Nothing sounds quite like you've got your sh*t together in life, than the sentence "we are about to start work on the side return."
However, a poorly planned side return that doesn't best make use of the newly available space, is worse than not bothering to extend at all.
I've spoken before about a "bragging rights" checklist that people seem have when it comes to doing work on their home. The phrases that bring out the estate agent in you. A list of fluff words that may elicit an "ooh" response from mates, but in reality don’t say much about their real world application.
Alright Crook & Blight. A "walk in shower" is just a regular shower mate.
I would say that the large majority of entries on a bragging rights check list relate to a newly extended kitchen/diner. However, unlike words, there is no room for interpretation if you've stuffed up here.
So carrying on with part three of the series, this week it is all things kitchen/diner related. Unlike the first two parts of this series, which I tried to keep pretty universal, this one relates pretty much entirely to the design of a typical terrace side return extension. However there are still things that can be applied to all homes, so don’t write it off if the plan below doesn’t look anything like your house.
Before we get into the specifics, one thing we should all keep in mind is to know your limitations. Not your personal limitations, you can do anything you set your mind to Bethany. I'm talking the limitations of the kitchen/diner you're about to renovate
You can have all the money in the world and afford every bell and whistle you want, but if you don’t listen when your house says "nope you can’t do, have or fit that" you'll end up trying to force a square peg check list into a round hole space, and the results will only be disappointing.
Your mates won't say anything, obviously they're too busy ooh-ing over your three wine fridges and split-level island, but you'll know.
1. What's the plan Stan?
It is cheaper to redo a plan on paper ten thousand times, than it is to make a mistake in reality once.
Whilst this first point is nothing close to revolutionary, I'm always amazed that people don't take it into account. If ever there was a room in the house where one should have a start to finish, 360 degree view on the renovation, it would be the kitchen/diner.
When I design, I design holistically. Simply put, it means that I'm designing the structure (permanent items) of a room at the same time I'm designing and selecting the removable or decorative elements. It may seem a little cart before the horse (or cart next to the horse for that matter) but the way I see it, how can you decide where something permanent goes if you don't know where something just as important, albeit movable, will fit alongside?
It's like designing an aeroplane in a room without doors or windows. The aeroplane is technically the movable item, but if you wanted to get the plane in the sky, it's the permanent building trapping it in that now becomes the issue.
It's a terrible example, I know, but it's badly planned permanent items such as kitchen units and even door openings, which cause the biggest problems later down the line when you start trying to place all the rest of the items like tables, chairs and even decorative lighting.
For ease of decision making, don’t put blinders on and make one decision at a time, thinking that just because the builder needs window sizes or plumbing positions today, you don't need to worry about where the dining table goes first.
You need to be meticulous in your planning and make all decisions ahead of time so you aren't stuck with a Boeing in a bunker.
2. Nobody puts baby in the corner.
Speaking of dining tables and the chairs that go with them, unlike a coffee table that we can easily saunter around, a dining table and chairs need a little more room to manoeuvre.
My biggest pet peeve is a dining table and chairs pushed up close against a wall - it screams oversight. A good kitchen/diner is only as good as the sum of its parts, and if the overall balance is thrown off because you chose a massive island over a dining table, it will forever look like you’re eating at the table you put out for the kids at Christmas. Temporary.
Going back to my point above about planning ahead. A room might only be so wide, so there is nothing much that can be done about that, but knowing that ahead of time means you can plan accordingly. More often than not, building something in, rather than having it free standing, actually means a saving in space.
Building in a banquette seat, and permanently fixing the location of the dining table in an open plan room, not only implies intention (intention is a good thing) but it eliminates the issue of thoroughfare on the one side of the dining table. Effectively buying you and extra meter in the room, if not more. That extra meter might very well be the thing standing in the way of you having (fitting) it all.
If you have a narrow room, think built in before you think free standing. A banquette seat might be a slight compromise in terms of the free flow of bums on seats, but it’s infinitely better than your chair tight up against the boundary wall.
3. The mother of all must haves.
Of all the kitchen consultations I did, not one started with "so we decided we don’t want an island." Everyone wants an island and they will do nothing short of sacrificing a loved one to achieve that.
Having already done an entire blog post on them, I won’t labour my point here, but these are my thoughts.
Sorry to be the one to say this, but not every terrace can fit, and therefore should have, a kitchen island.
Unlike free freestanding furniture, anything that's built in, especially an island, needs to comply with certain building regulations. It’s not just a case of slapping an island in the middle of the room and calling it a day. Although building regs differ slightly from place to place, you will find there are certain minimum dimensions that you need to adhere to.
In the case of a kitchen island, you typically need about 1100mm between the hob and the start of the kitchen island. You might be able to steal a few millimetres on the day of install, but you never really want to go smaller than 1000mm. In addition to that, you also need at least 1000mm of circulation space around the other three sides of the island too. Minimum.
Before you have even begun to work out the dimensions of the actual island itself, let alone the size of the stools, you already have one meter on either side to contend with, so bear this in mind.
Second to sizing and thoroughfares, my view is that in a terrace, an island should always be positioned as part of set of three, sandwiched in between the hob and the dining table (as shown on plan), or the hob and another piece of joinery, like a book case or similar.
The sequence should never go, hob, island, boundary wall.
If your island can’t be positioned in this so called “middle” it’s time to start editing. Repositioning seating to the shorter side of the island (as I have drawn) means that you could shave 300mm off the depth of the island. If that still isn’t enough, consider scrapping the seating and any over hangs all together, so that the island is only 600mm deep. If that still means your island still can’t fit in the middle, lose the island and amp up the size of the dining table and seating to make up the difference.
I get why everyone froths about having an island, it’s a luxury. Not of social standing, but of space. If you don’t have the space, you unfortunately don’t have the luxury. Don’t compromise the rest of the room just to check that box though.
Asking anybody in the UK if they want a skylight in their kitchen is like asking somebody on furlough if they want a million bucks. Of course they do, don’t be stupid.
However, in the quest to inject as much natural light into our homes as possible, be careful not to sacrifice the as important positioning of artificial light, for when the sun sets at 3pm and your skylights are just black holes in your ceiling.
Personally I think that less is more when it comes to skylights. Granted I am from South Africa and my views on constantly being able to see the sky might not be on par with the average Brit, but skylights don't do much after dark. So really take time to weigh up the pros and cons, not only on price, but the benefits of some early morning rays versus a cracking secondary lighting plan at night.
Task lighting is so important in a kitchen that this should be priority number one when designing, with the skylights complementing the design thereafter.
If there is no room for overhead lighting, wall lights are key, so make sure you plan your joinery elevations accordingly. Also think about incorporating lighting within the skylights themselves. A slightly fiddlier, spenny detail but at least the skylights serve a purpose after dark.
Sticking with lighting briefly, when it comes to decorative lighting in an open plan room, you really have to be quite selective on what goes where.
If you have pendants over your island, perhaps don’t introduce pendants over the dining table as well. It starts to look a bit like you had lights spare so you just hung them wherever there was a gap. Personally, I only like to hang pendants over dining tables when the dining table is in its own room. So in an open plan situation, wall lights flanking the banquette are a better bet, leaving the pendants just for the island.
Of all rooms in the house, your kitchen/diner will probably have the biggest variety of decorative lighting, so planning ahead is key. I have done a blog on decorative lighting previously, so have a read through that when planning what goes where.
5. The Bermuda triangle.
When it comes to the actual configuration of the kitchen itself, a lot of people find themselves in a bit of a tizz trying to recreate the traditional “magic triangle” between the fridge, sink and hob. Whilst I agree that there might be a scientific arrangement in a kitchen that would ensure minimum effort in getting from the fridge to the sink and then to the hob, don’t think too hard about this.
You will learn new habits with your new kitchen, so I say rather plan a kitchen that looks good, is well balanced and symmetrical, than worry about the arduous journey you have to take from sink to stove.
One thing I do always keep an eye on however, is the placement of the fridge. Especially with kids, or in a social home, you want the fridge to be easily accessible and outside of a thoroughfare for unhindered access.
It’s all about being able to grab that beer and go, rather than being caught between your significant other and a sink of dirty dishes.
And there we have it. A very long winded, three part tour of my ideal London terrace. Shameless plug, but if you are keen to get in touch regarding a renovation or a re-design, visit my website christianbense.com for more info.