Imagine this, a kitchen as small as a tiny cupboard. When standing in the middle, you are easily able to touch every wall around you. You need to be creative with how you use your millimetres of counter space. And if that’s not all, you have to interrupt your guests congregating in the dining area, every time you need to fetch some utensil overspilling into the kitchen cupboards positioned there. In short, this is not the space you would dream of cooking or entertaining in.
As soon as I walked into our first home, a typical 1960s build, the potential hit me instantly. Although quite dated, it was very well looked after. The rooms were big and square, without any awkward corners, compared to what you may get in period properties for instance. But by far the biggest potential was the opportunity to add a bright and spacious kitchen by converting the garage. So, given the nightmare described above, my first main priority for this house was to make the tiny kitchen a distant memory. Fast.
Coming home from the viewing and waiting anxiously for a reply on our offer, I saw myself passing the time with creating a list of kitchen must-haves: a breakfast bar, sink by the window, dishwasher (my very first one), built-in double oven at eye level rather than under the counter, gas hob, tea making station (obvs), and absolutely no top cupboards. Easy.
Having planned and installed IKEA kitchens previously, I was naturally drawn to start planning the space by using their virtual planning tool. I used the approximate dimensions provided by the estate agent, which at least allowed me to decide on the rough layout. The exact amount or sizes of cupboards would need to be adapted of course, once I was able to take proper measurements.
On a quick note: Before starting to draw my own plans as part of my interior design training, I found the IKEA kitchen planner very helpful, even when not ending up purchasing a kitchen there. If you like developing your own design, the virtual planner gives the freedom to play around with the space and the cupboards you may need. For this renovation we created our plans and showed them to the kitchen supplier we shortlisted. They were able to work off our plans and tweak them according to what they had available and our budget. After all, for us, IKEA still won the bid in the end.
The layout of any kitchen is very much dependent on where the main supplies are, such as waste pipes, gas and electricity. In our case, we had to work with what was there regarding waste and gas, as we were not able to move these. So the cupboards along the windows for instance had to be moved slightly forward to accommodate the plumbing. In terms of electricity though, we had free rein, as there was none in the garage yet. Everything considered, including accommodating the golden triangle of course, our kitchen had an L-shaped layout, with the fridge, oven, and hob all in one line and sink around the corner.
To plan exactly which types of cupboards would be positioned where, I first took stock of everything I need and use in a kitchen. This was to ensure I had enough space to store everything I owned, with some contingency for future additions of course. From here, I imagined how I would use the kitchen. How would it feel to cook in the space? Where would the pans, chopping boards, cutlery, kitchen machines, plates, spices, etc. need to go to be handy? And the microwave? Where to put the bloody microwave? These exercises would be my top tip to anyone planning a brand new kitchen. You just don’t have this freedom when adopting a kitchen someone else designed. Thinking through your needs to the smallest detail is the biggest advantage to developing your dream space.
After a lot of kitchen unit Tetris, resizing the cupboards, adding drawers, and removing them again, the most suitable layout started with the tallest units available at the very back of the room, housing the fridge/freezer and double oven. Tucking these units away around the corner meant they would not overwhelm the space, but at the same time fill the height of the room nicely.
From there, follows a line of wide and deep drawer units with a hob at the centre. Drawers are super handy, as they allow you to see everything and to easily reach anything stored within. So no more crouching down awkwardly lifting the cereal bowls out the way to get to the dinner plates at the back. Admittedly though, drawer units are considerably more expensive than standard cupboards with shelving. In our case, we didn't need to compromise on this feature as one of the deciding factors when it came to choosing a supplier was that we could afford their drawer units. IKEA offered this as well as high quality at the same time.
Turning the corner, the sink is positioned in front of the window and next to the dishwasher, exactly as I envisaged originally. This side of the kitchen extends into the space which was the previous kitchen. Here, the breakfast bar takes pride of place in front of another window, allowing you to gaze out while eating or tapping away on your laptop. Given its position, right across the entrance to the living/dining space, the breakfast bar also transforms into a very handy entertaining area for guests where we usually enjoy welcome drinks and snacks before dinner.
Knowing this is not the forever home, I decided to install grey cupboard fronts and covering panels, which I considered would appeal to most potential future buyers. In a home where short term resale value is of less importance, I may have chosen a bolder coloured kitchen, like green, blue, or maybe even yellow. Nevertheless, the calming grey was the perfect choice for this house. It was a great neutral I knew I could add colour to by other means, like with my DIY Terrazzo backsplash, patterned tiles on the window sills, or accessories.
To stay in keeping with the base colour scheme, but to add a bit of variation for the eye, I balanced the calm feel of the kitchen with geometric patterned flooring. The entire living floor has darker laminate throughout, but for the kitchen, a more graphic and water resistant vinyl flooring seemed the better option, like this tiled effect vinyl from Carpetright. The design is linear and bold, but slightly toned down with the zig-zag pattern in light grey, tying in with the hue of the fronts.
The handle design took a lot of consideration. There are so many great suppliers, the choice is almost overwhelming. To soften the sleek design of the kitchen and sharp edges of the floor pattern, I decided to go with a more traditional handle style. The handles have a slightly more substantial feel, but at the same time add softness to the overall design and fit perfectly with the rest of the house. In terms of positioning of the handles, it was important to me to keep a linear and calm flow of the kitchen. Thus, any of the bar handles are positioned horizontally, even on the tall cupboards.
When it came to choosing the worktops, I knew I wanted wood to add warmth and comfort to the space and link it to the rest of the house. Getting in various quotes and given the special width and length of the worktop forming the bar area, a wood effect laminate worktop transpired to be the best option for our budget. Although laminate worktops are hardly ever the first choice these days, they did come a long way. Our chosen worktop looks like wood and is textured to give the impression of wood grain.
I knew I didn’t want to add cupboards on the opposite side of the room to keep the kitchen light and airy. However, I needed to compensate for lost storage space by not having wall units. Additionally, I certainly wanted to maximise on work space, as there’s never enough and that hideous microwave still needed a home. I was adamant this was not going to be on the main kitchen counter. For the first few weeks of having the kitchen installed, we placed the microwave in the furthest corner of the room on a butchers block we brought from our previous flat. One morning I came into the space and thought why not just add another couple of butchers blocks. They are the perfect height and they're wooden, so we could easily place hot treys from the oven here. Additionally, they have lovely open storage and some of the drawers from the original kitchen seemed to fit perfectly. Now, the three butcher blocks add interest to the opposite side of the room and I love that a small part of the old kitchen lives on in the new design.
Ever since the kitchen was installed, I felt the room was seeming like it was lacking something to make it more cosy. Given my love of open shelving, and, truth be told, running out of space to house my plants elsewhere in the house, I became obsessed with shelving placed high up on the wall, which was perfect for this space. As soon as this was added to the full length of the wall above the butcher blocks, it does indeed make the kitchen feel more homely and softer. The shelving also draws your eye up, making the already tall room feel even more spacious.
Across the bar area used to be a supersized cupboard housing part of the old boiler system. Although handy storage, its size was so imposing that we decided to push it back and add open shelving instead. It’s now a very useful space for our collection of glasses, where anyone can help themselves, especially handy when enjoying welcome drinks with guests.
Walking into this space every day and being able to cook here made me unbelievably happy. No more awkward squeezing past guests to get to the toaster. On the contrary, the extension gave us a lovely space to welcome guests to. I couldn’t have wished for a better transformation in our first house.
What do you think of the transformation? Would you have given up your garage to make space for a bigger kitchen?