Friday 30 September 2016

Interiors: My kitchen rules

Whites and greys dominate the social hub of Irish households

Eleanor Flegg

Published 05/02/2016 | 02:30

This kitchen by Ikea features a centre island with seating areas.
This kitchen by Ikea features a centre island with seating areas.
A kitchen by Neptune
A kitchen by Neptune
Neptune kitchen interior
Ikea kitchen

We used to live in the kitchen. Mainly because the rest of the house was too damn cold. The kitchen was the warmest room by a long stretch. All the best conversations happened there. It was the best place to do homework, so long as you didn't mind distractions.

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We ate at the kitchen table, which could be pulled out from the wall to make space for guests. Even the dog had his basket in the corner. In short, life happened in the kitchen.

And while the styling of a typical Irish kitchen has come a long way since the linoleum and Formica of the 1970s, it seems we've stuck firm to the notion of the kitchen as a family social hub - as revealed by the latest survey from Houzz, which shows both how we style our kitchens and how we Irish differ so much from the rest of the world in our choice of uses for it.

In 2015 the top choice for new worktop surface was laminate and the most popular flooring was ceramic or porcelain tiles.

Most people who updated their kitchen lighting went for recessed or under-cabinet lighting and flat panel cabinets. The preferred overall style of kitchen was contemporary (although what people mean by 'contemporary' can vary).

The statistics come from the Houzz Kitchen Trends Survey compiled by the online interiors resource just before Christmas. The respondents were Irish Houzz users who were in the middle of planning or had recently completed a kitchen renovation project.

As it happens, the same survey was conducted in other countries, but the results were published separately.

Interestingly, the way Irish families use the room doesn't seem to have changed at all. "It would seem that those living in Ireland view the kitchen as the family hub of the home, more so than other countries," says Chevi Davis of Houzz.

Some expectations are shared: in Ireland, in common with other countries, we see storage as the most important functional aspect of a kitchen. Over 50pc of the respondents prioritised being able to store and find things.

"Alongside this, 57pc of those living in Ireland prioritised having a kitchen where you can work, play and live. Significantly they wanted a room where it's easy for the family to gather," says Davis.

"More than half of those renovating their kitchens in Ireland prioritised family gatherings, which was the highest number compared to all the other countries in the poll."

After Ireland, the most sociable and family-orientated kitchens are in Russia (41pc), followed by the UK (37pc) and the US (28pc). The people least likely to prioritise family gatherings in the kitchen live in Germany (22pc) and France (18pc).

Not surprisingly, when Irish people redesign their kitchens, they include space for entertaining and socialising, as well as cooking and eating. Houzz have dubbed this trend the "super kitchen".

Their survey found that 85pc of Irish people eat in the kitchen, that nearly three-quarters of us spend more than three hours a day in our kitchens and 41pc use the kitchen for working or doing homework. Scratch the surface of the new "super kitchen" and you'll find that it works just like a traditional Irish farmhouse kitchen (although it may look very different).

Hilariously, one of the most coveted built-in upgrades is a walk-in pantry. My granny used to have one of those (and a very useful little anteroom it was too). In fact, more people hankered after a pantry than aspired to a kitchen island or a breakfast bar.

Joe Norney of Neptune, a company that makes and sells kitchens and other furniture, agrees that the Irish kitchen is all about family life. "The days of the kitchen as a work station-only seem to be over. People want big kitchens with dining tables, sideboards, and dressers as well as cabinets and appliances.

"Because we offer a whole house solution, we can design the whole space for them.

"We rarely sell a kitchen without an island, but it's as likely to be used for homework as for cooking. And we'll often include a nook for seating so that someone can sit quietly reading the newspaper."

I approve. To my mind, every kitchen should have nice comfortable armchair where you can sit and chat to the cook.

Kitchens from Neptune start at €12,500 for cabinets only, with many customers paying around €16,000. Worktops and appliances could bring this up to €20,000 and their most expensive kitchen could cost as much as €30,000. For this, you get good quality joinery, dovetailed joints and a lifetime guarantee.

"The emphasis is on value," says Norney. "We don't use chipboard or MDF." Installation costs are extra but because the cabinets are delivered readymade, a mid-range kitchen from a company like Neptune often costs less to install than an entry level flatpack kitchen, such as you might get from Ikea for less than €5,000.

According to the Houzz survey, 31pc of Irish people are prepared to spend between €10,000 and €25,000 on a new kitchen. A further 30pc would pay between €5,000 and €10,000. Very cheap kitchens (less than €2,500) are in the minority and, at the other end of the scale, only seven per cent of respondents expect to spend more than €75,000 on a new kitchen. Projects in all price brackets showed a tendency to go over budget.

Irish people expect to get at least 10 years from their kitchen, regardless of how much they spend, and tend to prefer neutral colours like white and grey. If you're going to live with something for more than 10 years, you don't want to get tired of it. Probably for this reason, bright colours and dramatic styling aren't popular.

We are also far less interested in smart gadgets and devices than our nearest neighbours. Wine fridges, warming drawers, built-in speakers and touch-screen appliances are trendy in the UK but noticeably less so in Ireland. I'm not sure if this is innate Irish conservatism, or just good sense.

In 30 years, these gadgets will probably look just as gimmicky as the yoghurt makers and fondue sets of the 1970s.

For more information on kitchens, see neptune.com, houzz.co.uk and ikea.ie.

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