inside ... : An industrial-style kitchen is de rigueur, but be warned, says Eleanor Bailey: today's stainless steel is tomorrow's pine and lino
It is very confusing these days. With increasing regularity, walking into what seems like a normal house, with a normal hallway and an ordinary front room, normality suddenly ends on the threshold of the kitchen. In fact, the kitchen seems to have been donated to industry. A huge stainless- steel stove with a capacity to cater for 300 across several shifts of lunch, dominates the room. There is a hard-wearing stone floor to withstand the clatter of 10 ill-tempered sous chefs. The host smiles proudly. His kitchen is his baby. More shiny than a car and far more fashionable. For he knows that, while a car merely travels, a kitchen this size, with a stove that they had to knock a wall down to get in there, is the ultimate Zeitgeist statement.

The problem is that once you have shelled out tens of thousands of pounds on the 1996 dream kitchen and are extolling the virtues of stone and steel you can bet your appliance that lino will be back. After all, nothing is now more embarrassing than having the once sought after country-look kitchen. All those sun-dried tomato jars and baskets of pot pourri are now so shameful that owners of such monstrosities are better off eating out. Muted browni must now be replaced by steel but inevitably expensive steel will be replaced too.

Writer James Kaplan and his wife Marie Reynolds have had an industrial kitchen put into their Victorian house in London. Limestone floor, stainless steel fittings, free-standing sink unit and acres of space courtesy of London Architect Mark Guard.

"Both my wife and I do a tremendous amount of cooking," explains Kaplan. "It's embarrassing because I know everyone says it now, but the kitchen really is the heart of our family life. We had been cooking with a 1930s gas cooker which was like a heavyweight bunson burner. When you're used to that and you go to look at kitchens everything modern seemed really flimsy. Our new industrial viking cooker is 3ft across, 21/2ft deep and 4ft high stainless steel. I adore it. Every time I switch it, on I think 'Yeah!'

"The kitchen looks almost like a stage set, very geometrical. The limestone floor which runs through the ground floor is very easy to look after. It is great because it is entirely modern yet it fits in perfectly with the period house. It creates a wonderful view."

Mark Guard, architect of Kaplan and Reynolds dream kitchen, insists that this look is not only of the time, but is also classic, with its lean lines and minimalism. "It's not really a trend; it's practical. You cannot damage it. It isn't cheap, but it is unlikely that people would change their minds on it, when it has been custom designed to suit their needs perfectly. However, if new people moved in and wanted to change it all again they could just put lino over the top and they would simply have a very solid base. It would be rather a shame of course. You wouldn't want to remove the stone floor because it's quite thick and would be difficult to break up."

But there are already signs that the ultimate cool in kitchens is shifting. At the Kitchens, Bedrooms and Bathrooms show at Birmingham NEC last week, while you couldn't move for stainless steel there was a hint that something was coming into the kitchen that hadn't been seen for years, namely colour. The brighter the better. Bad news for those that have been cooking in silver and white.

Other hot news was the shape of appliances. Round fridges for example, were a particular hit. Never again need you have that awful bother of reaching all the way to the back of the fridge. Gay Radcliffe, editor of industry magazine KBB Review says: "Appliances have started to say 'hey, we're here'. We've seen a canary yellow cooker with purple handles and a double-sided fridge freezer in purple with conical legs. It's terribly exciting. Appliances have become the centre of focus."

Industrial is modern, but, according to architect Deborah Saunt, who has been commissioned to produce several, it is also nostalgic. "The focus is on the cooker and the food preparation area, hiding the appliances and the fittings in the utility room, and in that sense it is very Victorian for the first fitted kitchens came in at the turn of the century. I don't think it will take that long for them to be back again."

The industrial look is an acknowledgement of a change of behaviour. It is an expensive option but kitchens are worth investing in because we want to spend a lot of time in them. "Our notion of the kitchen has changed," says Saunt. "People no longer use it just for making food. They want more than just a system from IKEA. It's a place of aspiration, a public room."

Dee Wilson, whose company Plain and Simple kitchens can provide stainless steel handpainted doors, granite and maplewood work tops, and other essential industrial ingredients, explains that it doesn't have to be excessively expensive. "People feel intimidated that they can't possibly afford the look. But you can get very effective cheaper alternatives. Halfway houses."

Changing a door to steel will only cost a couple of hundred pounds and, says Wilson, "in five years, when the industrial look has run it's course, you can change it again".

If you are still desperate for a kitchen that looks like a school dining room, the cheapest route to is to spend hours scouring second hand commercial catering shops for huge stainless steel appliances. But of course it never looks as good as the real fake industrial created by an architect. Do it yourself industrial jobs end up looking, says Saunt, as sad as our hopeless attempts to emulate the designer "thrift look" from the catwalk. You end up looking like a lunatic kitted out by Poundstretcher. "It doesn't really work in small kitchens either. It works in New York loft houses but it is not perfectly designed for the average small London Victorian town house, which is where a lot of them are being installed."

Maybe it's better to hang on with an embarrassing kitchen until the half finished, botched up do-it-yourself Texas look is in, then we'll all be laughing.

The temporary industrial look - at half the price

1. If you live in an old house, let it fall apart. Then leave the essential scaffolding up as an industrial icon.

2. Abandoned industrial fridges are always to be found resting on the top of municipal dumps for reasons unknown. Remove in the middle of the night. It might not function any more, but it'll look the part.

3. Hire some staff, buy all your food wholesale and start cooking lunches for 300 people.

4. Rip up the lino (in the way that IKEA has told us to throw out the chintz). If you discover that you have wooden floorboards underneath, cover in cement.

5. Cover all your white domestic appliances in tin foil - it could pass for stainless steel so long as you keep the lights dim.

6. Forget the damn appliances for one minute and put a large black and white photo of an industrial wasteland on the wall.