Eating: If you can't stand the kitchen ...

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The Independent Culture
WHEN I moved house three years ago, everyone told me how lucky I was. Not only had the whole place been recently renovated, but even the kitchen had been done to a turn. (It was a divorce sale, apparently. Renovating can do that to the best of marriages.)

So there it stood, in all its charcoal marble and walnut veneer glory, like a double-page spread from House & Garden, Elle Decoration, or Architectural Digest.

Friends I hadn't seen for years were suddenly standing in my kitchen, making that shrill whistling sound between their teeth that I think means wow-that-must-have-cost-a-bomb. "Grab yourself a mineral water," I would say smugly, and wait as they turned, bewildered, to look for the big white ugly refrigerator. Hah. Then I would step up to the knotted walnut, tug a discreet black knob, and reveal the designer fridge inside. Next to it, the designer freezer. Next to that, the designer dishwasher. Each time they would cry with delight and shriek with envy.

Yep. Everybody loved my kitchen, except the person who had to cook in it. Me.

It didn't take long to realise that what I had inherited was a kitchen made for looking, not cooking. The fashionable matt-black interiors of the cupboards are wonderfully deep, and horrifyingly dark. If I want to cook anything after nightfall - like an evening meal - I have to get in there with a torch. It takes me 10 minutes to find the bloody HP. The designer dishwasher is a dream; until I turn it on and the vibration makes the designer door fall off.

I'm at a loss to understand how a renovation budget that can take in Scandinavian appliances, recessed spotlights, French doors, and a very snazzy reverse- osmosis water purifier could have stopped short when it came to the sink. Once you have lived with a double-sink, there's no going back to a single sink. It's like having got used to a bidet.

Then there's the whizz-bang dual exhaust filter assembly thing around the Scandinavian cooktop, designed to pull fumes, smoke and steam down and out of the house, via a large duct. It's ingenious. There's just one thing. It doesn't actually do what it's meant to do. The first time I grilled a steak, the house filled up with smoke, and the whole street sued me for passive smoking.

The problem seems to be that kitchens are designed by people who don't cook. I don't care how many diplomas and degrees a kitchen designer has; I want to see his or her collection of cookbooks. Haven't they ever wondered where to put the wok in between uses? And why are so many ovens installed under the bench, so that the open oven door stops traffic and grazes shins?

So here is my free, no obligation consultation to budding kitchen designers everywhere. A kitchen is a living room, a working part of the house, not just a food preparation area. Space and natural light are the two priorities, but are not always available, so at least give us the illusion of both. It needs a really good sound system, with built-in speakers, and a large table. If there's no room, then a noodle bar with high stools will do (so much more now than a breakfast bar), or a couch and coffee table for lounging.

The bench height should be adjusted to the height of the main cook of the house, and the appliances chosen with one's cooking style in mind (a very hot wok- burner for me, thanks), with a terrific exhaust system that isn't as loud as a reversing truck.

At least the kitchen has helped my wife and me arrive at a decision regarding the children we were wondering about having. We can't afford to have children. As beautiful as it is, our 280-litre capacity built-in refrigerator would not cope with the demands of a three-year-old. Nor would we, but the fridge is the real problem. There is no way I can get a bigger one without having to pull the entire kitchen down and start again. And we already know what that does to marriages.