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Kitchen Tour: Contemporary but Characterful for a Georgian Home

Warm timber doors open up to reveal a host of cooking kit in this almost ‘invisible’ kitchen packed with clever storage

Houzz UK contributor. Freelance interiors journalist with over 20 years’ experience… More

When the owners of this Grade II-listed Georgian terraced house decided to install a new kitchen, the challenge was how to balance the desire for a sleek, minimalist design with a warm, characterful look.

“The owners are both designers and wanted a very minimalist, clean and calm kitchen,” explains Hianta Cassam Chenai, interior designer and director of HCC Interiors, who was brought on board for the project. “Midcentury design is also a favourite, so the kitchen needed to reflect that without falling into the ‘retro’ trap.”

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Kitchen at a Glance
Who lives here A young professional couple
Location Totnes, Devon
Property Grade II listed, late Georgian, four-storey terraced house
Size 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms
Kitchen dimensions 4.8 x 5.5m, plus a further 3.5 x 2.5m for the dining area
Designer Hianta Cassam Chenai of HCC Interiors

Photos by Paul Ryan-Goff

When it came to their new scheme, this professional couple wanted a hardworking kitchen, for sure, but also a contemporary, slick space that was packed with character and warmth. All this needed to fit within the period proportions of a Grade II listed property – a Georgian beauty of a house – so the mix of genres needed to be balanced carefully.

“The choice was then made to design an ‘almost invisible’ kitchen, with a back wall of floor-to-ceiling joinery and an island hosting a flush induction hob. The only kitchen items sticking out are the minimalist chrome taps,” explains designer Hianta Cassam Chenai. “In order for the kitchen to not feel sterile or characterless, we chose to make the cabinetry out of rich walnut, with grain-matched veneer fronts, and team it with a natural-stone-effect worktop.”

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The kitchen, with its open-plan dining area, is on the lower-ground floor of the house, with doors opening onto the garden.

“The kitchen doesn’t get much sunshine until the afternoon, and the space originally felt like a bit of a warren. So removing as many internal walls as possible [around four] was a priority,” Cassam Chenai explains. “As this is a listed building, the idea of an extension wasn’t one we considered, and the total volume of the room is large enough to not need it.”

The vintage Arthur Umanoff bar stools, with sculptural frames in wrought iron, birch slat seats and rush backs, bring an organic feel to the room and soften the crispness of the kitchen lines.

“The dimensions matched those of the island perfectly and the curved seats and tall backs make them very comfortable to sit on.”

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“The owners didn’t want a ‘mock period’ kitchen, especially since this storey had lost most of its original features in previous renovations,” the designer explains. “The floor plan, with its constraints of doors and window placements, cornicing and ceiling height, lent itself to a very simple layout that would bring the added benefit of feeling spacious.”

Bespoke kitchen manufacturer Barnes of Ashburton created the exciting new design. “There are no corner units to deal with, no upper cabinets on which dust can gather, just two large pieces of furniture perfectly inserted within their surrounding.”

The owners discovered a disused coal cellar to the side of the kitchen, so transformed it into a utility room to house laundry appliances, as well as the fuse box, boiler and hot-water tank, plus a shower room.

Kitchen, Barnes of Ashburton.

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Neat and ingenious, the ‘hideaway’ back wall forms the backbone of the kitchen, allowing it to remain clean-lined and unfussy while offering great storage.

“The use of smooth walnut veneer creates a unified warmth and an interesting background,” Cassam Chenai says. “This area hosts all plugged-in appliances, a breakfast pantry, as well as storage for dried, fresh and frozen foods, the dishwasher and the ovens.”

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Barnes of Ashburton made the doors and drawers from handpicked, grain-matched walnut veneer with a horizontal recess detail made of solid walnut.

“Most doors and drawers are push-to-open, while the ones closer to the horizontal recess simply pull,” says Cassam Chenai. “The push-to-open door mechanism is highly practical and avoids the need to clean one’s hands to get to the contents – a simple push from the knee or foot and everything appears!

“Cleaning the fronts is a breeze anyway, as there are few spots where dirt and dust can gather. A simple wipe with wood polish and they look as good as new.”

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The second ‘piece of furniture’ that makes up the kitchen is the large island unit, measuring 2660mm long and 1240mm deep.

“It’s 1000mm high, as both owners are particularly tall,” the designer adds.

The monolithic structure is simple and streamlined, with a flush induction hob maintaining the clean lines and a plastered-in extractor above.

“The extractor was a bit of a nightmare, with long delivery delays, wrong parts being sent, instructions only in Italian and the installation conundrum it provided for the builder’s team [the ducting needed to go between the joists to allow access to the motor],” she says. “They dealt with it excellently, however, and it was very much worth the effort in the end, as it’s truly seamless and works very well, too.”

The extractor was from Sirius, but is now discontinued.

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The minimalist chrome taps are the only kitchen items sticking out of the huge, pared-back island unit.

Sink, Kohler. Pull-out tap, Gessi. Boiling-water tap, Quooker. Flush induction hob, Gaggenau.

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The owners wanted a marble ‘waterfall’ worktop to sweep around the island unit, using a stone with dramatic veining on a pure white background, much like a Calacatta or Statuario marble.

“Actual marble requires a lot of upkeep, however, and they weren’t so keen on being too careful with citruses, wine and other damaging ingredients on a daily basis,” Cassam Chenai says. “I discovered TheSize’s Neolith, which is an incredibly tough material with a wide array of patterns that are, to me, the most convincing ones in the man-made worktop industry.”

The antique globe lights were found at a local antique dealer’s. “They were possibly the best bargain of the whole property,” the designer says. “I had them fitted with black plastic flex for cleaning purposes and flush black ceiling roses by the electrician.”

Neolith sintered stone worktop, TheSize Surfaces.

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On the kitchen side, there are two sets of 1000mm-wide drawers with bespoke inserts at the top, designed around the owners’ existing utensils. In the middle, there’s a 600mm-wide bin/recycling pull-out.

Plants hang either side of the utility room door. “The vertical felt wall planters soften the space and add an organic, natural element to the geometry and minimalism of the kitchen cabinetry,” Cassam Chenai says.

Felt planters, Woolly Pocket.

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On the opposite side of the island there are five 300mm-deep cupboards housing less-used items, such as extra glassware, candles, lightbulbs and seasonal items.

“One cabinet also houses the Quooker tap boiling-water tank, then there’s a 300mm-deep overhang to allow for comfortable seating,” the designer adds.

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Apart from the structural issues, which were tackled by the builder’s team, one of the biggest challenges was getting the symmetry of the design spot-on while creating excellent functionality.

“Every piece of equipment, every item of crockery was accounted for, and there’s plenty of space between the back wall and the island, so two or more people don’t bump into each other,” Cassam Chenai says.

“I really like how well the ‘journey’ of meal preparation works in the space,” she adds. “Just as in a galley kitchen, you don’t have to walk very far to access anything you need. All appliances are plugged in and ready to use, and having both the hob and sink on the island is incredibly practical and very sociable, as it allows the chef to chat with friends perched on the bar stools.”

The designer also adds, “When preparing a meal involving a lot of work, the owners love to station themselves on the sides of the island, leaving the corridor between the back wall and the island for cooking, washing and moving around”

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The back wall of units is a meticulous layout of storage and appliances. “The storage wall is composed of seven floor-to-ceiling columns, each measuring between 600 and 700mm wide,” says the designer.

From left to right, this handsome wall of walnut includes a breakfast pantry, storage hubs for utensils and small appliances, integrated cooking appliances, a deep pantry, a dishwasher, a fridge and a freezer – all with a seamless layout and different door openings to suit.

“This was a technically challenging brief, with all the different openings forming a complex jigsaw that needed to look perfectly balanced in the end. Barnes solved every technical issue with very elegant solutions. It was great to work with a company able to create fully bespoke units, so we could take advantage of every inch of available space.”

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To the far left of the storage wall, the two-column-wide breakfast pantry opens up with pocket doors to reveal an orderly line-up of small appliances, crockery and glassware, all against a backdrop of elegant bronze mirror splashbacks and a Nero Assoluto granite worktop.

“The pocket doors remain open most of the time without being in the way, but they can be closed when the owners are hosting more formal occasions,” Cassam Chenai says.

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A large vegetable drawer is divided into eight for easy organisation.

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The top three units in the middle of the back wall are on a push-to-open, ‘stay lift’ mechanism for ease of use, while the two units either side of the ovens have lift-up doors.

“These last two features allow for easier circulation, as no door is in the way of someone walking between the back wall and the island,” Cassam Chenai says.

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The second-to-last column houses a deep pantry with a fixed spice rack, plus a dishwasher underneath.

There are two sets of black, powder-coated-metal, double electrical sockets inside each cupboard either side of the ovens, and three in the breakfast pantry. “Plug sockets can be vital and were very considered in this space,” Cassam Chenai says.

The designer also fitted three sockets on the seating side of the island, and a handy one in the bin area to plug in the hand-held vacuum cleaner.

The final column houses the fridge and freezer.

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When the works started, the owners discovered a mix of different floorings on this storey, including concrete slabs.

“The building is very old, and glazing on windows and doors is single-paned, so ensuring this room had an acceptable temperature was paramount,” Cassam Chenai says. “We chose to go for a liquid screed floor with wet underfloor heating, topped by a layer of hand-trowelled microcement. It’s a lot more versatile than polished concrete and allowed the owners to choose an exact colour and finish. A very comfortable and uniform heat now rises from the floor throughout.”

What do you think of this ingenious ‘hide-and-seek’ kitchen? Share your thoughts in the Comments section.
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