – its important to remember that bathrooms and kitchens don’t really add value, but something that ticks boxes like light and practicality will.

That Lightbulb Moment

Ever since the regulations changed to phase out the old style tungsten and halogen light bulbs, lighting has become something of a minefield. I can’t remember the times that I’ve bought a replacement bulb to find that the quality of light it provides is pitiful. And the real irony is that I’m not looking for anything special, just a nice ambient light for a table lamp. Instead I get something that takes time to heat up (please, who can wait until the light is bright enough to be actually able to see?) is gloomy and really not up to the task of lighting an interior space – garden shed maybe, but I don’t intend to read, knit or sew out there!

We all understand the reasoning behind it – energy efficient bulbs create less heat output, use less energy, create less CO2, cost less to run and they last longer, what’s not to like? It is one area of green technology that is easy to use and offers a reduction (albeit small) on household bills that makes you feel like you’re ‘doing your bit.’ However, the first wave of efficiency was really anything but impressive and as so often happens with new technology, everyone jumped on the bandwagon only to discover that they didn’t really like the product. So please do yourself a favour and discard any of those appalling coiled bulbs that you still have hidden at home. They are now outdated! You can replace them for something MUCH better and still be green.

compact fluorescent light

compact fluorescent light

Lighting output is measured in lumens. This is the amount of light a bulb produces. We’ve all be educated to buy bulbs by wattage, which is the amount of energy a bulb consumes! We’ve been focusing on the wrong thing ever since domestic electrical supply was established! It seems bizarre to think that anyone would ever have lit their home based on how much energy they were using. Perhaps that was when each room had one light fitting? So, forget watts and energy consumption – the new lighting technologies have reduced that completely – and think about how much light you want in your room! To replace a 60watt bulb you need about 800 lumens, the higher the quantity of lumens, the more light you’ll have, so an old style 100watt bulb will need a bulb that produces about 1600 lumens and a 40watt bulb will require about 450 lumens.

lighting label

lighting label

The new bulbs also have mysterious codes like E27 – this is the diameter of the fitting they’re designed for! A standard screw fitting is 27mm wide and the small ones are 14mm – or E14, a bayonet fitting is a B22 and 22mm wide. You’d think there’d be a bit more information about changes made to the fittings we all think of as standard, considering the number of people involved in DIY!

When it comes to halogen bulbs, or what we call halogen – the bulbs needed for down lighters – many are now LED fittings. LED or Light Emitting Diodes are fittings made up of many tiny bulbs. Each tiny bulb lights in one direct only and creates a narrow beam; en masse they create what we call an LED bulb. They don’t have filaments – so don’t burn out or generate heat and they do have long lifetimes – this is the reason they have found such favour in recent years. The quality of light LED fittings now produce has improved greatly too – another area that the initial product didn’t quite deliver the goods. Because each fitting has loads of tiny bulbs, the light is created by bulbs of different colours, or a coloured reflector, resulting in fittings that are much closer to a natural tone. Many are now of a warm colour temperature and thus suitable for domestic use. You will need to shop around though as the lumen rating will be the best guide to the light output an LED fitting can give.

What is colour temperature? The visual quality of the light produced is either warm or cool and is categorised on the Kelvin scale in the same way as celsius and centigrade heat measurements are. It’s why the lighting in some rooms has an inviting feel and others are more harsh and unwelcoming. Colour Temperature is also linked to something called the Colour Rendering Index which is a scale of how true to natural a colour appears under different lighting sources. In the home we tend to favour warmer lighting, so knowing what the light output of a bulb is will make a difference to the quality of light you will have at home.

Finding the right colour of light is as annoying as discovering that the output is too low to be practical for anything other than a night light and this is why those hours spent standing in front of the lighting department at your local hardware store is frustrating beyond belief. So, to aid you in your mission to improve the lighting quality of your home, I am here to tell you that it is confusing making a decision on which bulb to choose. You are not alone!

The thing is we have all used light bulbs in our homes for the best part of a century and we are used to paying to replace them, why do we now worry about the cost of the individual bulb when it is going to last us for years? Our concern should be for the quality of light it will provide! There are 8,750 hours in a year and many bulbs are guaranteed to last 10,000 hours, so if you have your lighting on 24 hours a day, you’ll still only have to buy replacement bulbs once a year. Of course, the reality is more measured than that. In the winter, you may have your lighting on for 6-8 hours a day, that one light bulb will last you nearly three years! Putting up with a light quality you don’t like is going to be very annoying over that length of time, can you see what I’m getting at?

This bulb is called an Energy Saving Halogen, it is fully dimmable, has a lifetime of between 5000-10,000 hours and is a warm white in colour. These are the bulbs that I feel are most successful in a domestic environment for table lamps and pendant fittings because they have an attractive appearance as well. Call me old fashioned but I like a light bulb to be discreet, I don’t want it to look space age, I don’t want it to stand out, I just want it to provide light.

Unless of course, you want a bulb that is a feature in its own right – like this one.