I took a long time coming up with this simple title; I tossed all sorts of things around, French Country Kitchen, Farmhouse Kitchen, but none seemed to fit the bill. You see, although we live in an old farmhouse, I don’t consider our’s a true farmhouse kitchen like the type I grew up in; in fact our kitchen doesn’t resemble anything from my childhood at all. I toyed with the idea of a French Country Kitchen, as we are after all in France and living in the country, but still I wasn’t convinced. So finally I settled on a compromise; The Family Kitchen. For this is exactly what our kitchen is.
When creating our kitchen, we had a completely blank canvas, an empty room with nothing but an ancient bread oven, some black painted beams and a red ceiling! There was no plumbing in situ and it had never been used as a kitchen, we spent days and weeks planning, thinking, pondering just what to do. It had to have a great indoor/outdoor flow and it had to be cosy in the winter and almost an extension of the garden in the summer.
Let’s go back 100 years and more, when the kitchen was a place solely used for events and rituals concerning food. Kitchen fixtures were simple and utilitarian, and by far the most important article of furniture was a large table for culinary preparation. The most important piece of equipment however was the range, which was traditionally used for both cooking and heating water. Times have changed of course, and while at the heart of every home nowadays you’ll still find a kitchen, it’s altered a great deal, having become a multi-functional room serving a great many needs.
It’s no longer a place just for cooking, but a place where we spend much of our time at home. Our’s is a true family kitchen, a place where we share meals, whether they’re an elaborate affair with guests or a simple sandwich at lunchtime.
It’s also a room enjoyed by the dogs and sometimes a cat
and always a lot of children! It’s where they do their homework
and it’s a place where I love to sit with my laptop looking out at the garden beyond, watching a robin go about its daily business or seeing the chickens in the distance; it’s a place where I work and a place where I find great inspiration.
When we bought the house this room that became our kitchen was the dining room. The original kitchen was small and pokey and became a library/Roddy’s study. We consciously chose not to have a separate dining room; perhaps it’s a growing European trend, but it means our kitchen is more of a room for all seasons, and all things, than ever before. It plays a huge role in our day-to-day lives, and it’s also the place where we entertain friends the most, so it is important that it is a welcoming environment; we have always felt it needs to be just a little stylish at times whilst remaining practical and fully functional.
It’s also where we gather after a long walk, it’s bitterly cold at the moment so don’t be fooled by the blue skies!
But it feels good to be outside; yesterday we hiked for miles, with all the recent rain the winter corn is growing quickly, while the small vineyards owned by local farmers are dormant waiting to be pruned.
Achieving exactly what we wanted with our kitchen might have been easy if we had an enormous room with plenty of space to spare. But we were limited to the existing bones of the house which were difficult to change. Working with a farmhouse built in 1780, the walls are over 2 feet thick, and there is no quick way to remove a wall. Of course, it’s possible – anything is possible – but not without a great amount of work and even vaster amounts of money. So many of these old houses were built in a time when architectural constraints used few tricks, and internal walls were part of the structure as they held entire buildings together.
So we had to plan within the existing spaces. The house is well positioned, with the sun streaming in through the east-facing windows making even the coldest of winter mornings light up with hope and possibility. We rarely use the west-facing sitting room until the evening and that’s when the sun has gone around to that side of the house, typically just in time for apéros with friends in the winter. At that time the sun is flooding in through west windows and the room is filled with light, it works well. We toyed with the idea of making the sitting-room the kitchen, as it’s a huge area which would have made a fabulous family space, but we really did want the kitchen to capture the morning sun. In fact it was a vital requisite.
So, back to the confines of space. In an ideal world we would have loved an aga, a permanent source of heat in the winter, but it is too hot here in the summer and it would have meant a large range that sat unused for six months of the year, still we wanted a permanent heat source and that’s why we added the small wood burner. We would also have loved a big island unit, but that would have meant we had to forego a large table. Now, if we were a normal family with just a couple of children that would have been possible, of course. A small square table and a nice island – it would have been perfect, and all our wishes would have come true. But we have a large family, with five children, when Izzi is home from university there’s always a minimum of seven people eating in the kitchen. Even more when friends join us for lunch or dinner, we need to seat ten people plus with ease – so the kitchen table has taken centre stage in the middle of the room, and, going back to those times gone by, it’s also become a key preparation space.
There’s something undeniably charming about the rustic kitchens we see in magazines, but we wanted a room that was both comfortable with some country style, and also efficient with some contemporary units, complete with modern technology and self-closing drawers. However these needed to work in conjunction with the solid industrial style range cooker, the existing original bread-oven, and a moveable freestanding unit with a marble worktop, a surface that is essential for rolling pastry and dough. I know our kitchen is a bit of a mixture, but it’s a little bit of everything thrown into the pot together like a rather good recipe; the different ingredients compliment one another and make the room perfect for us.
We decided to forgo wall units in favour of open French oak shelving. Fortunately we do have a large pantry, perfect for store-cupboard food essentials and a place to keep all the extra kitchen items that we don’t use on a daily basis. France is full of specialist kitchen designers and shops, and we worked with a very helpful company in Rochefort; our simple kitchen units were made in Germany and took forever to be made, but that’s another story!
Our goal was to create a warm, lived-in feel, reflecting the room’s multi-purpose role as a relaxed social space for eating as well as the place where we cook and prepare food.
With this in mind, we added several pieces of antique furniture to create our 21st-century take on a family kitchen.