COOKING UP A DREAM KITCHEN
Kitchen renovations are both exciting and terrifying. Here’s what you need to know before you start.
Renovating a kitchen and upgrading aging equipment raises more questions than answers, no matter what your budget.
You have to ask yourself what you want in terms of tiles or marble, benches, flooring, lighting, bench height, sinks, taps, fridges, dishwashers, storage, aesthetics, to integrate or not to integrate, colours, tones, textures, how the kitchen fits into the rest of the house, and your own personal way of cooking.
I’ve lived with vastly different kitchens over the years, from a rat-trap sharehouse galley to a mirror-lined (not sure why) designer dream kitchen with all the latest gear. My dream kitchen is neither.
Not that there is any such a thing as A Dream Kitchen. A good cook is always able to make wherever they are work. If they can’t grill inside, they grill outside. Small cook-top? Get an electric steamer and rice-cooker to supplement. I love my current kitchen, but the dishwasher door is falling off, the lighting is poor, the drawers slam on closing, and I can set off the smoke alarm without even trying.
It’s Time To (drum roll) Renovate. Or as I like to think of it, to Future-Proof.
About to embark on such a process for the first time, I asked three experts for their views – one a noted chef, one, an interior designer and the third, an acclaimed set designer. Their answers are both generous and helpful, see below. Then it’s YOUR turn.
NEIL BRADFORD, INTERIOR DESIGNER
“The most important thing to me is who is going to use it and how are they going to use it,” says Neil, whose impeccable taste has been applied to everything from the Hotel Lindrum in Melbourne to private residences around the world. “So many clients try to cram so much technology into kitchens that is just not necessary.” (There goes my wine fridge, my ice-crusher…)
His dream kitchen is one that functions, looks good, is easy to maintain, and is logical. “Some people think of a dream kitchen as being a showstopper” he says. “Especially Americans, who then proceed to order in for the rest of their lives so as not to upset the designer’s aesthetic”.
NEIL’S TOP TIPS:
1/ Good quality appliances that function well. Nobody needs a dishwasher that has 14 settings, or lights up the floor to tell you how much longer it has to run.
2/ Spend the money on good quality finishes - stone, tile, veneers. As we now live with open plan kitchens, it is important that they are commensurate with the living area. It’s pointless having drop dead furniture, if you can see the fridge with magnets and family photos on it.
3/ Plan it logically. If you have a young family, think about the material for the counter, perhaps marble is not for you. Also consider lighting - no one wants to work in their own shadow.
PS. NEVER FORGET ABOUT THE… person who is going to be in there most of the time! Don’t have your back to your guests all the time. If it worked for the Catholic Church to turn the Altar around to face the people, it will work for home cooks, too.
MARK BEST, RENOWNED CHEF AND AEG AMBASSADOR
“Functionality is really important. Kitchens can often be designed at a larger scale than necessary” says Mark, who describes himself as a “pre-internet chef”. “Years spent in restaurants have conditioned me to favour spaces that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also efficient in terms of time and movement.”
With his AEG Ambassador hat on (as well as the three chef hats he earned at his acclaimed Marque restaurant in Surry Hills for ten years straight), he makes the very logical point that if you want precision in your cooking, you need appliances that deliver exceptional results. “The AEG SteamPro oven from their latest Matte Black collection brings restaurant standards into the home” he says. “For me, precision is key.”
MARK’S TOP TIPS:
1/ Imagine yourself in the space. Even if you're getting a kitchen designer, you are the cook working in the space, so imagine yourself in there, and act out your cooking processes.
2/ Bench height: For those taller, like myself, add 50mm to the standard bench height (900mm). The bench is your work space, so set the height for the person that is going to spend the most time in kitchen. In my household, that’s me. This rule also extends to storage cabinets -- design with functionality in mind, you don’t want to be on your knees or on top of a step ladder. Life hack.
3/ Pantries are often built for those in apocalypse mode. If you live in a city, minimal dry ingredients are required on hand – instead, purchase fresh ingredients every day. 40% of all fresh produce goes in the rubbish bin. Fact! Buy less and cook food that is fresher and more nutritious.
PS. NEVER FORGET ABOUT THE… measurements! Renovating your kitchen is a bit like carpentry - measure twice, cut once.
ELIZABETH GADSBY, AWARD-WINNING SET DESIGNER
“I love tactile finishes and exceptional material engineering for a premium feel” says Elizabeth, who immerses herself in striking stage design for everything from opera to dance to drama. “I’m always looking for local materials and palettes that speak to the place we inhabit, and well-designed products built for longevity.”
ELIZABETH’S TOP TIPS:
1/ Wherever possible, go bespoke over cookie-cutter designs. Tailor-made designs to suit individual tastes and preferences are a must. Work with designers, local artists and carpenters who will respond to the needs of the space and draw on their knowledge and experience.
2/ A sink with a view, please! If I'm going to spend time doing mundane tasks like washing up, I want to make sure that the view makes it all worthwhile.
3/ Consider how the space opens up to other rooms in your home. The kitchen is both a private and public space. My dream kitchen is one that has an in-built cabinetry to make mess disappear, where I can invite guests to gather around an island bench as we prepare food, then hide it all away when I want to.
PS. NEVER FORGET ABOUT… how to deal with rubbish. Spend time designing a system for compost, recycling and garbage. Don’t make these an afterthought or you’ll end up with a beautiful marble bench and nowhere to put your kitchen scraps!
Okay, your turn. Spill. I want to know what YOU think, in the Comments (because everyone knows the comments are where the real shit goes down).
Has anyone upgraded to a steam/combi oven?
Are two sinks better than one?
What are your thoughts on integrating fridges and freezers (concealing behind cabinetry)?
What’s the best material for counter tops?
Am I mad, as a beetroot-eater and red wine drinker, wanting marble?
Do you really need a whole drawer for saucepan lids? (Please say yes)
Are soft-closing drawers the best thing that has ever happened to you?
What’s the one thing that everyone renovating a kitchen should do -or not do?
Thanks for reading! Feel free to subscribe for more Jill Dupleix Eats in your inbox every Thursday. And special thanks to my right-hand man, Terry Durack, to whom I dedicate our new soft-closing kitchen drawers.
Thanks also to AEG for inviting me to their new product reveal, masterminded by their ambassador Mark Best and designed by Elizabeth, which I very opportunistically took advantage of by relentlessly picking their brains. #notsponsored #notaninfluencer #justabadinfluence. Thanks also to Neil Bradford for the top tips, not least for referencing the Catholic Church in his brilliant advice.
I would also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands and waters upon which I work, live, cook and play; the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I fully support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to be enshrined in Australia’s Constitution. It’s about time, folks.