5 key features in classic English kitchens
Nowadays, while many modern kitchens do try to imitate certain period designs, kitchens that are broadly designed in the classic English style usually incorporate a mixture of features plucked from our rich heritage. Smaller kitchens can be designed in the manner of a rustic stone-walled cottage or a resourceful Edwardian terrace, while larger kitchens can afford to take cues from the cavernous spaces found in rural farmhouses or regal Georgian townhouses.
Whether big or small, formal or casual, stately or rural, traditional English kitchens are timeless spaces that always conjure up a sense of warmth – an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern life. In this post, we outline the touchstones of classic English kitchen design, right from the design and planning stages through to the finishing touches.
Classic kitchens incorporate a wide range of traditional materials into their design, harking back to the days before sleek vinyl floors and modern laminate worktops. From the humble stone to the noble oak, these materials do a lot to give your kitchen a look that is both natural and timeless, blurring the line between indoors and outdoors.
An extensive palette of hardwood is integral to the classic English kitchen, where quality millwork and aged furniture never looks out of place. Solid oak tables with weathered finishes would sit nicely atop an irregular patchwork of stone pavers in kitchens looking for a flavour of the country farmhouse. Cabinets and furnishings made from well-sourced English timber are also staples of the classic style, though pine and alder are common choices too.
If you choose to paint your cabinetry and joinery, make sure to keep the original grains and imperfections of the wood to give it a more washed, aged appearance. Generally, the key is to mirror the most common practices of the period you’re hoping to capture – for instance, since Georgian kitchens usually had marble worktops, so too should your kitchen if you’re going for a classic Georgian style. On the other hand, a regal Victorian-style kitchen would look awkward coated in laminate and veneer. Just by picking the right materials you can add a lot of charm to traditional kitchens, whether they’re big and grand or small and cosy.
As always, buying bespoke furniture is the best way to meet the exact requirements for your ideal kitchen, especially if you’re opting for more distinctive period designs that are difficult to achieve with modern suppliers. Going down this route, you can incorporate the kind of stunning craftsmanship found in English stately homes, with neatly fitted cabinetry or made-to-measure tables and islands, each handmade to taste. If you’re on a budget without enough legroom to accommodate bespoke designs you could consider reusing and renovating vintage furniture. After all, what better way to create a traditional kitchen than to implement authentic traditional furniture?
Considering that pre-war kitchens were more likely to be furnished with a number of freestanding pieces – each different in size, colour, material and design – a kitchen that combines an eclectic mix of salvaged chairs, cupboards, floorboards and tables would certainly be in keeping with traditional designs.
The minimalist sheen of IKEA won’t be found in more traditional kitchens, where straight-lined simplicity is eschewed in favour of ornamental details, complexity and often imperfection. Carved table legs with spindles and turnings are a classic feature of stately 19th century kitchens, while runs of tongue-and-groove panelling would complement more pastoral kitchen designs.
Even features as simple as punctuating each of your cabinets with unique handles and knobs, embracing the natural knots and grains of a wooden worktop, or fitting an intricately carved cornice moulding can contribute a lot to the personality of your kitchen. Honing in on these small details is essential in making your classic kitchen truly yours.
Designing a kitchen doesn’t stop at furnishing it. How you choose to kit out your kitchen with appliances can influence your desired aesthetic, as well as the overall utility of your space. First and foremost, it should be obvious that showing off your portfolio of flashy gadgets and modern kitchen technologies goes against the point of having a classic kitchen. Traditional design means traditional equipment.
If you want to identify your kitchen with sophisticated country houses, for instance, consider installing an AGA cooker. It may be a big purchase, but the advantages of owning an AGA extend far beyond their lovely appearance. For a taste of the English farmhouse look toward deep ceramic sinks with swan neck taps, hanging laundry maids and whistling stovetop kettles. Such features do a lot to give your kitchen a character of antiquity, because what’s a classic English kitchen without a nestled wine rack?
Classic kitchens reject efficient storage solutions by proudly displaying utensils in all their glory, hanging them by hooks above worktops and placing them on open shelving. While this maximalist approach might not be for everyone, the overall effect is unabashedly rustic and traditional. Plus, when you have a gorgeous set of copper pots and pans you don’t want to hide your cookware in cabinets and drawers anyway!
Colour is one of the most important elements when it comes to evoking a certain style or period. Needless to say, you will never find a classic English kitchen clad in loud shades of red or bright shades of yellow. Think muted, neutral, soft and pale colours: light greys, creams, taupes, peaches, light browns and off whites (just be sure to avoid the blinding glossy whites of modernity).
As established, the English kitchens of old were unfitted and pieced together from separate furnishings, so they didn’t really have an intentionally holistic colour scheme. In other words, this isn’t a style that favours monochrome palettes and carefully matched items, so don’t be afraid to experiment and work with an eclectic mishmash of colours during the design stage.
At Burnhill Kitchens we value beautiful craftsmanship and meticulous attention to detail in all our classic designs, working with only the highest quality suppliers of traditional materials and furnishings to deliver the best results for your new kitchen. If you need help designing a classic English kitchen, just get in touch with a member of our team. We’re always more than happy to help!