Laura Freeman

The cult of the extortionate ‘English’ kitchen

A house around the corner is on its fourth kitchen in a decade. Every two or three years, the house changes hands, the pristine kitchen comes out and a newer, pristiner kitchen goes in. They are always white, they are always shiny, and when I peer through the basement windows there is nothing in the way of signs of life. I reckon I can predict the next kitchen.

Think homespun, think rustic, think scullery maid in mobcap and pinny. What the rich want now is a plain old Plain English kitchen. Hand-crafted cabinets, antiqued brass, Delft tiles with authentic craquelure. Starting at £34,000 and going up to… well, how much have you got?

Don’t you dare put Dulux on your artisan doors. Plain English has its own bespoke paint chart. Farrow & Ball’s colours – ‘String’, ‘Brassica’, ‘Dead Salmon’, ‘Mole’s Breath’ – have long amused the paint-swatching classes, but Plain English’s colours take the oaten biscuit. They are so very ’umble. Try ‘Starched Apron’, ‘Coal Scuttle’, ‘Dripping Tap’, ‘Boiled Dishcloth’, ‘Mushy Peas’ and ‘Milky Tea’. Just the thing for your Belgravia townhouse. Nicely set off by the holy kitchen trinity: Aga, larder, Carrara marble. And a frilly skirt around the butler’s sink.

‘It’s not minimalism – we can’t afford furniture.’

Plain English, founded 30 years ago in Suffolk, opened a showroom in Greenwich Village last year, prompting the New York Times to hail the arrival of a ‘new trophy kitchen’ – it looks like an old one – and the romance of the larder. ‘Pantry porn’ is big on Instagram. The paper puts it down to the Downton effect.

There’s a touch of Marie Antoinette about ladies in the Hamptons playing at upstairs-downstairs. Shaker simplicity at The Last Tycoon prices. Vast, but unvarnished, with glass-panelled screens to separate kitchen from flower room, flower room from boot room, boot room from larder, and larder from pantry. What’s the difference? Better have both.

You need serious square-footage for this unpretentious look. The Times recently ran a piece on how everyone wants an 18ft kitchen island. My entire kitchen is 7ft x 7ft. Some clients apparently opt for three separate, smaller islands – an archipelago, if you like.

When did kitchens become so expensively distressed and distressingly expensive? The latest World of Interiors has come through the letterbox with a ‘Kitchens and Bathrooms’ special promoting a £12,110 Officine Gullo extractor hood, a £24,900 Sub-Zero & Wolf fridge-freezer and a ‘Château 150’ by Cyril Kongo range-cooker, from around £31,696. Because nothing says pioneer spirit like a double-sink, double-oven and double-dishwasher that you never have to unload. Not to mention the double-fridge-freezer and constant boiling-water tap. To offset all that energy gobbling – and the carbon guilt of shipping a kitchen from Old to New England – you can feel proud that the cabinets were hand-crafted in Suffolk from sustainably sourced wood.

Don’t you dare put Dulux on your artisan doors. Plain English has its own bespoke paint chart

Can’t stretch to Plain English? DeVol, based in Somerset, does exceptionally nice Shaker-style kitchens for St Ives fisherman’s cottages and Bloomsbury basements. Boho, but bespoke. At a wedding lunch last summer, the woman opposite talked me through her top-to-toe home renovation, ending: ‘And a deVol kitchen, of course.’ Prices from £12,000 to £60,000, depending on how you go.

Of course, some of my sniping is envy, the curse of the Little Greene-eyed monster. I covet a new, old deVol kitchen. I’d love to paint my cabinets in ‘Rusty Nail’ or ‘Medlar Jelly’. I’d like to have the space to swing a mole, breathing or otherwise.

For the past 11 years I have cursed the previous owner’s laminate cupboards, but I’ve never had the will to replace them, with all the cost, dust and disruption replacing them would entail. Last year, in a fit of insomniac fury, I screwdrivered the cabinet doors off their hinges. Voilà: modish open-plan shelving.

Besides, be careful what you wish for. My mother, who has the Kitchen of Dreams, has been known to complain, while trying to get Easter lunch for 12 on the table: ‘I walk miles in this kitchen.’ It’s true: an endless caucus race around the kitchen island. She says, too, that however much room you have, three members of the family will always be standing bums-to-Aga just when you need to get the lamb and rosemary out of the oven. She talks wistfully of the tiny, narrow, highly efficient galley kitchen in the first flat she shared with my dad. I may curse my cramped conditions, dream of dove-tailed joinery and positively continental islands, but one day I’ll look back fondly on my tiny, top-floor kitchen, where I could just stand in the centre – and pivot.