A few weeks ago, I was working away at my pink lacquered desk when the phone rang at Corea Sotropa Interior Design world headquarters. On the line was a new client who wished to hire our talented team for the interior design of her home located in Mount Royal, a lovely inner city neighbourhood here in Calgary. Of course, we were more than happy to oblige and before long, I had met with the client to discuss her project.
“A gracious good morning to you. This is Corea Sotropa Interior Design. Have I reached the party to whom I am speaking?” Image courtesy of Google Images.
Among a long list of project requirements, one in particular caught this designer’s ear. The kitchen was slated for demolition and the client was adamant that her new kitchen not be a typical kitchen layout with standard base and upper cabinets, full-height pantries and the like. Instead, she was interested in an unfitted-style kitchen with traditional English details which would make the most seasoned kitchen designers nervous. By this I mean that she wasn’t, like most clients, interested in capitalizing on every single square inch of space for storage and utility. This client was willing to sacrifice closed storage for style!
Now, I am not saying that flying in the face of convention and eschewing the standard fitted kitchen is the answer for everyone. Our client had all kinds of square footage at her disposal. This might not be the best style to choose for someone with a small or even average-sized kitchen…. or is it? Perhaps this warrants a “My Two Cents” investigation…
The following is an excerpt from an article in The Telegraph (via Blogher) explaining how kitchens, as we know them, came to be:
“The layout of the modern kitchen – with its vast swathes of eye-level and base units along every available wall dates back to when middle class housewives started having to run their own homes without the help of servants, says Professor Witold Rybczynski, author of Home: a Short History of an Idea. In those days, the domestic burden of the housewife was several times that of today – she had to do all the laundry by hand, clean without the help of modern appliances and detergents, and cook most meals from scratch including probably baking her own bread, plucking poultry and making soup by forcing cooked vegetables through a muslin rag rather than using a blender. ‘The built-in kitchen with its continuous worksurface was designed to lessen at least the cleaning jobs of the new housewife, and to make the number of steps between workbench, sink and cooker as small as possible,’ says Prof. Rybczynski. Isn’t it time, nearly 100 years after modern kitchen design evolved, that our kitchens were more comfortable and less industrial, now our domestic burden is lessened?”
Well, I can’t say that I have plucked a chicken or pushed vegetables through muslin to make soup recently, but I wouldn’t exactly call my list of household chores at Casa Sotropa a walk in the park. I wonder if a certain kitchen layout or style can actually make a marked difference in how easily or quickly one can check items off the old “to-do list”?
“Dinner is ready! The table is set and all that’s left to do is bring the family home on my teleportation device.” Photo via Dwell.
The call for a move away from fitted kitchens was first sounded by kitchen designer Johnny Grey, who has been making freestanding furniture in kitchens for years. But, he says, the unfitted kitchen is only now beginning to take off. “Unfitted does require a lot more thought about how to furnish the space. But kitchens are increasingly becoming places for people to live, not just cook as some kind of automaton. Kitchens should be an expression of individuality and comfort, not places of sameness, repetition and rigid geometry.” (Quote from Johnny Grey.)
During my research for this post, I noticed 7 defining design elements which repeatedly popped up in unfitted kitchens. Let’s have a look at a few lovelies I found:
1. Freestanding Furniture for Storage
An armoire is great for kitchen storage. It can be custom-made (like the one below right) or, if you’re lucky, you might be able to find an antique that could be internally retrofit for your kitchen storage requirements. In the left image, there is actually a 700 Series SubZero behind doors number 1 and 2. Brilliant!
The amount of storage and the size of countertop in this well-executed pantry (by kitchen designer Mick DeGiulio) is about equal to the kitchen space of my first apartment! Image courtesy of House Beautiful.
2. Freestanding Islands
The feestanding island in this kitchen reminds me of the one I had made for my own kitchen. Image via Material Girls (from Newlywed Diaries).
Image courtesy of House Beautiful. This vintage baker’s table used as an island in this kitchen designed by Susan Dossetter. She added vintage French towel racks and hung towels she has collected for years.
3. Casual Dining/Work Table
Check out this example of an unfitted kitchen designed by Windsor Smith. The huge table could easily double as extra prep space and I love the open shelving built over the windows. Photo via House Beautiful.
This is a photo of the kitchen in my second home in the South of France. Just kidding! This lovely kitchen is by designer P. Joe Shaffer for his clients in the Hill Country of Texas.
4. Open Storage/Display
Here is a great way to display a collection, like this lovely assortment of ironstone. Also, I am loving the pop of black that the inset of chalkboard provides on this pantry door. Image via Cote de Texas.
The simplicity of this Georgian-style kitchen (by Plain English Design) is complimented by the classic plate rack and hooks for everyday dishes.
5. Wall Space for Sconces, Artwork, Mirrors, etc.
The kitchen of this Montgomery Alabama home, belonging to Richard Norris and Mark Leslie, incorporates glamorous elements such as the silver leaf Napoleon III mirror above the stove. Image via House Beautiful.
6. Accented or Stand-Alone Sink Station
On the left is another photo from the Montgomery Alabama kitchen. The sink station resembles a free-standing dining room buffet. Image courtesy of House Beautiful. I like the interesting splash detail used behind the sink on the right. It gives the sink some presence when it can’t be located at a window. Image via Cote de Texas.
If one cast-iron apron sink complete with beautiful bridge faucet is good, then two must be better? Kitchen designed by Susan Dossetter. Image from House Beautiful.
Ooh, la la. The La Cornue Chateau range, pictured above in the kitchen designed by Susan Dossetter, was custom ordered in burnished stainless steel and brass. Image via House Beautiful.
If you were starting to think that the ‘unfitted’ style could only be executed in a really traditional kitchen, think again, my friends!
Check out the almost spa-like precision of this unfitted kitchen by Plain English Design.
Above is another great example of a slightly more contemporary execution of the unfitted style. I love the large art piece over the cabinet. Image courtesy of Elle Decor.
In closing, Johnny Grey weighs in regarding the suitability of the unfitted kitchen in an open concept home: “Kitchens are no longer separate, back rooms but rather the hub of family life. The unfitted kitchen reduces the visual definition of the kitchen, as its esprit-de-cours is that of a living room. It uses free standing, non-generic, non-matching furniture and architectural fittings, in a relaxed, but ergonomic way and fits easily into many room types. This enables even small apartments to be opened up, dwellers to escape the oppressiveness of small rooms, bringing an air of civility to how one lives in them.” (Quote from Johnny Grey.)
I couldn’t leave you without an example from unfitted kitchen guru Johnny Grey (below). While it is not exactly my taste, I do appreciate the way he changes materials or colour to create the appearance of an unfitted kitchen without completely breaking up the work surface.
Image courtesy of Johnny Grey.
So, after seeing all of these beautiful examples of unfitted kitchen details, I am left to wonder: at the end of the day (when you are all through plucking your chicken and pushing your veggies through muslin to make soup), does it really matter if you save a few minutes on clean-up time if you are in a beautiful kitchen you love?
That’s my two cents!