This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of House & Home.
My first exposure to all that a kitchen could be was in the late ’80s, in the English country kitchen of a manor house in Dorset, England. The house was Melplash Court and the kitchen was a large room dominated by the classic Aga cooker, gas ranges and ovens, apron-front farm sinks, marble-topped tables for rolling pastry and a larder filled with cheeses, cured meats and vinegars fermenting in huge earthenware jars.
It was a magical room and ever since, every kitchen I’ve designed, no matter how small, has been influenced by that one kitchen. Of course, the styles varied and the settings were not so grand or the rooms so large, but they still retained a singular quality that I first felt in that English country kitchen. It was the overwhelming feeling of warmth and comfort in a room clearly designed for serious cooking.
For me, that quality is best achieved by using natural materials, planning generous work surfaces, choosing serious appliances and fixtures for what should be a cook’s kitchen first and foremost, and incorporating them into cabinetry that’s beautifully crafted in a room with traditional detailing.
With today’s taste for sleeker kitchens, I struggle, wondering how to keep that warmth and personality in a modern space. Happily, there are a few small, custom workshops creating furniture to accomplish just that.
When you hear the words “kitchen furniture” you probably think of tables and chairs and maybe a sideboard. Now, with the revival of joinery as an art form and new workshops on the scene filled with the next generation of talented artisans, kitchen furniture has taken on a whole new meaning. These are pieces that house sinks and cooktops, fridges and storage, with many of the tools of the traditional farm kitchen reimagined, yet dressy enough to host a dinner by candlelight.
These cabinets are called “furniture” because they’re designed and made with the same attention to detail as traditional joinery. This art of joining woods without nails is an ancient skill made easier today by new technology. The look that these kitchens offers is the polar opposite of the shiny, all-white kitchen. This is a moody, dusky look that plays off the natural hues of marble, stone, woods and burnished metals.
One of the companies creating these inspiring rooms is Lanserring, a collaboration between a fourth-generation family joinery business and architectural designers Andrew Hays (formerly of Smallbone) and Kimm Kovac.
English country kitchens have been the original source of inspiration for most of our North American kitchen renovations over the past 30 years. The vernacular of the English country kitchen informs Lanserring kitchens, from the apron-front sinks to the classic larder reimagined as a cabinet lined with slabs of marble with a rod and hooks for hanging joints of cured meats to the new garden trug, finely crafted from wood and metals, that travels from the garden to the kitchen sink where it serves as a caddy and then becomes a storage drawer. Glass-fronted cabinets hold collections of porcelain and glassware, and there is a table that mimics the bulk storage aisles of markets, for storing dry supplies and spices in handblown crystal drawers.
Lanserring calls this recent line of kitchen furniture “Tradescant,” after John Tradescant the Elder, a 16th-century English botanist and creator of the cabinet of curiosities. It’s a fitting name for kitchens that are as intriguing as they are exquisite. The company says it’s “all about storytelling” and that sums it up for me. Think Downton Abbey and the life that goes on in that magical kitchen. The same should apply to any kitchen, rich in character.
This segment of kitchen “makers” in the spirit of the Kinfolk movement is very new, so expect to look far and wide for companies offering this look. Check out Lando from Italy, which makes an amazing work table/stove/sink combo, March from California whose signature work tables have been featured in this column, and Studio Junction here in Toronto, whose gorgeous workroom-style kitchen was featured in Nikole Herriott’s kitchen.
Finally, you can work with a local kitchen company to create a custom look that tells your own story.
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