There are three pretty special things about this Suffolk kitchen. One, it’s the smallest kitchen we’ve ever created. Two, every single component is made-to-measure. And three, it belongs to the interiors oracle that is Susan Crewe (who also goes by Sue) – who edited leading homes magazine House & Garden for over two decades.
When Sue moved into her London home, it was in fact 35 years ago. Throughout her years here, she’s lived on each floor, though she now rents out the upper two levels, choosing to live in her ground floor garden flat – she splits her time between here and her Cumbrian house. “I’m actually about to build a cabin in the grounds there for the grandchildren to make mayhem and have fun,” she tells us.
Last year, she decided to renovate her entire flat. Enlisting the help of her son-in-law James of James Gorst Architects to reconfigure the layout, her cousin Jane Ormsby Gore of JR Design as the decorator, and Sims Hilditch as the kitchen designers, together they set about transforming this home into something very different to what it had been before. Though small, the kitchen was an integral part of the whole redesign.
“I knew from the beginning that I wished to have a kitchen that was closeted somewhere separate from my dining space. I’ve grown somewhat tired of open-plan kitchen-diners and longed for some segregation between the two. And from my dining room, I wished to have a table that would accommodate more than a few friends or family members. I said this knowing that it would mean I should lose space elsewhere in the flat, and it was the kitchen where that space was stolen. It left me with this slither of a thing and I wondered to myself, ‘how on earth will I make something of this?’ It was this fear that lead me straight to Neptune and Sims Hilditch,” Sue explained.
Sue had known Neptune for some time, but it was at the launch of the Limehouse kitchen collection in 2014 that she really got to know what Neptune kitchens were all about. “I quite vividly recall the long conversations that myself and John [Sims-Hilditch] shared at the launch event, fittingly in London’s Limehouse area. He spoke to me in such great detail about a hinge that had been specifically developed for all these extraordinary mechanical and aesthetic reasons. I remember thinking to myself, this is a man and this is a company who care so incredibly about every last detail and who get it. Who really get it. It’s quite rare also to have a co-founder so very involved in, quite literally, the nuts and bolts of every design. I just loved it,” Sue continued. When asked what helped her to decide on a Neptune kitchen she replied, “I admired their design philosophy. And that of Sims Hilditch also. They take the trouble to design as things should be, deeply considering the perfect position for when one wants to reach for this and that when cooking, or when tidying away. They have this way of knowing exactly what one wants. Neptune kitchens, importantly, look good and they have integrity. And, honestly, I liked them.” We asked who she meant by that. The kitchens or John and Emma [Neptune’s creative director and founder of Sims Hilditch]. “Both!” she replied. “It can be very difficult to find a brand that you like and that you trust. The relationship should be a joy as opposed to a trial.” She paused. “Am I garbling? [She wasn’t.] In brief I suppose, I had such a matchbox space, the design detail was paramount or my kitchen would’ve been a veritable failure. It was obvious then to me who I needed to work with to create my adorable kitchen.”
Sue passed the reigns onto the team at the Sims Hilditch studio, explaining exactly what she was looking for – a kitchen that wasn’t folksy nor too clean-lined, a single butler’s sink in which she could fit her roasting tin, and a palette and style of kitchen that would work with her Bert & May geometric floor tiles. They advised a calming palette of Neptune’s shades Lily and Fog on the cabinets and walls – two tones that they assured Sue would suit the space and the light, as well as providing the perfect contrast to her bold and beautiful red dining room that adjoins the kitchen. They also advised that the Suffolk collection would match her brief best of all, but, to make it work, it would need the help of Neptune’s Bespoke Workshop in Wiltshire. Here, they could take the ‘standard’ cabinetry and make necessary alterations – from the dimensions to extra features and even new cabinetry ideas altogether. “It was rather like being at the tailors!” Sue joked.
In the end, all but the integrated fridge cabinet and the sink base cabinet were made-to-measure in Wiltshire. They shrunk down each of the three pan drawers, and even reconfigured the solid oak cutlery insert to work in the top drawer. They also altered the wall cabinets to sit higher but to be smaller in size so they didn’t overwhelm the room nor rid Sue of extra storage space. One was even made to fit a discreet extractor fan.
One year on, we asked Sue how was she finding life with her new kitchen? Was there anything she’d want to tweak or add? “I love it all. Truly. I wouldn’t change a thing because we were so obsessive about the detail in the design process, and every bespoke element was made just for me and my little kitchen. It’s simply perfect. I had misgivings about whether I could fit in all of my gubbins, but I find people are inclined to have too much stuff. My hob has four rings, so I only need four pans at most, or casserole pots. In a perfect world I might have a microwave to warm up coffee, but that’s hardly essential. I’ve found out that a few things are now essential to me though. My tap that delivers me boiling water. I love it so much I could kiss it! It’s a joy for my morning hot water and lemon and my evening hot water bottle. I also get excited by my warming drawer, which came with the oven Neptune recommended to me and made part of my kitchen design. I’ve never cooked using it, but I warm my plates like mad. I plan to use it for summer meringues very soon. I honestly smile every time I get my chopping board and tray out – what a delightful cabinet it is. And when I put them away I say, yippee! And my little nooks and crannies make me laugh. What fun we had together deciding how to use those best. I delight in filling my spice shelf with yellow jars from The Spice Shop on the Portobello Road, and my pocket doors mean that I can shut away the mess when I’m hosting so we feel calm and contained in my dining area. Then there’s my cubby hole, which was destined for cookbooks but has become the most valuable spot for all of the stuff that I don’t wish anybody to see!
“Yes. I just love it,” she said.