One dishwasher or two?

At this time of the year, the kitchen comes into its own as the heart of the home. Mary Wilson looks at the latest trends in design and equipment
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The Independent Online

When it's oh-so-cold outside and dark far too early in the afternoon, there is nothing nicer than cosying up in the kitchen, chatting to friends while you prepare the children's tea or make supper. People now tend to go out for meals for formal occasions and eat in the kitchen at other times, so this room has become the hub of most homes. In any sizeable house, it will be expected to be large enough to take a family-sized table for informal eating, a sofa or couple of chairs for relaxing and maybe, even a small piano or keyboard at one end.

When it's oh-so-cold outside and dark far too early in the afternoon, there is nothing nicer than cosying up in the kitchen, chatting to friends while you prepare the children's tea or make supper. People now tend to go out for meals for formal occasions and eat in the kitchen at other times, so this room has become the hub of most homes. In any sizeable house, it will be expected to be large enough to take a family-sized table for informal eating, a sofa or couple of chairs for relaxing and maybe, even a small piano or keyboard at one end.

But how much difference does a flash kitchen make to the sale of a house? According to recent research carried out by Zanussi, 75 per cent of homeowners considered the kitchen to be a deciding factor when it came to buying property and more than half of the house-buying population go on to change their kitchen within the first three months of moving into a new home.

"Kitchens can definitely help trigger a sale. Large houses in Richmond in the £1m-£2m million bracket normally come with a pretty smart eat-in kitchen. In this area, wood or limestone floors, bespoke units, stainless steel and chrome appliances, good lighting, and a separate utility area get all the right ticks on the scorecard," says Robert Leigh of London agents Featherstone Leigh (020-8940 1575). "Ironically, once the new owner, wooed by the so-called heart of the home has moved in, it's very likely they will want to re-plan it to suit their particular style of life and family needs."

And in the country, a kitchen is just as important. "A kitchen can make or break a sale," says Nicholas Owen of Property Pathfinder (01285 653190), a property search consultancy in the Cotswolds. "If it is shabby, but can be re-built or refurbished then it won't matter too much. But there might be an issue if it would completely disrupt the house to get a new one in."

So what trends are kitchen designers following for 2003? The move a few years ago towards individual kitchen units, rather than fitted, never took off, except in the largest country kitchens. "It just doesn't provide enough storage space," says Nick Combs of NCD Interiors (020 7610 6817). "We are building units right up to the ceiling now to maximise on space. Slim contemporary shelves look great, but they don't have enough room". He is finding aluminium is more in demand than stainless steel. "People think it is easier to clean than steel, but it isn't, really," he says.

"Laminates are still very popular, usually in a satin finish and neutral colour and lighting is becoming more important. We are putting in low-voltage, back-lit splashbacks and pelmet lighting. Also underfloor heating. And what people in the middle market are doing is buying cheaper carcasses and then changing the worktops for wood or granite and sometimes glass. Then they put in the smart appliances to jazz it up."

Out of the 40 kitchens Nick has designed in the last couple of years, all but 10 have communicated in some way with living space. "People want to be in the kitchen and socialise at the same time," he says.

Francesca Hood, who designs kitchens for her husband's company, Simon Hood Developments, says that her starting point is always the positioning of the kitchen. "Simon usually enlarges or even doubles the size of the house he is renovating and we usually put the kitchen in the new part because the older rooms are never big enough," she says. "I like to put a good-sized dining table at one end or even a little snug area because people are spending more time in the kitchen. And I try to think of the area in terms of an entertaining room as well as a functional one."

Francesca has also started putting in two dishwashers. "Lots of people want two because they have lots of people coming to stay at weekends and one dishwasher isn't enough." She also puts in large, American-style fridge/freezers and always an Aga, although these are likely to be ones that have two conventional Aga ovens and two electric ones with gas rings over the top. A 24ft by 16ft kitchen designed by her works out at £20,000 and in one house she has just finished, Francesca has put in a blue limestone work surface, which she says is very effective and practical. She also uses wood for work surfaces. One of Simon Hood's projects, the six- bedroom Todenham House in Todenham, Gloucestershire is being sold by FPDSavills for £1.4m.

In London, the idea of two dishwashers hasn't caught on. "Kitchens are just not big enough, except in some of the largest houses or where a Jewish family might want two," says Gideon Wegh of Alternative Plans (020-7228 6460), who designs kitchens for upmarket developers. "We work with Boffi, the leading Italian kitchen supplier, and the trend in London is unmistakably uncluttered, minimalistic with the emphasis on finishes. I am still using stainless steel and expect to carry on doing so for some while.

"Glass is also of interest for splashbacks. We use clear glass with a coloured or a metallic background and glass can even go behind hobs, if toughened you can put a flame to it. And high-gloss polyester as a finish is very much in vogue." More equipment is required than ever, but Wegh says that architects are still not designing big enough kitchens to put this in. "So, if you are not careful, kitchens look rather cluttered. We are including two ovens, five-burner hobs and American-style fridge/freezers. And we also put in, wherever possible, a built-in steamer and coffee machine."

Octagon Developments (020-8481 7500) is one of the companies he works for and according to David Smith, the marketing director, "two of the most essential plus points to be considered in the marketing of any of our new properties are the kitchen, and kerb appeal. If our potential buyers like the look of what they see when they arrive on site, we're well over half way to selling it. If one partner falls in love with the kitchen, the other is going to find it difficult to come up with reasons not to buy at the end of the viewing. The size of the kitchen is important and a separate space should always be made available for tables and chairs as informal entertaining within the kitchen is now very popular."

In some central London pads, however, the oven and dishwasher might still have their protective wrappers when the apartment is sold a few years later. "If it's a pied-a-terre and bought by a businessman, all they will use is the kettle and the fridge," says Alexander Percy-Davis of Knight Frank (020-7499 1012). "But you wouldn't be able to sell the flat in the first place if it didn't have a really smart kitchen with all the appliances."

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