Today, most of us expect our kitchen to be the heart of our home.
However, English townhouses are typically designed with the kitchen in the basement, this room traditionally being the realm of servants rather than the family. This has led many modern townhouse dwellers to relocate their kitchen to suit contemporary needs, but this poses the question: where should a kitchen be located in a house? And how to create a new kitchen which fits with the traditional aesthetic of a townhouse while still incorporating all the modern conveniences which we rely on today?
Where should a kitchen be located in a house?
Moving your kitchen from the basement to the upper ground floor brings better light and more space to absorb the many functions required in modern life. However, before you relocate, bear in mind that this often means sacrificing good connections to the garden and limited supporting rooms (such as a scullery).
Most people’s first thought is to move their kitchen into a symmetrical listed reception room. However, bear in mind that it may be difficult to incorporate a large modern fridge freezer into a space like this. If possible, consider using collector’s rooms or a library, which tend to integrate into a kitchen better.
What architectural issues does moving the kitchen present?
English townhouses were built to suit the requirements of families in the 18th and 19th centuries, when kitchens were typically run by staff. The architecture and layout of such houses reflects a need to accommodate the labour required to run affluent households. Such an extravagant amount of staff is rare these days, partly due to the conveniences of modern life. However, this is not to say that families living in these townhouses would not hire cookery staff for an event, raising the issue of how to discreetly get services into the relocated kitchen.
Other practical issues when changing the kitchen location in your house include the fact that having the kitchen in the basement prevents cooking smells from escaping to other rooms. With the kitchen upstairs, it may be harder to extract aromas, however this is not to say it can’t be done.
Take for example this kitchen relocation effort by bespoke kitchens designer and maker Artichoke; in a Victorian townhouse in Holland Park, a painted kitchen was to be created in a room which was once a formal drawing room. To ensure optimum extraction, Artichoke installed the gas hob on an out-facing wall, allowing designers to install an externally located extraction motor, which keeps food smells from escaping while ensuring motor noise levels stay at a minimum.
Design fashions to consider for a new kitchen
It is now fashionable to introduce elements to decorate a kitchen as we may have previously decorated a living room – for example adding a statement piece of art or reinstating a fireplace as a focal point. When thinking about where a kitchen should be located in a house in the modern world, you may want to consider a room that already has dramatic eye-catching features, allowing you to easily create a fashionable kitchen space.
We also find that adding an island or something that remains distinctly apart from the building fabric works very well when moving a kitchen: a mix of traditional joinery with a distinct contemporary intervention helps make the new kitchen space feel natural.
You may find that by relocating to a grander space, the scale of the new room creates design challenges. In the Holland Park townhouse mentioned earlier, the new kitchen space had very high ceilings. For rooms like this, it is important to design furniture which works at scale with the room but is, at the same time, practical for everyday use. To achieve this, Artichoke used a large Sub Zero fridge freezer on the one side of the room and a pair of Wolf ovens designed into a tall stack on the other, creating balance and proportion with a large double door larder cabinet to complete the effect.
Food storage in the modern kitchen
In previous centuries, food storage was a fairly laborious process requiring a lot of space. North-facing rooms were required for air-cooled storage. When the food harvested in the summer months was preserved and jarred, lots of storage space was required – often in a room laid out with shelves as a pantry. In contrast, now we have fridges bang in the middle of the cooking zone and Ocado delivery means that shelves can be replenished at the click of a mouse.
Despite this, many who choose to change the kitchen location in their house still dedicate a separate zone in the kitchen to dry larder storage – creating a mini shop of goods for their family to access as and when they are needed.
Food preparation considerations
In modern-day kitchens, food is more commonly prepared using gadgets rather than staff. Many of the functions carried out in kitchens in the past are the same as today; grinding chopping, mixing, beating, mincing and rolling. However, these days we often buy ingredients ready prepared and have gadgets to do any chopping and grinding for us.
However, despite the differences in equipment, and regardless of whether there are servants or not, food still needs to be cleaned, stored, prepared and presented in the modern kitchen.
Depending on kitchen layout, the island is now the main preparation zone in most kitchens – this is not so different to the preparation tables used in traditional kitchens, though these were at a standard table height (around 760mm) and modern islands are usually around 910mm, more easily facilitating chopping.
The increased use of gadgets also means that we need to think about their storage within new bespoke kitchens, allowing people to keep these items out of sight while still having them readily accessible for everyday use. This may involve plenty of easy-to-reach cupboard space with plug sockets located behind.
There is no exact answer for where a kitchen should be located in a house, and of course this depends on the townhouse and family in question. However, as a general rule of thumb, if a dramatic heart of the home is what you want and you don’t mind sacrificing potential supporting rooms that are neatly tucked out of sight, then consider relocating your kitchen to former reception rooms used for entertaining guests. On the other hand, if you still want to keep a busy kitchen that can easily accommodate staff and has easy access to the garden, then you will do better to leave your kitchen in the basement.
Hopefully this guide has also brought to light what to think about if you do decide to relocate your kitchen, from scaling up your kitchen to fit the new space to creating a food preparation area that works for your family.