This Chichester kitchen takes the roots of historical country house kitchens and reimagines them for contemporary living, including an innovative pantry wall.
The story of the country kitchen is full of ironies. Firstly, the style is no longer confined to the country at all – you’re just as likely to encounter a country kitchen in the middle of Notting Hill as you are in a sleepy village in Shropshire. It’s a style that’s widely coveted for creating a sociable heart of the home, and yet it harks back to households where there was a marked divide between the working domestic quarters run by servants and the recreational ones occupied by the family. And although our lifestyles are quite different to past generations, we still yearn for the look and feel of a classic country kitchen.
Over 20 years ago, Neptune co-founder John Sims-Hilditch and creative founder Emma Sims-Hilditch set out to furnish their first home. In antique centres and reclamation yards, they found the sort of freestanding pieces that once typified a traditional English kitchen. They were drawn to Georgian designs for their elegant proportions, decorative mouldings, and prevalence of open shelving. Each design they discovered went on to prove its timelessness both in form and function, and it was those few pieces that inspired John to develop our first kitchen collection: Chichester.
The historical roots behind Chichester were at the forefront of our team’s mind when they came to design this kitchen for a period London townhouse. ‘It’s entirely possible for new and old to exist harmoniously,’ says kitchen designer Jessica, ‘even to bring out the best in each other, and I think this kitchen does that.’
Storage has remained essential to all iterations of the kitchen across the centuries. The domestic quarters of an historic country house had clear working zones, each with its own specific purpose: the kitchen was for prep and cooking, the pantry for storing non-perishables, a cool larder for perishables, and the scullery for washing.
This property had a potentially awkward, corridor-like space just off the main kitchen area which our design team decided to transform into a ‘pantry wall’ with floor-to-ceiling Chichester cabinetry combining open shelving with closed cupboards and drawers. ‘With so much storage here, the main part of the kitchen didn’t need wall cabinets, keeping it light and airy,’ says Jessica. This is unusual today, as we tend to eek out every inch of wall space, but it was a common feature of a typical Georgian kitchen, where the main kitchen was for cooking (and staff meals) only. Today, it makes room for displaying personal pieces like artwork, crockery, and collectables that add soul to the space.
The island sits right in the middle of the room’s floorplan. The modern kitchen island is an evolution of the wooden preparation table which held pride of place in the working kitchens of the 18th and 19th centuries. This is where vegetables were chopped, desserts perfected, and plates loaded up ready for serving. Today’s island is used for food preparation, too, but it’s also a social hub – somewhere to sip your morning coffee or get some work done. This one has a traditional butler’s sink, carefully positioned so you can gaze out of the Crittal windows while doing the washing up.
Next came the all-important cosmetic decisions. We used our archival Flax Blue shade for the cabinets, offset by neutral Shell on the boarded walls and cabinet interiors. Blue-painted kitchens are commonly seen as a modern, stylistic choice, but this is a misconception. Sky blue shades were a popular choice in old kitchens to create a cool airiness amidst the hustle and bustle of cooking and preparing food. Blue paint was also hailed as an effective insect repellent – whether because of the heavy dose of lye in its composition, or because flies mistook it for the sky, is up for debate.
This, then, is a kitchen of juxtapositions; from the rich black-bronze hardware that offers a welcome contrast to the lightness of the Flax Blue cabinetry, to the sleek silhouette of an industrial style tap paired with a timeless butler’s sink. This is a hard-working kitchen, one that exemplifies the need to marry form with function – and beauty – in our interiors. And it’s also proof that while our lives have evolved considerably from those of our ancestors, they can still teach us a thing or two about kitchen design.
Material matters: kitchen worktops
Marble was originally used on prep tables for making pastry and chocolate due to its cooling properties. Natural stone is not only very strong, but aesthetically it brings decorative colour and pattern to kitchens.
Wooden surfaces have long been used in kitchens for chopping blocks and preparation tables. We find that oak is an excellent choice for worktops due to its reassuring strength, beauty, and tactility.
We recommend looking to engineered materials like Silestone or Dekton for the look and feel of natural stone, with the added qualities of high scratch-resistance and low porosity.
To start designing your Neptune kitchen, book a free consultation online or in one of our stores. Find your closest here.