Sponsored – Miele kindly gifted the induction hob for the purposes of a review
It’s been nearly two years since I completed my kitchen makeover, transforming a small, ill-thought-out room into the light-filled, Scandinavian-inspired, minimal kitchen of my dreams. There’s a few things that I’d do slightly differently but mostly the compact space works well for us – every inch is optimised and storage is strategically positioned. It’s small but perfectly formed. Now that I also help homeowners bring their own spaces to life with simple solutions that don’t cost the earth, I’ve learnt some lessons along the way – a few do’s and don’t’s to get the most out of the room you’ve got, no matter the size.
I’ve teamed up once again with Miele, to share my tips and tricks for designing a minimal kitchen. Since first conceiving my own, I’ve noticed a subtle trend for pared-back kitchens that don’t actually look like kitchens. Now firmly the heart of the home, people are treating the kitchen like any other room in the house; injecting a little of their personality, displaying artwork, sculptural objects and pinning up postcards, and inserting bespoke joinery made of rich wood and raw materials. Appliances have become less of a flashy status symbol and more like a beautiful design object; extractor fans concealed behind joinery, technology neatly integrated into larder cupboards and hobs so smooth and flat they almost look like they’re part of the worktop.
Here’s what I’ve learnt:
Lesson 1: The golden triangle
The first step in designing a minimal kitchen is to optimise the plan. Usually I’ll create a few sketch plans by hand and move things around until they’re in the right position. If you’re not that confident with drawing, you can start to set out a kitchen by creating a really simple outline of the space to scale, then cut out little squares representing standard 60x60cm units and slot them together. That way you can rearrange them to see what works and easily visualise the space between things.
Think about how you’ll use the space and how you’ll move around the room. You want to create a golden triangle between the sink, the hob/oven and the fridge/freezer. This basically means that they all relate to each other in a way that you’re not making too many unnecessary journeys across the kitchen. You also want to create clean expanses of worktop so you have enough room to prepare food. In my kitchen it’s all set along one wall but having the sink at one end, the fridge/freezer at the other and the hob in the middle works when you think about the journey along the space – you take food out, prepare it, cook it, then wash your dishes up.
Lesson 2: The elevation is as important as the plan
Creating a simple layout plan is the initial stage to designing a kitchen, but the elevation is what you will live with so it’s important to get it looking just right. Look up as well as across; here I’ve used the full height of the room to squeeze in as much storage as possible. Often you’ll just see a single row of top units in a kitchen but I always think the space above, between the units and the ceiling, is somewhat wasted – you can’t store much up there and anything you do store will just get dusty. We use the very top units in our kitchen to store things we don’t use everyday – cookbooks, bottles of wine, vases – and have a small stool to reach those items.
Otherwise, in period properties you might want to show the cornice off my taking the units lower down the wall. If you have enough storage elsewhere you could install some open shelves – but then again they’ll likely get dusty and messy – so if you’re going for a really minimal look, be brave and don’t have anything on the wall above the bottom units, bar some simple pendant lights. It will super smart.
Incidentally, I’ve also noticed tiling going out of a fashion lately; often now the worktop is taken up onto the wall in one seamless piece – it’s fuss-free and cleaner. Grout always gets dirty and the tiles you like one year might start to look dated after a while.
Lesson 3: The secret to an uncluttered home is plenty of storage
If you want to enjoy a tidy, uncluttered kitchen, plan for lots of storage to hide all the ugly bits away. It allows the worktop to be freed up for a few, carefully chosen pieces and items you use everyday. In our kitchen we also have a trolley, a bit like a bar cart, which holds things like the toaster, napkins, placemats, and things that would otherwise get in the way. We don’t use the toaster all the time but it’s to hand if we need it.
I’ve already mentioned our top cupboards here but also pay attention to what’s inside the units so there’s a place for everything. You can especially make use of corner spaces with swing out racks so they’re not wasted. We have drawer inserts, for example, that help separate pans from lids and compartmentalise everything. If you look carefully you’ll also see that the integrated lighting under our units has plugs and hooks for utensils, keeping things off the worktop and preventing any ugly sockets from ruining the clean lines of the tiles.
Lesson 4: The devil’s in the detail
The final finishing touches make or break a space. Often designing a minimal kitchen is all about taking away superfluous details and reducing a design down to the elegant essentials. Contemporary kitchens now look really smart when they have handleless doors and impossibly thin profiles to the worktop. It gives an element of finesse. You can get in-built handles with some kitchens or push openers to open the top cupboards.
It’s worth spending a bit extra on things like the tap and sockets because they’re the things you’ll touch and use everyday; you want them to be functional, but look the part too. It would be a shame to ruin a beautiful kitchen with some naff plugs.
Likewise you want everything to tie together; if you’re going for black taps, for instance, get mainly black appliances, sockets or lights to match. It will create a sense of balance, just like in a bathroom where you’d want all the fittings to be the same finish. Here the brushed stainless steel trim of the induction hob fits with the same effect on the oven and the sink tap.
Lesson 5: Integrated appliances over freestanding
Integrated appliances give a much cleaner, more streamlined look than freestanding equipment in my opinion. For instance, in my kitchen there’s no break in the line of the top cupboards; the one above the hob hides the extractor fan but you would hardly know it’s there. Some people decide to do away with extractor fans altogether, others work them into open shelving, or choose one that pops up from the centre of the kitchen island. There’s all sorts of clever designs now. Likewise, here, the dishwasher and fridge/freezer are concealed neatly in units behind doors that are just the same as all the others, giving a cohesive feel – there’s no ugly buttons, unnecessary levers or flashing lights detracting from the simple look of the space.
Induction hobs are great because they’re so discreet. I prefer them to gas because they’re so much easier to clean and wipe down. This is Miele’s KM 6115 induction hob (priced at £949.00); it has four cooking zones and is incredibly easy to use, boiling water in less time it takes to put the kettle on. Miele actually came to my rescue when a glass bottle from the cupboard above unfortunately fell onto my previous induction hob and smashed the corner! That’s maybe an argument against having cupboards above the hob, but accidents happen. This one has a neat stainless steel frame that I hope will protect it a bit better.
When I’m designing a kitchen for a client I also always recommend trying to put the washing machine elsewhere in the house – we managed to fit ours in a cupboard in hall – it frees up space for much-needed storage and takes all the mess around washing clothes out of the kitchen. My dream would be to have a dedicated utility room but small homes in London rarely allow for one!
Integrated appliances help save space too; they tend to be narrower and more compact, so you can pack more into your kitchen. Especially in tiny flats and our increasingly smaller spaces here in the UK, there’s simply not always the room for huge American-style fridge/freezers, butler sinks and range ovens. They’d probably look great in generous countryside homes, but no so much in urban city dwellings.
So there’s a few pointers to guide you on your way to creating a minimal kitchen that suits your space and the way you live in it. Each project is unique; it’s all about making the best of what you’ve got and thinking about the design in a strategic way. Don’t overcomplicate things. I like to create timeless spaces that last – if you have a minimal kitchen there’s not much you can take away if you don’t like it or get bored of the finishes because it’s inherently simple anyway, but there are things you can add to it if you feel like it further down the line – handles for instance. I’m happy that there’s not much that needs changing here two years later, bar a broken hob. Now I’m back to whipping up pasta dishes to perfection and enjoying my kitchen once again.
All images Cate St Hill
See more minimal kitchens on my Pinterest board: