If you are dreaming of renovating your kitchen but are struggling to find a focal point in a space where trends and technologies are continually shifting, we feel your pain. And it gets even harder when you are dealing with a historic property that you want to bring up-to-date without losing its charm. Do you stick with the original focal point from the property’s time of build, or do you try to find a new kitchen focal point that works better for your family?
These are quandaries that bespoke kitchens and home designer Artichoke know all too well. Based in southwest England and claiming some of the UK’s best craftsmen and women to its workshop, Artichoke specializes in period property renovation, sensitively updating kitchens to fit modern family life. So, who better to answer the question of what should be the focal point in a kitchen today? We talked to Bruce Hodgson, Artichoke’s founder, to find out.
So, what should be the focal point in a kitchen, in your opinion?
There are so many things to think about. It depends on the house itself and its period, as well as the requirements of the household – their habits and aesthetics. Everyone’s home is different, and so each focal point has to be decided on a case by case basis.
What are some popular kitchen focal points?
Historically, the obvious focal point for a kitchen has been the oven – in an English period property; this would be a solid metal cooker (such as an AGA) shrouded by a chimney cowl. In other rooms, the fireplace was usually the focal point – with no other method of heating, furniture was arranged to take maximum advantage of the heat source.
Today, in modern houses and with 21st-century technology like underfloor heating, this is no longer the case, bringing more possibilities for alternative focal points. At Artichoke, we are currently designing a handmade kitchen for a grand Victorian house in London where the decision has been made to keep the kitchen at the basement level, where it would have traditionally been used for servants. Our approach to the design of this kitchen is to keep the proportions and detail simple, in keeping with the traditional status of the room.
The design incorporates glazed screens to divide the room and frame areas of the kitchen. For fireproofing, these screens need to be made of metal. So, we have brought the moldings and structure of the Crittall glazing screens into the furniture design, meaning that the wood paneling, doors, and drawers all feature the same intersection module of the Crittall screen.
This kind of detail, where a common design feature links the use of different materials together, offers an alternative focal theme and makes the room feel like it is working in harmony. In our design, the plan is for this common element to be in a striking color, increasing the effect.
But as I said, the answer to ‘what should be the focal point in a kitchen’ is different in every home. Another project we are working on in Bristol might involve reinstating a beautiful fireplace as a focal point – with the cooking elements housed in an industrial, state of the art island. The fireplace would introduce warmth and atmosphere and coziness into the room, bringing back a traditional element to a grand townhouse.
How has the evolution of family life changed the focal point of our kitchens?
Traditionally kitchens were small, and the aim was to have everything related to food or cooking in this one room, which involved a lot of cupboards. However, today, especially in our market, kitchens are much larger, and this generous space allows more room to comfortably absorb the many functions associated with storing, preparing, and cooking food.
Kitchens, therefore, can afford to be more like living rooms in that they don’t have to be all about functionality. Today’s kitchen focal point may well be a beautiful painting or a view – features that are not related to cooking equipment but instead emphasize a decorative element. The modern kitchen is very much an entertainment space, so some homes may also have ancillary rooms to serve the more functional needs of the household’s culinary requirements. At Artichoke, we see an increasing demand for sculleries, pantries, flower rooms, boot rooms, laundries, and even shoe rooms!
How can period kitchens push design boundaries?
There are plenty of ways to break the mold for those who are feeling daring. At Dinder House in Somerset, we created a stunning contemporary large marble island as a focal point, which complemented the grand ceiling heights and stunning architectural features of the Georgian space, yet was unexpected.
In a recent proposal, we made for a kitchen in a formal chateau, where one of the grand reception rooms is to be repurposed as a kitchen, we have suggested embracing the fact that it was previously a drawing-room. This would involve recreating the style and look of an apothecary or curiosity collection, with a series of glazed cabinets. At the same time, we could introduce a professional standalone bank of cooking facilities standing proud in the middle – and a new addition to a historic space.
Also, remember that you can have more than one kitchen focal point. We often are commissioned to design for a group of rooms that spread the functionality of the kitchen, and we have recently been focusing on the scullery as a secondary focal point – washing up is an important element of kitchen tasks and is often neglected. We think it can be just as exciting a focal point with a bit of flair and imagination. For example, designing sinks out of solid bits of stone immediately elevates the status of the area and creates a focal point that highlights a sophisticated element of stonemason craftsmanship.
Any tips for finding the perfect focal point?
I would start by assessing what historically would have been the focal point, and considering whether that works for your home now. If it does, then there is not necessarily any reason to change it. If it doesn’t, think about what you use your kitchen for and what your priorities are. If it is all about losing yourself in the art of cooking, then why not have the oven as the focal point? Likewise, if you are lucky enough to be surrounded by stunning views and have a large enough kitchen to introduce some more playful design features, why not highlight these views?
When looking at which materials to use to create and complement your kitchen focal point, this decision must also be led by its function. For example, while marble may create a luxurious, dramatic feel, the hard and sharp surface may not fit well with a life centered around young children. Then, think about the type of aesthetic you want – does a very coordinated aesthetic with matching elements appeal, or would you prefer a more eclectic approach, using carefully chosen combinations of materials to create a unique atmosphere?
For many of us, the kitchen is the center of the home and deserves to look and feel the part. So, even though kitchen renovations take some thinking about, and finding the right focal point can be difficult, it is worth it to make your space as beautiful and useful as it can be.