It’s rare to attend a dinner party without the topic of kitchen renovations — past or forthcoming — arising. In the wake of pandemic lockdowns, demand for home remodelling boomed in the UK and the US, even as labour and materials shortages sent costs soaring. What was once a hidden-away workhorse of a room is now often our star social space. The hashtag #kitchendesign has more than 13.6mn posts on Instagram.
But the options are endless, from the positioning of ovens and sinks to the type of flooring, cabinetry and worktops — and that’s before you start on appliances. With so much choice, how do you avoid making a costly mistake? How can you redesign a kitchen that not only looks better, but works better too?
You might consider asking someone who really knows their kitchens — and who better than a professional chef?
“Chefs are exacting — as you’d expect,” says the restaurant designer Linda Turner. “They know from the hours they’ve spent in a kitchen exactly what works, and that’s what they want in their own homes.”
Turner’s work in London includes Searcys champagne bar at St Pancras station, the restaurant at the National Portrait Gallery and the Michelin-starred Wild Honey restaurant in St James’s — as well as the home kitchen of its chef and owner, Anthony Demetre.
Light streams in through French doors into Demetre’s large, open-plan kitchen, which he designed when he bought the three-storey house in Ealing, west London, 10 years ago. The renovation took 18 months, “and the kitchen was the bulk of that”, he says.
The kitchen is “the heart of the house,” says Demetre. It’s where his wife and two teenage sons eat, work and relax. “It’s everything.” Along one wall sits a large range oven, with glossy black handmade zellige tiles as a splashback; grey cupboards designed and built by Turner’s company Inature surround the range, with spotlights above to illuminate the cooking. Opposite the cooker, beyond the island is a large table where the family eat at least one meal together a day.
“I’m old fashioned like that,” he says. “It’s where we come together and are social.” On the back wall a large original artwork by Jason Spivack atop a freestanding cupboard marks the start of the living zone: an alcove lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with books and an L-shaped sofa opposite a fire and TV.
Skye Gyngell, founder of the Spring restaurant at Somerset House, and culinary director at Heckfield Place, a hotel in Hampshire, wanted something different for her home kitchen — even opting to move it to the front of the house. “I wanted a small, quiet kitchen that was separate from the big living area,” she says. “I don’t necessarily want to be in the kitchen my whole life.”
Gyngell worked on the design with British Standard, a bespoke kitchen maker, to include an island that runs down the middle of the room — “to centre the space”. Double doors lead to a library of 1,500 cookbooks, including titles by Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson and Judy Rodgers’ The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, which Gyngell describes as “an endless source of inspiration”.
But in one respect, Gyngell’s kitchen follows the same principle as Demetre’s: a small and well thought-out “working triangle”, made up by the positioning of the sink, stove and fridge.
Unlike her vast work kitchens, her home workspace is tightly packed: the dishwasher is to the left of the sink (helpful for a left-hander who rinses before she stacks); the stove is to the left of that; the worktop is on the island behind; and a built-in fridge is a few paces away.
“The knife drawer is right next to the stove, the chopping boards close by, so I can grab everything,” says Gyngell. If you stand in a kitchen for 16-plus hours a day, you learn to conserve energy.
Even in Demetre’s larger kitchen, the sink, fridge, oven and workspaces are all within one or two steps. “You don’t want to have to waste energy walking around,” he says. “I cook at a frenetic pace, even at home.” Demetre, too, installed an island to make the triangle more compact.
It’s something that Turner says distinguishes a chef-client. “As an architect, I know that the placement of those key stations — the prep, cooking and wash-up areas — need to be in a triangle. Chefs know this; they are very specific about the positioning because they’re in this environment all day long.”
If you spend long hours in the kitchen, maximising the amount of light the room gets is crucial. In the kitchen of her 1920s apartment in east London, Ravneet Gill, the pastry chef and author of Sugar, I Love You, has a large domed-glass light well above the space. “It makes it such a pleasure to be in here all day,” she says, “observing the weather — or the stars — above.”
While the working triangle needs to be compact, Merlin Labron-Johnson, chef and founder of restaurants Osip and The Old Pharmacy in Bruton, Somerset, says he values the long workspaces in his rented cottage, which has herringbone-patterned white tiles running from the wooden countertops to the ceiling, reflecting the light and mirroring white cupboards below.
“Lots of workspace means you can cook anything from pastries to doughs,” he says. “I love pies in winter and homemade pasta — but for both of those, ideally, you need space to prep.”
Turner says: “Chefs tend to think more about the type of surface they want to work on from a practical point of view; they are very aware of putting down hot pans, or whether water will mark it. They know from working in a commercial kitchen about longevity.” Demetre’s island is topped with poured concrete — “brilliant for pastry and brioche as it’s very cool”, he says.
But chefs don’t always plump for the utilitarian option. “We often find chefs at home are looking for more tactile environments than the clinical, stainless-steel environments in which they work,” says Adrian Bergman, group design manager at British Standard, which has built kitchen cabinetry for Gyngell’s home and Labron-Johnson’s restaurant, as well as the home of chef Julius Roberts.
Gyngell has marble countertops to complement British Standard wooden cupboard doors and a copper sink (“I wanted a complete contrast to what I had at work”), while Labron-Johnson even opted for wooden cupboards in his professional set-up: “It mirrored the cosy, intimate space I have at home,” he says.
Buchanan Studio has designed streamlined professional kitchens for restaurants Le Bab, across London, and Wild by Tart, near Victoria train station. Its creative director Angus Buchanan and his co-founder wife Charlotte brought elements of their work into their Edwardian semi-detached house in north London. First, they wanted as few handles as possible. “Commercial kitchens do away with all the frills, there are no unnecessary handles or fiddly cupboards or drawers,” says Angus.
But the Buchanans went one further and installed a stainless-steel island and working units, with matching countertops, and a huge, industrial-sized sink. They softened the look with a marble splashback behind the cooker, “something you would expect more in a residential kitchen”, says Angus.
Something many chefs take home from their training is a dedication to a clean kitchen — so the right storage is a must. “I like things extremely tidy, as I’ve found lots of chefs do,” Demetre says. “The great thing about designing a kitchen from scratch is that you can design a place for everything.”
“Everything has to go away in cupboards and drawers to create a calm kitchen,” says Gyngell. Then she adds: “Just don’t look in my drawers.”
It’s a simple trick for a home kitchen: “A clean aesthetic gives an elevated look,” says Bergman. “Some of our clients like to conceal appliances such as toasters and microwaves in larder cupboards or put them back of house if there is space for a small pantry.”
Pantries became more popular during lockdown (there are nearly 670,000 posts on Instagram about them) but even without a separate space, organised food storage is a cornerstone of good kitchen design. Gill has shelves in her cupboards labelled “vinegars”, “oils”, etc — but Demetre goes further: “I have one cupboard next to the oven dedicated to just vinegars, which I’m nuts about, and another one full of peppers, from Madagascan pink pepper to wild Cambodian pepper,” he says.
Bergman says that chefs mark themselves out by knowing the exact make of appliances they want — and needing the design to flow around them. The undisputed star of Demetre’s kitchen is his huge La Cornue range: “It’s made especially for baking, it’s almost like having a Dutch oven. It has four gas burners and an electric plancha [flat-topped griddle] on top, which is brilliant for cooking steaks and scallops.”
It is not, he admits, strictly necessary for the average home chef — Demetre has the customisable Le Château 150, which starts at €39,125, while the entry level Cornufé model starts at €6,360 +VAT — but adds that it’s important to think about your personal style of cooking, and to “spend as much as your budget will allow” on the oven.
Whether to opt for gas or electric is a divisive topic. Gyngell has a six-burner gas hob, on which she batch cooks for her week ahead. Labron-Johnson has a Smeg range oven, with six gas burners and a double electric oven below, which he says “works perfectly well”, and a Gaggenau for his home-from-home restaurant at The Old Pharmacy; “I like it as it just about meets our style of cooking, is very easy to clean and is nice and discreet.”
Gill installed an AEG oven — “you can prove your bread in there; it’s excellent” — but hates cooking on her inherited electric hob. “I will change it at some point, because cooking on gas is so much gentler and nicer,” she says.
Yet, despite his love for his oven, Demetre wishes he had opted for “half gas, half electric” burners on his hob (instead of all gas) because “I think you need a balance between the two.”
The size of the global kitchen appliance market is expected to reach $634.4bn by 2027, according to Research and Markets, an industry data source. Gill is doing her bit to get it there: two salvaged catering trolleys in her kitchen heave under an ice-cream maker, a fryer, a waffle machine, mixers and a back-up coffee machine.
“I always want the next thing,” says Gill. “I even wanted the Pacojet blender after I saw Thomas Straker using his on Instagram to make butter. But it’s over £4,000 and I’ve already got too many things.”
Gyngell, on the other hand, has a low-fi kitchen at home. “There is a Magimix and a KitchenAid in the cupboard somewhere, but I haven’t pulled them out for a long time,” she says. “I use a pestle and mortar for everything I cook at home.” Labron-Johnson is with Gyngell: “My cooking at home tends to remain very simple. I am partial to a few good Le Creuset pots; what more do you need?”
Demetre says he’s “not really a gadget man; knives are my thing” — but along with built-in speakers and a Nutribullet for smoothies, grinding spices and blending sauces, his serious gadget is his coffee machine: La Marzocco’s Linea Mini model (£2,940). “I’d be lost without it,” he says.
Stephen Morrissey, chief commercial officer at Specialty Coffee Association, says the biggest change in the espresso machine business recently is the introduction of “prosumer” machines (in this instance a portmanteau of “professional” and “consumer”): “commercial-grade equipment repackaged for home”.
He adds that, while La Marzocco pioneered the trend in coffee machines, “at the recent international trade shows every major company had home models: Victoria Arduino’s Eagle One Prima [from £4,590+VAT], Faema with the Faemina [from £4,250] and Sanremo’s new YOU machine [£5,995+VAT].”
Other companies have long focused on high-end home espresso makers, he adds, such as Sage, Rancilio and Rocket. Then there are the separate grinders, with models including Mahlkönig’s new X54 (£499) and Fiorenzato’s Allground (£750).
Just as we may fancy ourselves as top-notch baristas and imagine our dinner parties measure up to the menu at a stylish restaurant, at home, some chefs crave something more homely. Labron-Johnson says what marks him out at home, compared with work, is putting on music, opening a bottle of wine and starting a slow cook. For Gyngell, her home kitchen is a place to leave the chef whites at the door.
“I want to be like everyone else at home,” she says. “I don’t want to always be a chef.”