At John Lewis, the average customer spends around £15,000 on a new fitted kitchen. And that's before they start adding the Nespresso machine and the new pans for the induction hob (All-Clad, which hover either side of the £100 mark, are favourites among keen cooks). Factor in a dedicated boiling water tap (the Dutch brand Quooker costs around £800 and still sold around 10,000 last year) and a KitchenAid food processor (around £350) and you're happily on your way to £20,000.
Time was when the kitchen was conveniently out of sight, and often no more than a lino-floored galley with a run of cupboards, a cooker and a fridge. From it, the housewife emerged thrice daily bearing cooked food. In the new semi-detached homes scattered liberally across the Britain of the 1960s, it was expanded a little (the washing machine had arrived) and put next to a dining room which in turn led to a sitting room, sometimes cunningly separated by a vinyl partition. By the 1980s, the walls were beginning to disappear with many a Victorian house sprouting new loadbearing beams as entire ground floors were routinely "knocked through". By the 2000s, property developers simply dispensed with the kitchen altogether, integrating it into the living space and passing off this miserly elimination of an entire room as the apotheosis of style. Thank God for the arrival of the extractor hood.
The contemporary kitchen is nearly always on show and nearly always in use. It has to look good. Ikea even produces a living room storage range, Besta, that matches its bestselling kitchen range, Abstrakt. "Open plan living has been popular in Sweden for years," says Mikael Berryman, Ikea's UK head of interior design. "So we have to co-ordinate all the furniture – it lives in the same space."
John Pawson, the British architect famed for his minimalist style and creator of many a chic kitchen (his own completely stainless steel one – photographed with a sole slab of meat – was shown in World of Interiors in 1980), says that current trends favour natural materials, like stone, wood and metals that are seamless and hard wearing. "A really good kitchen is like a man's suit," he says. "Plain on the outside with a fancy lining." In Pawson's case that means fewer bigger drawers, cleverly lined with soft-to-the-touch rubber to stop implements from slipping around.
In a family home the kitchen's major role is not status symbol, but the beating heart of the house. "This is where the real soap opera is played out," says Huw Morgan (see p30), a partner at a design company, who loves to cook and entertain. "The kitchen sees the making and the eating of food. But it also gets the talking, the arguments, the homework, the games, laughing, and some crying. The front room must be jealous."
THE ARCHITECT: GORDON YOUNG
Gordon Young grew up between London and Hong Kong and though he's lived in the UK for 30 years, still has a distinctly Chinese attitude to food. "We think eating is incredibly important." He designed his kitchen eight years ago, with cupboard doors made in dyed-through MDF (cheap and clearly very durable) and a splashback in marble from Pisani. "The marble only cost £350, but I laid it all out on the floor to match the veining. Marble's a great way to bling up any kitchen," says Young. The iroko wood-block worktops have also stood the test of time.
Kitchens for clients have led to a range of demands. A couple in Kennington wanted Young to incorporate an exquisite Venetian chandelier into the design, while for a young woman with cerebral palsy, a more complicated functionality was as important as style. "The kitchen has become such a status symbol," he says. "It's like a car. A good Gaggenau kitchen could set you back anything from £35,000 to £50,000, though I've seen wealthy clients go up to £100,000."
Gordon's best buys
* With a Chinese chopping knife [the ones with the large rectangular blade] you can cut anything and scoop it into the pan.
* A rice cooker: ugly but essential
* A wok. It's the easiest way to cook healthily
THE TECHNICIAN: SAM BOMBAS
There is a corner of Sam Bompas's living room that is filled with off-the-peg blue kitchen cupboards, an oven and even a fridge. But there aren't many signs of conventional kitchen activity going on here. Instead, the work tops are littered with small bottles of chemicals; one is labelled Ammonium Chloride Puratronic, that creates spectacular fireworks, others are agents to make flames go pretty colours, or contain the flavourings more often added to wine to create a smoky or oaky flavour. In the corner is a pressure tank. "We use that to make an alcoholic cocktail cloud," says Bompas. "You can fill it with gin and tonic and then send the vapour into the air. People get drunk through their lungs and their eyeballs." A perfect candied pineapple sits on a plate. "That'll last forever," he says.
Bompas met his partner in creativity, Harry Parr, at Eton. In 2007, Sam was bored with his job in marketing and Harry had just completed the second part of his architecture degree where his final project was creating jelly moulds in the shape of buildings. Together they translated Parr's degree show into a business and have created moulds of buildings from Barajas Airport in Madrid to Buckingham Palace. "Within a month, we were doing full-on catering," says Bompas. Though with quite a twist. A recent event, called the Dirt Banquet, which took place in a Victorian decommissioned pumping station in Essex, started with bacterial jelly canapés and ended with Prosecco jelly in the shape of a breast.
Sam's best buys
* Pressure tank: indispensable for making alcoholic clouds
* Jar of lime, absinthe and yuzu jelly: fluorescent and edible
* Mask around neck: "I've got a load of chemicals here"
THE DESIGNER: ORLA KIELY
"Patterns work really well in a kitchen," says the designer Orla Kiely (pronounced Kylie), as well she might. Kiely's stock in trade is bold retro prints in Sixties colours – lime, yellow, orange and brown are favourites and the designs are invariably geometric and graphic.
Kiely's own kitchen, in the south London house she shares with husband Dermott, two sons aged 14 and 16, and Olive the chocolate-brown Labradoodle, has colour and pattern aplenty. "The kitchen cupboards run all the way down the right hand wall, which gives us a really long work top and makes the room feel nice and wide," says Kiely. "And above the work top we've got open shelves – it opens things up. Big bowls that don't get used very often are up the top and look fabulous. Storage jars and cookery books have to be easier to access." Kiely describes her taste, and her designs, as "quite retro. I like the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s – that mix of nature and geometry. But I hope my own products mix vintage and contemporary. I go for wooden lids and strong shapes. There's nothing ditzy about it."
Her biggest kitchen extravagance is a gleaming cream KitchenAid food mixer, bought last year for £350. "I love baking with the kids," she says, "and the hand mixer just took too much elbow grease. I know the boys are getting big now, but they still love a cake."
Orla's best buys
* KitchenAid: last year's big purchase
* Big bowls on the upper shelves: as much for decoration as use
* Kitchen cupboards: all in a row to create a streamlined space and provide a long run of worktop
THE CHEF: FERGUS HENDERSON
Fergus Henderson's home, in the heart of Covent Garden, used to belong to his architect parents. When they shipped out to Wiltshire 18 years ago, Henderson (executive chef and co-proprietor of the St John restaurants) and wife Margot (also a chef who runs the Canteen at Rochelle School in the East End and the art world's favourite outside catering company, Arnold and Henderson) and their three children, now teenagers, moved in.
The huge kitchen is a testament to the 1980s period of design, with whitewashed brick walls and an imposing central block finished in glossy rust-coloured lacquer, that contains ovens, the fridge and storage, and divides the room. Ten dinky Artek wooden stools, originally designed by Alvar Aalto in 1932, are dotted around – "unbelievably useful things," declares Henderson, who has just opened the St John Hotel in Soho and is writing a "vaguely autobiographical book, with illustrations".
While the St John restaurants are best known for the meatiness of their offering, from squirrel to bone marrow, the Henderson family relies almost entirely on Italian Soho deli Camisa for its home cooking, "so it's a cycle of pasta, risotto and different types of sausage, with rocket, tomatoes and basil," says Henderson. Otherwise it's shopping at the local M&S, although, "it depresses me, all that ersatz food". Henderson has far finer tastes. Among the hanging utensils is a truffle slicer. "We live in hope," he says, dreaming of his next consignment.
Fergus's best buys
* A lethally sharp fish knife in a white plastic sheath, from Sydney
* Noma cookbook. "I used to devour cookbooks. I've slowed down a bit"
* Open shelves: "I like to see what we've got"
THE AMATEUR BUILDER: HUW MORGAN
Huw Morgan and his wife Sophie Smallhorn (a graphic designer and artist, respectively) bought their Victorian cottage in north London eight years ago at auction. "It was a wreck, and we were broke, so we made it liveable with hardboard floors and a basic kitchen," says Huw. Five years later, they added a back extension, but then ran out of money again. "We had to get the old kitchen back off the rubbish heap and put it back together. But the good thing was, we worked out what we wanted. I'd build an island, then decide it should be a little bigger. We had open shelves, which I loved, but everything we didn't use all the time would get dirty." Three years ago, cash flow crisis averted, Morgan got the kitchen of his dreams, "though I miss the charm of the old one".
Morgan saved a fortune by sourcing materials and equipment himself. The extraction hood, by Westin, was made to order. "It's basically a massive sprayed box. If you can't hide it, you have to make something of it". The gas hob by KitchenAid was "the least designed I could find". The Gaggenau oven was an eBay bargain: "a fancier new range had come out, and stores were getting rid of this model".
It is absolutely the heart of the house, Morgan says: "I know it's a cliché, but it's where you feed your family [the couple have two sons, Milo, aged five, and Finlay, aged eight]. There's been tears and Lego around our kitchen table. As well as mates and laughing."
Huw's best buys
* Pale grey worktop in LG Hi-Macs (a material similar to Corian). You can remove stains by scouring
* Oak table by Maarten van Severen for Vitra. "There's something symbolic about settling in and buying a dining table."
* Bourgeat pans: "I've had them for years"Reuse content