Movers and Shakers – House Style

Not all kitchens have to be left behind when you buy a new home.

The austerity and simplicity of the Shaker style first came to the attention of both designers and home-owners with Harrison Ford’s 1985 film Witness, set in the Amish community of Pennsylvania, whose lifestyle has hardly changed since the 18th century. But a number of British designers and furniture manufacturers had already begun to revive traditional methods of craftsmanship to produce simple farmhouse-style items.

The simple aesthetics of Shaker design complemented this perfectly and were incorporated into it, producing furniture that has a strong Shaker influence but is still recognizably English. The pretty, busy details traditionally associated with English country-style kitchen furniture have been replaced with a look that is strong, simple and subtle.

“During the Eighties, the market required rather exuberant and ornate details – fretwork friezes, traditional turnings, fluted columns and pilasters,” says Jeremy Pearce of the Newcastle Furniture Company. “While there is still a demand for that type of furniture, more people are drawn towards our simpler designs.”

The demand for this kitchen furniture, as opposed to units, may be due in part to the changing role of the kitchen. Many people now live in their kitchens and entertain there as well. The traditional morning room is being revived in the Nineties in the form of the relaxed, comfortable family kitchen, where wood and stone have replaced plastic and steel as the predominant materials. Kitchen furniture now often stands alongside, or accommodates, desks, bookcases and televisions, as well as sofas on which guests can relax and chat to their hosts while the food is prepared.

There are now several companies producing dressers, cupboards, tables and freestanding work surfaces with butchers’ blocks on top, vegetable baskets underneath and lockable castors. The wood will either be antique pine or oak which has been limed to enrich and emphasize the grain.

Worktops are made from maple, teak, granite or slate. The dragging, rag-rolling and stippling of traditional farmhouse-style furniture has been rejected in favour of plain, pastel shades such as turquoise, ochre and dark green which complement the wood.

Plain English, a cupboard-making firm based in Suffolk, came about in 1992 when Katie Fontana and Tony Niblock began to search East Anglia for kitchen furniture which would look right in the Suffolk Long House they had built for themselves. They wanted cupboards with painted facades and solid wooden worktops containing proper dovetailed drawers that ran on wooden drawer slips, not what they describe as “boxes with screw-on fronts on modern runners”. They soon discovered that they were not alone in their quest, and Plain English was created.

They now produce a wide range of cupboards with glazed, screened or slotted doors, as well as a variety of freestanding furniture such as dressers, larders, farmhouse tables and country chairs. Again, colours are naturalistic, pastoral shades, but strong because of their simplicity. Interiors are often painted in contrasting colours which add variety and depth. Knobs come either in chrome, flame-blackened tourmaline or brass which is cast from worn Jacobean originals. Doors are hung on traditional brass hinges and fastened with a brass catch. Drawers slide on runners lubricated with bees’ wax.

Sinks in this English Shaker style are substantial and functional. Newcastle Furniture offers a traditional deep white butler’s sink and unit with chrome taps while Plain English has a double French farmhouse sink with nickel taps.

As this is kitchen furniture, rather than a complete kitchen installation, appliances such as cookers, fridges and freezers sometimes have to be bought separately. But the simplicity of the designs means that most items – be they heavyweight, professional looking stoves or modern white dish-washers – fit in well. Newcastle Furniture does, however, produce a fridge and freezer cabinet with two high-level cupboards above and a cooker cabinet with granite worktop and splashback.

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