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The not-so-little kitchen factory

Trevor Scott, the owner of Rugby Fitted Kitchens, considers the pros and cons of small and large kitchen projects.

Shortly before starting Rugby Fitted Kitchens (RFK), I was associated with a company called The Little Kitchen Factory.

What I quickly came to realise was the number of customers we attracted who had very small kitchens. The name, which referred literally to the size of the workshop, was pulling in people with small spaces to work with, and this quickly became one of our specialities.

Of course, later I was keen not to have a business whose name alone defined us as belonging to one particular market sector, so RFK, rather than LKF, became my then fledgling business’s new name.

The interesting thing about small kitchens is that they’re often as fully loaded with toys and crammed with clever storage solutions as much bigger kitchens. But, as a designer, you need to be much smarter about the way you design, as there literally must be a place for everything and everything in its place.

The designer must manage the client’s expectations, as the average Jo sees no problem with fitting that pull-out larder, 1,100mm range cooker and American-style fridge-freezer into their 10x9ft 1930s semi’s kitchen.

Often, larger kitchens just end up with more fresh air in the middle and, as that piece of fresh air increases, so too does the desire for an island, as in my experience people are generally happier if everything they need to use to prepare a meal is within no more than one or two steps of the central prep area – the good old working triangle. And the island resolves this dilemma.

The big change I have seen in recent years, though, is the desire to go open-plan, which encompasses cooking, dining and socialising. So in existing houses, such as your 1930s semi, a wall invariably has to come out, but the actual kitchen footprint is probably much the same as it was before. But now, we’ve lost a wall for storage.

In new-builds, more enlightened architects are creating open-plan ground floors, but, even so, my design team often find themselves in discussions with the developer client after first seeing the PDF floor plans, making suggestions about removing the odd wall or increasing a simple doorway into a larger square opening to create the illusion, if not the reality, of open-plan living.

Many of our developer clients are themselves pushed for space, so fairly narrow, but tall, three-storey town houses and apartment blocks give a much better return to them than small, but relatively space-hungry, detached houses.

So just what can you get into a small kitchen nowadays? Our design brief usually includes the following– a hob, double oven or single combi oven, a tall fridge-freezer, dishwasher and, if no utility room, a washer-dryer, plus a 1.5 bowl sink and taps.

That little lot adds up to 3,600mm of space and that’s before you’ve added a single storage unit.

Granted, the hob base and the oven housing do provide plenty of storage, and the sink base will handle the cleaning materials and chemicals, but if the space you’ve got to work with is only 3,000 x 2,000mm to start with, then there’s not a lot left for food and provisions storage, so creative design is a must.

Sometimes, there’s a boiler in the corner that must, of course, be disguised and, in the case of town houses, this will often block the only route to the outside for extractor ducting. So encouraging the developer to move it into the loft space becomes part of our brief.

We must be doing something right, as our client retention is high and our developers sell houses with our kitchens in them much quicker than their competitors.

Yet, in general, despite the challenges of a small kitchen, it can sometimes be easier to design than an overly large one, where the sheer scale of the room can be daunting.

I’m currently working on a project in what can only be described as a very large mansion. The client is having a full commercial kitchen installed for the use of the outside caterers when entertaining and so the ‘family kitchen’, at a mere 9.5 x 6.5 metres, has to be designed with the wow factor first and foremost. Yet many of the high-end toys, such as large Sub-Zero type refrigeration, wine storage, etc, are simply not needed.

I’m sure that some of the high-end designers out there reading this will be screaming at the page, as they probably have to meet this kind of challenge on a regular basis, but for the average kitchen studio in mid-marketshire, these kinds of project are well spaced apart and require a mental reset before approaching.

On this occasion, the design took me two-and-a-half days. Fortunately, the client really loved it, so it was worth it in the end, but it raises a question that passes through my mind quite often. Which is – am I better off designing and selling 10 £15,000 kitchens a month, or three at £50,000?

The time and effort involved doesn’t usually net that much more in the way of profit, but the hassle factor of dealing with very demanding, high-end clients does increase exponentially as the cost increases.

Also, there’s a lot of sweating on that next big job coming in to make the month profitable, whereas only missing the odd smaller kitchen doesn’t.

Gives one pause for thought, doesn’t it?

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