Open plan kitchen - extend and revise layout in Handleless Shaker

How did you discover Bower Willis Designs?

My mum had no hesitation in recommending Bower Willis Designs to us after Angela redesigned her kitchen, mum is delighted with the results. I’d seen local advertising and visited the showroom for a steam cookery demonstration. Then we found out that Angela and Jeremy had had also done another friend’s kitchen and it all went from there.

Can you describe your new kitchen project to us?

We’d always dreamed of having open plan living so to create the space we needed we decided to reorganise our internal layout and extend the back of the whole house into the garden. We moved the kitchen from the front to the back of the house and used the new extension as an orangery. It took me about a year to get my head around what we were doing and it felt like a huge change but thinking back now, I wonder why we didn’t do it ages ago.

What was the time frame behind the project?

We first went to the cookery demonstration in September but we weren’t ready to move forwards until February when we sat down to discuss the design. The extension started the day after Easter Monday and the builders were clear by end of May. There was a slight overlap with kitchen and plasterers but everyone worked around each other easily. Lucas started fitting the kitchen in June and BWD were clear by the end of June. We were really lucky because we were changing the internal layout of the house, we still had our old kitchen at the front of the house while the new kitchen was being built in the extension at the back. We finally put the floor down in September, the real wood floor brings such warmth to the orangery and walking on the wood in bare feet has got a lovely feeling to it.

The kitchen feels so light, how did you achieve this?

The house faces South West so there’s lot’s of natural light until the early afternoon. And because there are lots of lights in the kitchen it never gets dull, plus of course the mirror just bounces the light back.

How did you decide on the mirror splash back?

A friend of my has a small mirror behind her kitchen cabinet and Angela told me that she has a mirror splash back in her kitchen too, so we decided to go for it. I can be washing up and still see what’s going on around me and behind me in the garden. It’s not like standing facing a wall, you can still speak with people and you feel part of the room. And it makes the room look huge. When you’re sitting at the table or the breakfast bar, it looks as though the kitchen is twice the size because you can see the reflection all the way through the back of the house to the garden. It’s really clever and there are fantastic pictures of the garden at different times of day. Lots of people have come in and said ‘wow, I want one!’.

The combination of handless units with shaker style doors is quite unusual, how did this come about?

We love this look. Handleless kitchens are very contemporary but flat doors looked too modern, so Angela suggested using shaker doors to give a traditional twist. There’s dark oak behind the rail which gives great contrast against the white, and marrying the two together gives a contemporary feel without being too modern. Handleless also avoids cluttering the clean lines design and solves the problem of worrying about what handles to have. I’ve got a lot of things going on in the kitchen anyway and to have more going on with the handles wouldn’t look right.

Can you talk us through your design process?

I’d found inspiration on Pinterest and kept coming back to the same pictures; dark floors with white furniture, all very light, bright and airy. Although we didn’t have the same high ceilings as in the photos, we’ve achieved a similar perception of height by leaving space around the top of the units so you can see the furthest reach of the room. Because I wanted extra storage I thought the units needed to go to the ceiling but Angela explained that full height units don’t give you any extra room, they just take space and bring in the distance of the walls to make your kitchen look smaller.

In terms of styling, I didn’t want anything too niche or fashionable because I was worried that it’d date. And I like to mix things up with old statement pieces and neutral, contemporary styles. I feel that I’ve got a kitchen that’s been designed especially for me. It’s a very interesting room with all the light that bounces around from the mirrors. There are little corners and different lights so you see shapes and things that happen. It’s very exciting.

How do you use the room?

Exactly as we hoped, we live in it! My husband sits at the breakfast bar while I cook, or the other way around, or we both cook together. There are USB plugs for our devices and the TV is there so you don’t have to go anywhere to be with the person who’s cooking. From the oven to plating up, to the table, it feels so natural and couldn’t be easier. And once it’s all tidy at the end of the day we just go through to the extension and relax.

What difference has the kitchen made to the way you cook?

I like to cook. I don’t like pre-packed food so we always have a meal from scratch. And I’ve just started baking again. That was a big request with the new worktop; space. In our old kitchen I had a little table in the corner for rolling pastry but now I have plenty of space on the island.

The boiling hot water tap is so convenient and I’ve started steaming meat and vegetables in the steam oven, although I’m still experimenting with timings. I’ve got a houseful next weekend and I’ll be cooking Gammon on the quarter steam setting served with all the Christmas vegetables, with a borders pastry tart for dessert.

How do you find the BORA hob with cooktop extractor?

It’s amazing! The first couple of tries I over boiled everything because it’s just so fast, but now I’ve realised from once you’re at steam you turn it down to ‘6’ and it happily simmers away. It’s learning things like that that takes a little time. The extractor sucks happily on about number 3 which is nice and quiet, great for in an open plan room when someone’s watching tv or you’re having a chat. The other day I had all four pans going so I turned it up but there was nothing it couldn’t handle. When you’re finished cooking it goes into ‘whisper’ mode which continues to silently clean the air. And you can put the filter in the dishwasher, it’s so simple. The hob is on the island, facing towards the people that you want to be speaking with so it’s very sociable.

Do you hope to do much entertaining in the new kitchen?

We’re looking forward to having a big family party next summer. We’ll throw open the doors to the garden, put the sofas out on the patio and the room will carry on through to the garden. That’s what we wanted, for a living room that was moveable.

Are there any decisions you’re particularly glad you made?

We’re particular happy with the size of the worktop on the breakfast bar; it’s very useful and creates a lovely flow to the room. Last weekend our boys came home for Sunday dinner and were sat at the breakfast bar while I was cooking. There were two laptops out, several bottles of beer, a granny sat at the end, I had a roasting dish with several other pans on the go, and I still had room to work all the way around. Because the work surface is Dekton, you can put hot pans directly from the oven on to it without mats or cooling trays and you know it won’t damage. I use Le Cresseut and can put them straight onto the Dekton without having to use a trivet. I had been looking at a darker worktop which my husband didn’t like, he thought it was a bit too radical. And I’m glad, I think it’s absolutely the right choice now.

Do you have more storage in your new kitchen?

Yes, loads! The slider pan drawers are great and there’s a pull out larder so all the food is in one place which makes cooking much easier. In fact, all these cupboards are cavernous; in our old kitchen we had a big unit which held a lot of glasses and I was worried where they would live, but the new kitchen has just swallowed them. We use stacking racks inside the cupboards which are very deep, they take a lot. And with the swing out Le Mans corner cupboard, you’re using every bit of space. There’s no dead space at the back that’s out of reach.

The display shelf above the mirrors is an interesting feature, can you tell us about it?

We’ve got a lot of dishes that we wanted to display but the wall behind is only soft plasterboard and the floating shelves themselves are very heavy. So I found a photo online where they’d hung a floating shelf using brass rods from the ceiling. Angela managed to source them for us and we’ve hung them from the joists so they’re totally secure. I can put my favourite pieces on that heavy shelf with absolute confidence.

How have you found living with the kitchen so far?

It’s very easy to keep clean and there are no nooks and crannies. Our old kitchen units had vertical grooves down them where dirt and grime built up, but cleaning in the new kitchen is so much easier, you just wipe along. It hasn’t become a chore yet!

And what did you think of the whole experience?

We’ve never done anything like this before and although I have a creative mind, I found it very difficult to get my head around how the room would look once it was built and where we wanted things to be. I didn’t find it easy to think ‘right, we’re going to change the house around’. I needed to see one thing sorted before I could move onto the next step. For example, before the walls were built, I couldn’t imagine where the radiators would go. We looked at lights for about two weeks and each little step has taken a while to sort out. The patience we got from Angela and Jeremy was extraordinary.

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