Linda Barker

Linda Barker: My enthusiasm was off the scale

The celebrity designer recounts her experiences as a judge for the kbbreview Retail & Design Awards and was impressed how some of shortlisted candidates were rewriting the rules

Not only did the start of 2019 bring a flurry of new trend reports pinging into my inbox, but it also was the time when the kitchen and bathroom designers shortlisted for the kbbreview Retail & Design Awards get their invitations to present their favourite design of 2018 to the prestigious judging panel.

January 19 was set for the final judging process for kitchen designs at the swanky Miele Experience Centre in London. This year my fellow judges were Johnny Grey, Craig Matson, Graham Robinson, Geraldine Wilson, Charlie Smallbone and Rosalind Wilson. Some kitchen heavyweights, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I’d already noticed a few of the New Year’s predicted trends turning up in several of the initial kitchen presentations during December (the long list of kitchen design submissions had reached all the judges early last December). It is great to see that these trends are genuinely being driven by those in the industry.

The category that I’d prejudged in December had shown some particularly exciting new designs and highlighted some strong talent, so I knew we were in for a treat.

Linda Barker

On the day itself, there would be an additional two categories for each judge, three in total, each category with four possible winners. All shortlisters had 15 minutes to explain their designs and illustrate their kitchens and convince us that they were worthy of the trophy. It promised to be quite a day for our talented designers.

It’s difficult to explain just how excited I was about the presentations this year. If there was a clap-o-meter, my enthusiasm for the talent would have been off its scale, because – as some of you will know from my previous columns – (embarrassed look away from the keyboard) I don’t exactly have a kitchen of my own yet.

Quite a confession, I know, but I can cook supper, thanks to a temporary oven – and with no dishwasher yet, Mr B and I take turns to wash up. The lack of a fully functioning kitchen is starting to drive me slowly nuts. It’s funny to remember how I fed 16 of us for Christmas dinner using a tiny FreeCycle-sourced oven – but the joke is wearing thin, so the chance of scrutinising 12 expertly crafted kitchens by designers at the top of their game was as good as it could get. My mental notebook was ready…

The design landscape that day followed some tried and tested ground that’s been thoroughly adopted by almost every kitchen designer in the UK – Crittal-style glass and standout islands being the real heroes of this ongoing look, alongside concrete worktops (real and composite) and flush-fitted hobs with discreet extraction units.

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The new kid on the block, though, was the controversial kitchen that doesn’t look like a kitchen. The ‘am I in the kitchen?’ kitchen.

Some designers were instructed by clients to create kitchen spaces that could readily pass for living rooms, or indeed dining spaces, but many designers chose to follow a minimal kitchen approach anyway, in pursuit of their own aesthetics and contemporary style. It seems that many kitchens are just too ‘kitchen-y’.

Designers are increasingly prepared to forfeit wall cabinets, larder cupboards and tall housings to get a more low-slung, chilled kitchen vibe. Where there were previously dense, storage-packed island units, judges saw successful island treatments that took on an altogether different form. Some islands looked like long workbenches, one like a radiator – and others simply didn’t exist at all.

Nope, not a table, a bench, nor a drinks cart in sight – just a clear space, to be cooked in at the perimeters or walked straight on through.

Colours were often experimental – grey leading the charge over white mostly, but deeper shades, too, that created more intimate rooms that had a sense of the individuals that cooked in them.

Linda Barker

I love the narrow shelves used in many contemporary designs, which are often sited above the splashback or cooking area to create a perfect perch for curated items and whose narrow dimensions always discourages piles of plates and random gatherings of kitchen detritus. An expertly-curated shelf is a pleasure to look at and it tells more about the house owner than their art collection ever could.

Carpenters and chefs turned kitchen designers lent an exciting frisson to some of our shortlisted kitchens. These were kitchens not necessarily governed by conventional rules and regulations. All these first- time entrants were a breath of fresh air and they often laid claim to those kitchens that most stood out.

But, it was the kitchens with an architect’s influence that had us fawning over perfectly-executed drawer boxes and expertly-framed cabinets – always with exacting attention to the small details, as you might expect. Tops of cupboards finished to the same high level as cabinet fronts, and oriental- influenced, gold leaf detail were highlights. An expertly-crafted antique radiator cover that now inhabits centre stage in an apartment kitchen proved to be a genuine hero of the day.

It was also nice to witness that much more than the ‘big spend’ spaces grabbed our attention – more often it was the smaller budgets that compelled the best of our kitchen creatives to work out the dynamics of how a space can invite us to stay, cook and be at our best. After all, that’s what we all want isn’t it?

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