Food for thought: how to find the perfect kitchen
You have to combine style with quality materials for a kitchen that will stand the test of time
People shop for kitchens in the same way they shop for clothes. They wander around the shops until something catches their eye. Then, if they can afford it, they buy it. Sure how else would you do it?
"One of the main mistakes that people make when they're choosing a kitchen is to buy a unit door and design the kitchen around it," says Michael Connolly of Lomi Design. "The kitchen is all about what's behind that door."
Kitchen retailers love to sell kitchens. It's what they do. But a kitchen is always an expensive purchase. Whether you spend €3,000 or €30,000, it's going to be a big chunk out of your savings. So the next time you see a pretty kitchen, keep your hand in your pocket until you've asked some searching questions.
Cheap kitchens are designed to look like expensive ones but sometimes their beauty is only skin deep. Units made from poor-quality chipboard, for example, don't stand up well to moisture. Cut-price drawers can buckle and sag. The look of a kitchen is only one part of the design. If it doesn't function, and continue to function over time, it may be a false economy.
Lomi Design is the Irish supplier for Cesar, an Italian brand with kitchens starting from around €15,000 (without appliances). While this is by no means the most affordable kitchen on the market, it's going to last. "The quality of the components is important to the longevity of the kitchen," Connolly explains. "The units are moisture-resistant. Typically, a base unit will have strengthening bars in aluminium, and the drawer runners are tested up to 70kg."
It's also important when you go kitchen shopping to consider how you are likely to use it. There is no point in spending money on a state-of-the-art oven when all you really need is a carefully concealed microwave. For open-plan spaces, the Cesar range has a kitchen-in-a-cupboard solution, complete with a pull-out stainless steel work surface.
"The pocket doors fold back into the unit so they're not in the way when you're using the kitchen. Then you can close the doors on the mess and nobody will be any the wiser," Connolly says. "Not everyone wants to look at their appliances."
In Ireland overall the overwhelming preference is for hand-painted kitchens. "Internationally, that would be considered a bit odd," Connolly reflects. "After a few years the units begin to look grubby and need a repaint." All the kitchens from Lomi Design come in factory finishes, which he describes as "a bit more like what you'd get on a car, only you can order them any colour you want".
The advantage of factory finishes over hand-painted units is that they last for much longer. The disadvantage is that it's not so easy to change the colour.
Metallic kitchen finishes are trending internationally, but they don't come cheap. If money is no object, the Cesar range includes stainless steel doors treated with a method called physical vapour deposition (PVD). This is a process used to colour the metal and to make it more resistant to scratching, wearing and corrosion. It's also more environmentally friendly than alternatives like electroplating and painting.
"PVD can make stainless steel look like brass, or bronze, or titanium," Connolly explains. "It certainly doesn't look like stainless steel." The catch is the price. A standard unit with a door in PVD finish could cost a whopping €1,060. If you like the look, melamine surfaces treated to appear like rusted or oxidised metal are a fraction of the price. A standard unit with a melamine door could cost €290.
Aisling O'Reilly of Tile Merchant also reports a public appetite for metallic finishes in tiling, taps and even countertops. Tile Merchant's new countertop product Neolith can be made to mimic stone or marble but also comes in alluring metallic finishes with names like Iron Moss and Iron Copper Satin. Neolith is a type of sintered stone, made from natural minerals subjected to intense pressure and heat. It's virtually indestructible.
"Marble is very delicate," says O'Reilly. "You need to use coasters and it can pick up stains from tomatoes or curry powder. Neolith is so tough, it's just not funny. You could use it as a chopping board, only you'd blunt the knife."
The prices aren't funny either. An average-sized kitchen worktop in Neolith would set you back at least €3,000.
The most popular countertop material at Tile Merchant is quartz, with prices starting around €1,700. "If you only have €800 to spend on a countertop, then you can't afford stone," O'Reilly explains. "That's the bottom line. We've been known to sell countertops for €20,000 in here. You'd want to get a chef with that!"
Sintered stone, O'Reilly feels, will gradually take over from natural materials. "People are willing to spend the extra not to have to worry about their worktops," she says. "I think in five years time, very few people will be having marble worktops." I put it to her that marble can be a cold-looking material. She agrees: "It can be like looking at a tombstone. There's a big turn back to warmer tones."
If you want to introduce warm metallic tones without taking out a second mortgage, consider tarting up your existing kitchen with brass taps and door knobs and some mid-century metal light fittings. The online boutique Skinflint has a good selection of rescued Eastern Bloc lights, but you can also buy new designs in a retro style.
In a recent project in Dublin, Kingston Lafferty Design used three Elegance brass pendants (€301 each) from Mullan Lighting above a slightly chilly-looking kitchen island made of quartz.
The lights warm it up beautifully. They're dimmable - capable of shifting from ambient to functional task lighting and back again - and have a slightly industrial look that fits in well with the reclaimed-brick splashback and brassy taps.
The Elegance range also includes a wall light (€270) that comes in antique brass, antique silver, polished brass and satin brass finishes. Even better, they're designed and made in Mullan Village, Co Monaghan.
See mullanlighting.com, tilemerchant.ie, lomi.ie, skinflintdesign.com and kingstonlaffertydesign.com