Sunday, 31 October 2010

Kitchen: Before and After

Lets start at the very beginning. Want to see a nightmare?  Check this out, the day after we moved in.  

Only half of what you see is ours.  The rest we inherited from the previous tennants. A flatful of free junk.  It was like they got halfway through moving, before deciding that they didn't need to go back for the last load of jeans, shoes, books, piles of bank statements, kitchen equipment...  Or to clean.  There were half full rubbish bags and piles of swept up dust all over the floor. 
You'll also see the ingenious and rather becoming solution the previous owner had taken towards window treatements, upon realising that a standard £5 blind from the budget DIY store wouldn't measure up so to speak... That's right, a wooden pelmet, screwed right into the wall.  It was a happy day when those travesties came down. Although the weather is just turning really cold here now, and I'm hoping we won't miss pulling down those nasty plastic blinds for extra insulation.
But back to the kitchen. The previous rental tennants had tried to create a 'kitchen room' in the back corner by placing the freestanding bench out in the middle of nowhere and using the Expedit bookshelf for the other 'wall'. Crazy stuff. There was also a disgusting grease covered open wire shelving unit, which from a distance I thought I could clean up and paint to be kind of cool.  Up close I realised the best home for it was at the tip. Or the local chippie.
But we did score a free Expedit bookcase! I don't know what they used to cook in here but I spent about 3 hours with industrial strength cleaner removing dust glued onto it with grease. We also kept a few other things like a brand new fancy corksrew, still in the box, a fridge, freezer, a thermos and some saucepans in good nick. 
The first thing we did was push the bookcase against the wall, and move the freestanding worktop alongside it to open up the space.  And that's pretty much how it's remained since.  Despite my protests of "I'm not living with this kitchen for more than a month!", we've now been here 10 months.  This photo was taken a few weeks ago - isn't that extractor pipe just lovely? It runs through our bedroom as well! 

So much better.  But why doesn't my makeshift kitchen look as good as this one?! Possibly because I can't be bothered buying those nice looking wooden crates.
Photo courtesy of Remodelista via The New York Times
So, now to the 'after'.  Ok, so its not my 'after'.  Yet. Make-shift kitchen aside, we're in a bit of turmoil about the new kitchen as well.  The advice to live in your own house before renovating cannot be underestimated. There are some decisions that are undisputable, made even before we moved in.  And there are others that, had we gone ahead with them in the early days, would have been a disaster.  For example, we originally loved the rustic-y style with subway tiles, and GG was even sold on having a butler's sink:
These days we're thinking that ultra-modern is the way to go - it fits better with our mid-century furniture obsession, and will sit nicer in this old building, rather than trying to match or mix eras.  I want the simplicity of the kitchen to mean it fades into the background allowing the industrial features stand out more.
So I've started looking for inspiration on ultra-modern kitchens... and luckily they are a-plenty. But it seems that splashbacks are a bit passe these days, which throws the subway tiles into question. This is a little unsettling, as they have been my one constant throughout these rollercoaster months of indecision.
Would you believe it took 6 months to agree finally that white cupboards would be best?

Photo courtesy of Remodelista
This next kitchen is by Henry Built, which I suspect is the US version of European kitchen companies such as Bulthaup. Which we visited once.  They went up a notch in my book for not sneering at us even though it was blatantly obvious we were not able to afford any of their stuff, and the sales lady even gave us a hardcover book - I mean catalogue - as a souvenir.
Photo courtesy of Remodelista
Swedish log cabin. Love the wood walls, and as soon as it gets cold enough in London to ski to work from the front door I'm installing them.  Also love the gunmetal-coloured cupboards.
Photo courtesy of Remodelista
As much as I hate overhead cupboards, if I had to have them, they would look like this - right to the ceiling and totally sleek.  Nice use of brickwork as a splashback.  Unfortunately our brick wall is next to the kitchen, not behind it.
Photo courtesy of The Kitchen Vote
 But I'd much prefer to try and get away with just this little guy.
Photo courtesy of Remodelista
Or better yet, this.  This picture also makes me want to rip out the floorboards and polish up the concrete.   If I didn't think it might hurt the resale value on this place I'd do it in an instant.
Photo courtesy of Apartment Diet
In reality we'll have to have some form of open shelving, maybe something along these lines.
Photo courtesy of The Kitchen Vote
And then I saw this! Could it be? Stainless steel worktop with white cupboards and subway tiles in a modern setting!
Photo courtesy of Remodelista
Complete with built in sink.  In the end it all seems so obvious and... boring. Not in the way it looks but in the way it sounds when I try to describe it. But, having had 1 or 2 conversations with builders recently, the simpler the better when it comes to describing what you want.
Photo courtesy of Remodelista
But the biggest pain is actually working out the details once you've figured our roughly how it looks.  I just wish there weren't so many practicalities to consider. Like whether you can survive with just an integrated under-counter fridge/freezer, or whether it would be better to have a full size one. With Tescos and Waitrose right next door I'm tempted to just treat them as my personal fridge and pantry... pretty much as I do now.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Caffeine fix

I'm constantly telling friends how the best cafes in London are to be found in and around Soho.  There are so few independent cafes in London that have truly great style, so its thought it was worth sharing these tips here for the uninitiated.

I've been inspired to write this post by a recent feature on Remodelista of the Nordic Bakery:
Its a shame they didn't post a photo of the cinnamon buns they are famous for - they are the biggest and best I've ever tasted!

Fernandez and Wells.  3 exquisite premises. Lexington St. Beak St. St Anne's Court.  If I could live in a cafe this would be the one.  In reality I'll just try to replicate some of their style in my own place (starting with painting our internal brick walls stark white).  
Next up, Lantana on Charlotte place. Australian. Named after a noxious weed introduced to Australia from the Americas. Also the name of an awesome Australian film from 2001. 

A great cafe but way too busy for its own good, so we don't go there very often.  

Milkbar on Bateman st.  Sister cafe to Flat White on Berwick st.  Filled to the brim on Saturdays with super-stylish yummy mummys trying to wedge their prams in which is a bit of a turnoff for the baby-phobic.
And that's the way it is with London cafes - if they have an ounce of cool about them they are rammed on weekends. And since GG doesn't drink coffee and hates crowded places its very difficult to get him into one.

The other thing all these cafes have in common is above average coffee. From a totally different planet to the high street cafes...  So I'm going to say the thing we're not supposed to say when living in London.  The Aussies and Kiwis do it best. You know it.

The hallmark of a good Antipodean coffee? The fern pattern, this one from Kaffeine, on Great Titchfield st:

And so my one true love will always be Atomica in Melbourne.  This place needs no introduction to local Fitzrovians. Uber-popular and busy but never impossible to get into. There's just too much cool going on in the cafe scene in Melbourne for one place to get over-crowded. For more info there is also a review on The Breakfast Blog and an indepth review of the coffee at Backseat Baristas for those still living close enough to pop by.  

They have the audacity to only open from 10am to 4pm.  They have staff that really are too cool for school.  GG and I used to go for breakfast almost every weekend for the 3.5 years we lived in Melbourne, and while we got to know them they never showed so much as a flicker of recognition for us. 'Tats' and 'Blondie' - where are you now?
They roast, grind and blend their own beans on site (the roasting machine itself is impressive enough to warrant a visit), and they taste just as good when working up a morning cappuccino from home (effortlessly proved by my lovely friends M and C on my last trip home). 

Ah, the memories of bygone breakfasts.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010


That's how I feel looking at these bathrooms. Green with envy. And maybe blue with confusion. I'm obsessed with all these bathrooms, but I'm still slightly confused as to whether they are the right style for our flat.  
On the white tile (99% sure this will be a subway tile) there is no question.
Photo courtesy of Emma's Design Blog
Photo courtesy of LivingEtc
Photo courtesy of Katy Elliot via Apartment Therapy
But the sink and fittings? I want an older 1930's style sink etc but have a feeling super-modern built in floating cabinet could be the right decision... and yet after half an hour of intensive searching, I came up with nada that I deemed worthy of sharing.  But I know I've seen them before, so hopefully I can come back to you on this one.

It would be so easy if there was something good about our bathroom that we could keep. Anything. But unfortunately it is a late 90's wasteland of ugly kidney shaped bath, crooked beige tiles and cheap tiny wobbly sink.

We are also faced with a conundrum: to bath or not to bath. No, not literally.  But whether to have a full size bath or just a shower cubicle.  I prefer cubicle but there's this myth that when people are househunting they will look at a bathroom with only a shower and think 'oh, I just don't see how I could relax after work with candles and a magazine in that shower'. Even though they probably haven't had a bath in years and wouldn't have time to use it anyway. To add insult to this myth, in England they will actually advertise your flat as having a 'shower room'. I think we'll have to keep the bath just to avoid turning potential buyers away before they've even seen it.  I hope the same is not true of overhead kitchen cabinets.

Which means I can pretty much kiss this cedar shower floor goodbye: 
Photo courtesy of Inspiration Bubble

And this one:
Photo courtesy of Art + Culture
But I can certainly have this - hate the marble, love the shower fitting:
Photo courtesy of Remodelista
 I hope that's one decision made.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

The vision

I did a little flathunting on the internet this morning to see what else was around in our price range, just for shits and giggles.  Luckily I didn't find anything anywhere near as good as our flat which made me super happy. 

But I did find some absolutely amazing London warehouse flats in the >£1.5m range, which represent the style and feel that we are looking for in our place (at 1/10th the size of course).

The first one, my favourite, comes as an entire building. Oh yes.  And for only £1.55m.
No overhead kitchen cupboards!  For months I have been wrestling with the guilt that by not installing overhead cupboards in my own (tiny) kitchen I would potentially by opening myself up to endless suffering and eventually regret on the day I finally have to leave a can of baked beans on display. But I'm so in love with the clean look it creates I think I'll just stop eating beans instead.

Lamps. Enough said. 

Photos courtesy of
This second one is perfectly located near Old st.  Although it is in a slightly too-large building, it is the penthouse and so there would be no worries about noisy neighbours above.  This one will set you back just under £1.6m, but apparently spending that extra £1.3m gets you a second bedroom and study.  And another 170m2.  And 2 roof terraces.
Look at those radiators!  Having a radiator nonchalantly sitting in the middle of the room is clearly just there to shout at less fortunates "we have so much space we can stick one of these wherever we want!"

What I wouldn't give for old floorboards.  And is that a kitchen pod I spy!

Photo from
There is just too much here that makes me want to weep with joy.  A lot of it is in the character of the building itself, such as the roof beams, windows and just the damn size of the thing, which we can't replicate in our flat.  But hopefully the overall feel will be similar when we're done.

Please note, if you are interested in purchasing either of these properties, I'll be happy to take a finder's fee from you.