Kitchen Confidential: What To Know Before You Design Your Kitchen

SARAH HALLIWELL shares her route to a DREAM KITCHEN and collects ten TOP TIPS FROM EXPERTS she acquired on the way …

Sarah’s kitchen combines Georgian features and modern minimalism.


Sarah:We thought about longevity and invested in the kitchen over and above the rest of the house, foregoing carpets or fancy bathrooms for a great kitchen as the core of the house. We went for high-quality drawers and units that are built to last.

What the experts say:The ‘supermarket’ end of kitchens is great but, if things are processed very quickly, it’s a bit like fast food – if you pay a bit more, you’ll get a better meal,” says Ronan Carey at Newcastle Design. “The key is to start with a great design. We also offer a lifetime warranty for all paint repairs so, if in ten years you tire of the colour, you can give it a whole new look by repainting it. That way you never get bored of your kitchen.”

The Experts: As Richard Fagan at Bulthaup notes: “I recently saw one of our kitchens that was 20 years old and it still looks stunning; it would have seemed a brave choice at the time, but it’s timeless.”


Sarah: Prioritise your worktop over the units – it’s what you notice most. Whether you’re drawn to stainless steel, concrete and recycled glass, porcelain and tile, countertops now come in myriad materials. But think about durability, how easy is it to clean and how does it handle heat and water? We loved the pale grey Silestone by Miller Brothers paired with dark concrete units. It’s both beautiful and hard-wearing, though you have to be aware of staining (turmeric, red wine and felt-pen are lethal with a pale colour). Some surface textures work better than others: Mary Orr even moved plates across the surface to show the sound they make.”

What the experts say: “The natural-looking stones like quartzite, granite and marble have some of the most dramatic patterns and these create a real focal point on a large island,” says David Dempsey of Noel Dempsey Design, Co Wicklow. “Dekton is resistant to staining and scratches.” Before you set your heart on a particular material, consider where you’re using it and how much maintenance you’re willing to perform. “Some stone is porous,” Dempsey points out, “and while manufactured quartz provides a uniform look, we love the natural finish and depth of colour in marble and quartzite.” Dempsey recommends visiting the stone fabricator to select the exact slab you want: “This ensures that you’re happy with the colours and veins running through it.”

A central concrete grey island unit with pale grey stone top is by Leicht from McNally. Sarah retained the original fireplace and period cornice details.


Sarah: “Choosing colours for the kitchen walls, units and worktop is one of the first considerations.”

What the experts say: Ronan Carey, director at Newcastle Design, notes: “Planning your colours from the outset is key. Whether you’re having a simple bathroom unit or a full kitchen, our process involves a full colour styling consultation, looking at everything from walls to ceilings.” Newcastle’s process is to install the kitchen first and then select colours, and their showroom displays all shades, from mustard yellows to greens and greys: “With pre-finished kitchens people tend to play it safer colour-wise. Seeing the kitchen in situ first can mean you might try something a bit braver.”


Sarah: Think through exactly how you want to use the room. We always wanted to have a central island, for both cooking and sitting round, and find it really is the hub of the room. Most people put a sink on the island, but we preferred to put the hob there, to cook facing the room. Don’t be rushed into any decisions and question every choice; only you know how you work in a kitchen, and what your priorities are.”

What the experts say: “The traditional triangle formula is more relevant to an L-shaped traditional design,” notes Carey. “Now we’re seeing more linear kitchens with a long, single run plus island. Staples such as food storage can be recessed into the room, in places of less importance.” Even bins used in kitchen are so important, notes Fagan; “We would tend to incorporate a separate area for recycling.”


Sarah: Take your time in planning out the room and exactly how it will work, down to where you want the plugs and which way the fridge door opens. Factor in as much storage as you have room for; you’ll always use it. You need to factor in everything, from children’s lunchboxes and plates that they can reach to what you use on a daily basis, from larger items like baking trays and chopping boards, to appliances like toaster, kettle, mixer, etc. A drawer holding spices beneath the hob is a great luxury, and incredibly useful; we love Neptune’s oak spice rack inserts for their drawers, and their double-door larders. Think about how the space works with cupboard doors and drawers open as well as closed. ”

What the experts say: As Ronan Carey explains: “Recently, one client wanted 37 drawers and so we did a mock-up of every single drawer – that kind of planning and attention to detail means the kitchen will be entirely tailored for you. We do a dummy kitchen for each design; it can be easier to pick things up when you see it in situ.”
At Bulthaup, Fagan and his team consider everything from humidity levels in storage areas to the acoustics of the room.


Sarah: Work with someone you like and who understands what you want. After lots of research we went with McNally because we felt comfortable with Mary Orr, over other people we talked to. She immediately understood what we were aiming for and what our priorities were; she dedicated an area to coffee, with space and storage for machine and cups. She was honest about the gadgets we did and didn’t need, and there was no hard-sell on extras; she also had good ideas on the room layout.


Sarah: Factor in your washing, drying and ironing situation – if you’re able to keep them in a separate room it makes a real difference to a live-in kitchen.

What the experts say: One huge element that’s often overlooked is the drying of clothes,” notes Carey. “A good laundry room or area can feed back into the overall design. You might need a hidden clothes line and outdoor system so that clothes are drying outside the house. People are now raising laundry machines to place baskets underneath. Hanging rails for freshly ironed items or to air wet clothes are a great addition.” Richard Fagan agrees: “The majority of our clients would have a scullery as part of the kitchen and in that space we consider everything from temperature to light; we would include racking systems in these spaces, like those in a commercial kitchen. It’s the idea of a scullery as a real workhorse alongside a kitchen. If you have the space, we always recommend a separate laundry room.”


Sarah: It’s not just about aesthetics and practicality now. Consumers are becoming more aware of the actual materials used to construct the kitchen as well as the emissions after installation.”

What the experts say: “We consider kitchens environmentally; from a manufacturing point of view but also how the kitchen will reside in a client’s home long-term, as in Ireland we do notice there is a throwaway nature when it comes to kitchens and furniture,” according to Fagan from Bulthaup. “The development of products and processes which respect and protect our environment is one of the principles of Bulthaup’s philosophy, and we have become the leader in environmental protection in the kitchen industry, implementing standards relating to lacquers, woods and waste, and using environmentally friendly products; we have the lowest volatile emissions.”


Sarah: We saved on some things to spend on others: so we patched up and sanded original floorboards – rather than the dream of a reconditioned parquet floor – so we could invest in the kitchen top we wanted. Bear in mind hidden extra costs, from plug sockets to plumbing services. ”


Sarah: Mixing vintage details with modern units and appliances can keep a kitchen from looking boringly ‘showroom’. For example, Wilson’s Yard in Belfast is a brilliant source of reconditioned cast-iron radiators – they can custom-paint them in a specific colour – as well as reclaimed parquet floorboards and handles for doors or units.”

What the experts say: According to Siobhán Ryan, handles are key to ensuring your contemporary kitchen still looks high-end. “We’ve invested a lot of time in handle selection for our more modern designs,” she says. “When you have less detail on doors and mouldings, the handles stand out even more. We offer beautiful leather-wrapped handles as well as solid brass-plated handles that are the perfect match for a more contemporary look.”

Sarah Halliwell

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