The stairs were so steep it felt like climbing a hill, there was a lingering (and not pleasant) smell in the sitting room and the existing extension featured a leaking corrugated plastic roof; but as everyone says “it had good bones“.
I won’t bore you with the details of the renovation which followed the same pattern most encounter i.e. over time and over budget. It finished slowly in a drip feed of milestones which actually made it all the more thrilling. The day the Crucial Trading rug (Sisool Masai soft grey, slate linen trim) arrived for the sitting room I took the same pleasure in arranging all the furniture that I did as a 14 year old moving my bedroom furniture around for the umpteenth time.
So this project then: a modest 3 bedroom Victorian home set over 3 floors in the heart of the conservation area in St. Albans. ‘New kitchen, new bathroom’ became an all encompassing renovation / extension finished to an exceptional standard by Browne Construction Limited. I marvel frequently at the genius of the new staircase and how the concrete sub floor means no more dead mice under the floorboards (the source of the aforementioned smell).
All the windows, doors and roof lanterns came from Westbury for whom the commitment to quality results in the everlasting enjoyment of those choosing their joinery products. It’s these tiny pleasures that bring so much joy after a renovation; buy well, buy once.
I’ve loved working on kitchen projects at HM over the years because the focus really has been on designing kitchens that really truly work in a functional and meaningful way. So much thought and diligence goes into functional design, and if you get it right it really changes the way you enjoy and use a room.
I’ve always felt that for a kitchen to work it needs to suit the needs of the homeowners completely. I found it simultaneously easy and really quite hard at the same time when I designed this kitchen with Nathan Chapman (Associate Designer at HM). The layout was really obvious from the beginning because with a small space there’s usually a clear frontrunner and then it’s just tweaking and refining. But then I found myself second guessing every design decision and I lay awake at night staring at the ceiling imagining the kitchen in different finishes across the spectrum.
K I T C H E N
In the end, I would always come back to how I wanted the kitchen to feel and because I’ve always loved layering colours and finishes I decided to take my own advice and just stay true to what I wanted originally.
I love to cook and I’ve been spoilt over the years cooking at work on all these amazing appliances. The Gaggenau 90cm EB333 oven suited the space perfectly and provided exactly what I wanted in terms of capacity. The rotisserie feature is so fun and I love using the bake stone for flat breads and tandoori style chicken.
The Gaggenau 400 series gas hob above has the controls on the front which are set 1 through 12 so the control is incredible – particularly for simmering. It is inset into the worktop and has a stainless steel base which is easy to clean. Either side are three drawer chests for storing utensils, cutlery, tableware and pots and pans.
Originally I didn’t want any wall cupboards, I wanted the cooking run to be all open with maybe a single shelf but it made the room feel out of balance and the storage was invaluable. In the end I embraced the wall cupboards and painted the inside in Soot with Half Windsor on the outside. It makes the tableware really stand out and I love seeing them lit up in the evening. Weirdly they have become one of my favourite elements of the kitchen.
My heart wanted marble worktops but my head ruled this decision because I have seen first hand over the years the heartache of marble and I couldn’t face the disappointment. I always wanted a busy worktop and I flip-flopped between two at Caesarstone before settling on Arabetto which I love for its jade and copper tones and strong pattern. It always looks fresh and clean and gives a great contrast to the cabinetry colours.
For the cabinetry interior finish I chose the Berkeley oak which we first used in the White House project in Beaconsfield. This was such a special project for really lovely clients and I felt so excited when they chose this completely new finish – we didn’t have it on display in any kitchens at that point so it was just a sample they saw and took a chance. I think it’s one of our most popular finishes for projects and I’ve loved it consistently over the years.
Dark bronze waxed has such an understated feel and I’ve always liked the look of it with dark and lighter colours so I settled on this finish for the hardware and polished nickel for the taps. I love aged brass and we have it elsewhere downstairs in the sitting room and dining area but for the kitchen I wanted a slightly different feel. I’ve never minded mixing finishes and I appreciate being able to clean the taps in all honesty.
The Quooker classic fusion tap does it all – hot, cold, boiling 100C water, chilled filtered water and sparkling water. Even in this tiny island we managed to fit it all in (plus a bin and dishwasher). I’m not hugely into gadgets but I’d go out on a limb and say this is the best kitchen invention since the fridge! The Dash pot filler behind the cooker is by Waterworks. I find it so useful when cooking to have this second tap for filling pots and adding water to sauces etc.
Vaughan Designs have an incredible range of lighting and we’ve used their lighting over the years in showrooms and projects and the design and manufacturing is impeccable. Having spent many years now cleaning (and chipping / breaking) various glass pendants I chose the Petworth pendants for a really cool stand out look above the island but with the durable metal frame. Arguably they dominate the kitchen island which is very petite but I quite like that they stand out.
The Padstow limestone flooring was a new stone we sourced because I knew with the colours I’d chosen, the kitchen needed a neutral base and I wanted something light but with some markings so it wasn’t too high maintenance. The grout is slightly darker to knock it back a tiny bit – it’s amazing how even a grout colour can change how the room appears. Needless to say I love it and I can’t wait for the first winter with no leaking roof and under floor heating!
K I T C H E N D I N I N G
This nook with banquette seating is used so much more than I ever thought – working from home, coffee with a friend, playing cards, pre-dinner drinks and appetisers, breakfast, lunch and dinner. When friends come over with little ones they can make as much mess as they like and it’s so easy to clean.
I love the Langham table with its Arabetto quartz top and the Berkeley oak base. The quality of the HM furniture is unsurpassed – this is solid oak and super heavy. The table is a beautiful design by Peter Humphrey (the same pedestal base as for the Lexington).
There is a roof lantern above so we couldn’t have a pendant light, instead we designed these very reduced depth shelves to display art and books. We did this in the Wimbledon project and I always loved the front covers of so many cook books and thought this would be a great way to bring colour and also something I could easily change if I got bored. The Zac library lights by Hector Finch lift this area at night and I adore the bronze finish and detailing – they are a work of art themselves.
The cushions are made from Tori Murphy fabrics whose textile designs I’ve always loved.
The outdoor area is finished to a point but I haven’t gotten around to choosing furniture or how it’s going to work. By the time the renovations were completed it was too late to order anything for the summer so the table in the image above is a wonky eucalyptus table from my old house which we plonked in to have somewhere to eat outside. The wall lights are by Pooky and provide the most amazing illumination in the evenings.
The flooring was a triumph though and although it looks like limestone it’s actually a porcelain tile called Pelham. I was never tempted to try and match indoor and out. I knew that limestone would weather more over the colder seasons but I loved the look – the usual dilemma! The Pelham porcelain tile ticks both boxes and we’ve used it in several projects now both inside and out; it fools everyone because of the superb natural effect of the stone.
D I N I N G R O O M
The dining room is just the other side of the kitchen separated by pocket doors which slide neatly away and then the sitting room area is beyond that – it’s all very bijou in this house! The flooring changes to engineered wood to create a softer look and feel. I couldn’t find a flooring finish I was 100% pleased with so we created our own range – this one is called Verbier. I found it tricky choosing the wooden floor, mostly because of the dining furniture which has the Portman oak finish. This is a lighter finish than Berkeley oak and gives a more natural feel to the dining area. The Verbier works perfectly with this and gives just enough warmth to pull it all together.
I chose Goose Iron for the walls and cabinetry in the sitting / dining room space. I love this colour, we have it in the utility room in Felsted and I just so enjoy seeing it change during the day. This space is much darker and we tend to use the rooms in the evening so I wasn’t afraid to use the darker tone here. It’s cosy and I love how the lighting brings the artwork to life in the evenings.
The Vaughan Lancaster light really zones the dining area and is so beautifully designed and made. I like that the dining area has a vague notion of that New England vibe to it.
In the end I just couldn’t choose between the Perennials fabrics for the Belle chairs so I went with both using the Tatton stripe for each Belle carver chair and the plainer linen for the other 4 regular dining chairs.
I like the mix of materials here and the way they work with the Portman oak on the Byron dining table and Belle chairs. These chairs are insanely comfortable for dinner parties and it’s a great space I really enjoy using. Comfort is always so important in design, I like homes that feel welcoming and cosy – somewhere you can relax and focus on what’s important which is nearly always the people around you.
To see more of this project click here.