Interiors: Making big decisions in your kitchen
Ex-car designers have now taken to sculpting the central hub of family life
Big decisions take place in the kitchen. It's where the cooking happens, but it's often the family boardroom as well. When there are problems, the kitchen is the place where they get ironed out.
It's more informal than the sitting room and less territorial than the bedroom. And it provides a captive audience.
If you want to talk to someone about an awkward topic, wait until they're chopping vegetables. You'll have at least half their attention, they're unlikely to walk off, and you won't have to look them in the eye. In fact, they're a sitting target for whatever you want to talk about.
Just watch out for the sharp knives.
When kitchen design focuses on ergonomics alone, it sometimes misses the mark. I have seen magnificent show kitchens, with every gadget in the catalogue, and I have known instinctively that I wouldn't be able to relax in them. Maybe it's just me, but I can't tell people my problems when I'm surrounded by high gloss finishes.
And I can't imagine confiding in someone in a room full of sharp edges and right angles. My kitchen isn't just a workstation - it's also a confessional.
Any kitchen designer worth their salt will take this into account.
"You have to be good at dealing with people. A lot of the time you're listening to what they don't say as much as what they do say," says Lisa Johnston of Cillian Johnston Studio.
"Kitchens are very personal. For me, the sense of space is the most important thing. If you have ten presses, you'll fill them all. If you only have one you'll learn to manage with that. But you need to be able to walk into a kitchen and think - here's a space where I can operate. The aesthetics follow on from that."
She finds that Irish people can be cautious about their kitchens, often shying away from adventurous designs. "We all have a conception about what a kitchen is, and it's usually the one that we grew up with," she says.
"Most Irish people want to move one jump ahead with the design, but not ten jumps. We need that connection with the past."
Since a kitchen is a big investment, it's probably sensible to be conservative. And the more you spend, the longer it's likely to last. A kitchen from the Cillian Johnston Studio will cost you at least €15,000, but for that you get a completely handmade kitchen in which every item is bespoke (www.cillianjohnston.com).
"We make everything ourselves," Johnston explains. "If we say we make a drawer we actually make it from scratch. It's tailor made. That means that all the items are elastic. There's no modularity - that means that there's no restraint."
If you buy an entry-level kitchen, you will probably be dealing with a company that offers modular units, put together to get the closest approximation to what you want. There will be limitations, but that will be reflected in the cost. Ikea's 2015 catalogue, for example, shows fitted kitchens between €1,000 and €3,000. Even when you've added the cost of bringing home the flat-packs, and around €1,300 to have the kitchen installed, it's still pretty cheap.
The argument against buying entry level kitchens is they don't last, but that depends what you mean by lasting. Our own kitchen cost around €2,000 to buy and another €1,000 to install around seven years ago. It looked great for the first five years. Now it's getting a bit shabby, but I reckon we can jolly it along for a while longer.
Kitchens from Dublin's Porter & Jones start at around €20,000 (www.porterandjones.com). The company is the Irish agent for Snaidero, an Italian brand known for expensive, minimal, contemporary kitchens. But even if you can't afford to buy at this end of the market, it's worth taking a look at what's happening at the cutting edge of technology and style.
Since many of Snaidero's designers have worked in the automobile industry, it's not surprising that some of their kitchens have the kind of finish that you'd expect to see in a very expensive car.
"In terms of finishes, I think we're going to be seeing more matt finishes," says Liza Jones of Porter & Jones. "Snaidero have introduced a mica compound into a range of lacquers that gives them a pearlescent sheen."
Marble is still the most popular work surface, for those that can afford it, but the highly-polished black marble of the boom years ago has given way to pale gray and white with subtle veining. "The whiter it is, the more expensive!" says Jones.
In terms of ironware, we're going to be seeing less in the way of chrome, nickel and stainless steel and more iron, graphite, brass, and copper, especially against big slabs of natural stone countertops.
For me, the most exciting news in kitchen innovation is the downdraft extraction fan. Rather than sucking the air up into a cooker hood, these fans are integrated in the cooker itself and suck the air down through a vent in the hob. If you have one, there'll be no need for a cooker hood. I'm joining the queue.
All cooker hoods, in my experience, end up greasy and unattractive after a few years in service.
I can't pretend that I'm sorry to see the back of them.