The way we live now, by Peter York: Aga saga

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The Independent Online

There was a time - the early Nineties - when a lot of people started to think they never wanted to see a sentimental kitchen again. Sentimental kitchens were "country" ones in London SW11, or self-consciously scatty ones anywhere, places so cobwebbed with whimsy that you couldn't imagine a decent meal or a New Labour Project or a Clerkenwell Design Prize emerging from them in a million years.

What they wanted instead was ... oh, a range of things from a sensible utilitarian galley, where everything worked, to something more European and architecturally right-on to something large and glamorous with statementy stuff. The last wasn't clear, but it was in the air: soon a new generation of kitchen-design people started to sell it.

The sentimental country kitchen, with an unquestioned Aga at its heart, had become a national reference point when a rather Sloaney Mum novelist with a resonant name, Joanna Trollope, was described as writing "Aga sagas" at the turn of the Nineties (I've never read one but people tell me they're about middle-aged, upper-middley marriage and family problems in Cotswoldy places). At the same time as bold spirits challenged the sentimental aesthetic, they started to speak ill of Agas (this was a bit like drive-by shooting Labradors).

As the Nineties blew on, the sentimental country-kitchen look was overtaken as the lead-seller in what the trade calls "slab contemporary": sleek, flat-fronted units with big architectural-looking stainless- steel handles. They went with chunky shelves and smart opaque glass. Evolved women started to save up for something from Bulthaup or Boffi, the Prada of kitchens. The sentimental country kitchen never went away, of course: any large supplier will have at least one pine-y and one painted range in their top ten. But they are now so unfashionable that the look is starting to seem rather interesting again.

Somewhere between Daphne du Maurier and that terrible old snob Virginia Woolf, the idea of an old house as an anthropomorphic being that'll outlast its occupants became part of the thinking of a certain kind of woman. It doesn't work for urban flats and post-war houses where Agas and pine-y kitchens look silly because everything's straight. In older, wobbly houses with original flagstones and huge, deep-arched kitchen fireplaces - like the one pictured here - you could just get away with it. At 12.30am, with a bottle of Rioja inside you, the prospect of a real horsehair mattress made up with hospital-cornered sheets and blankets could seem reassuring if, say, you'd spent the previous night in one of London's sleekly-samey urban postcodes. E'Cooler, Faster, More Expensive: The Return of the Sloane Ranger' by Peter York and Olivia Stewart-Liberty is published byAtlantic, £19.99

The structures - the beams and joists - are obviously real and wonky. This is Aga saga to the max. We could live without the shepherd's crook though

The furniture and rug say 'country auction-house' (ie. pleasant, modest, nothing special) rather than Fulham's Pine Mine shop

The door, planked and latched and black-iron hinged, artfully lets in the light from the room beyond

These Lloyd Loom tub chairs look nicely worn and old - ie. they were bought originally because they were practical and light, not because they're retro

The red range cooker is desperately 'cheerful' but it's OK here. You could just believe that it is a slumberous beast, the heart of the house