Discover the ingredients needed to create a charming and timeless quintessentially English kitchen in this extract from Ros Byam Shaw’s beautiful new book, Perfect English Style
AN ECLECTIC AND COLOURFUL ENGLISH COUNTRY STYLE KITCHEN. IMAGE: SIMON BROWN
For nearly 15 years, writer Ros Byam Shaw’s ‘Perfect English’ series of beautiful coffee table interiors books has celebrated the quintessentially English country house aesthetic. Think squashy sofas, plump roses and faded chintz; this enduring, informal style of decoration is as charming to look at as it is to live in.
In her latest book, Perfect English Style, Ros explores rooms that are comfortable, pleasing and timeless in their decoration and deciphers the ingredients necessary to create them. The most fundamental characteristic of this perennial style is a lack of perfection which, she says, “belongs to a peculiarly English modesty that would rather minimize than exaggerate.” A mix of styles, comfort, an appreciation of nostalgia and the appearance that nothing is too try-hard are also key components of the recipe, says Ros.
In this extract, we share Ros’ insights into the archetypical English kitchen; from its changing function and design over the centuries, to the current kitchens of choice for period homes…
SOFT COLOURS AND BEAUTIFUL TEXTURAL DETAILS IN THE KITCHEN OF ARTIST SANDRA WHITMORE, BY PLAIN ENGLISH (LEFT) AND WRITER ROS BYAM-SHAW (RIGHT). IMAGES: JAN BALDWIN
Kitchens have been on the up for a good hundred years. No longer hidden from polite society in dank basements or distant wings, the kitchen has come to be the room on which typically most expense is lavished.
Cooking is on show, and the kitchen table is where family and friends gather to eat and socialize, and, when not laid for a meal, is also likely to be where laptops congregate, homework is done, board games are played, flowers are arranged, and plans are made. Once a Cinderella, kept in the background and never introduced to guests, the 21st-century kitchen has stepped into the limelight.
Fitted kitchens were still a novelty in the mid-20th century, an American import, seen as a little flashy, if appealing for their perceived efficiency and hygiene. They soon became the norm, and by the 1960s, Formica in a variety of cheerful colours was widely used to create wall-to-wall wipe-clean surfaces.
In the 1980s, when English Country House style had an ebullient renaissance, the fitted kitchen was adapted to suit, decked out in dragged paintwork, with multi-pane glazed wall cupboards like rows of dinky cottage windows, and shaped corner shelves edged with ranks of miniature turned spindles.
Recently, a more grown-up and sophisticated style of fitted kitchen, based on the utilitarian and slightly ascetic pantries, sculleries, dairies, and larders of large country houses, has become the kitchen of choice for a period home.
A fitted kitchen made in solid wood, with recessed hinges and drawers with dovetail joints, is a fine thing, but requires a substantial budget. Fortunately for the fan of English style, an unfitted kitchen, or one that is a mix of fitted and unfitted pieces, is just as desirable.
THE HANDSOME OPEN-PLAN KITCHEN AND DINING ROOM AT THE WINCHESTER HOME OF ARCHITECT GEORGE SAUMAREZ SMITH. IMAGE: JAN BALDWIN
This ideally requires a reception room-sized space. That classic kitchen trio of Aga (or range cooker), dresser, and a sturdy and generously proportioned kitchen table takes up a lot of space. Space also allows for pictures on the wall, and for pieces of antique and vintage furniture – sideboards, cabinets, plate racks, and wall shelves – that contribute to the decorative interest. If there is a place for a couple of armchairs, all the better.
This emphasis on comfort, and the inclusion of things that are beautiful as well as practical, is typically English.
Discover more kitchen and English country style inspiration from The Home Page here and below…