Kitchen couture

Kitchen couture

Whether you’re drawn to sleek and contemporary or modern country, these two kitchen looks pack an enduring punch. By Tess Paterson

Big country

The modern country kitchen is one of those happy evolutions with a growing fan base. The look is loosely based on older, roomier homes where the kitchen was highly functional and kept resolutely out of sight. Here there was space to work – from abundant counter space and generously sized ovens to elbow-deep butlers’ sinks made of durable glossy ceramic. Today’s modern country version borrows the best of these elements, mixing in some cleaner, more sophisticated forms.

‘The minute you say “country”, the implication is automatically of a larger kitchen,’ says Joburg-based Marina Shahini, owner of Kitchens by M. ‘This style originated in older homes, so you’re talking high ceilings – often with exposed rafters, and sufficient space for collections of free-standing furniture and accessories.’

Kitchen designer Angie Hudson agrees that the modern country look is ideal for those who like to be surrounded by personal things. ‘In comparison to a minimalist kitchen, this style requires a substantial amount of storage space. Think rows of cookbooks, floating shelves filled with beautiful cookware, multifunctional islands; freestanding dressers. There’s a sense of hearty eating and get-togethers too. It’s about bringing an old-fashioned concept into this century – off-setting elements such as pressed-steel ceilings with contemporary finishes and furnishings.’

The key players

Few things are more authentically country than a screed floor. These durable surfaces were originally covered in stoep paint, but today’s cement-toned versions add the perfect touch. ‘Screed floors work beautifully for this type of kitchen,’ says Shahini. ‘If you prefer a tiled option, avoid anything high-gloss – that’s definitely reserved for a more minimalist look.’ Renovations often yield existing timber floors, and Hudson’s advice is to retain these, as long as they’re in good condition. ‘We painted existing parquet floors in a matt black, which gave a stunning contemporary twist to an older kitchen. It’s also worth looking at vinyls and matt laminate options, which can instantly transform a space.’

The second must-have is Shaker-style cabinets. These simple profiles translate beautifully across the many nuances of the look – Karoo farmhouse, Scandi cottage or contemporary London townhouse. ‘A flat or low-sheen hand-painted finish on the cabinetry will capture the modern country look to a T,’ adds Hudson. ‘This also means that you can change the palette relatively easily in future, as painting can be done in situ.’

Countertops are the third key consideration. ‘Timber countertops are quintessentially country and can be a great solution for islands,’ says Shahini. ‘That said, wood is not ideal next to water or hob areas, and the abundance of engineered quartz provides fantastic solutions.’ While granite remains a classic choice, perhaps the greatest find today is the plethora of engineered marble. Expect the gorgeous subtlety of the real deal, yet none of the porosity that makes proper marble so tricky in kitchens.

It all adds up

Subway tiles are the look of the moment, perfectly summing up the old-meets-new aesthetic. And patterned tiles have also staged a dramatic comeback, evoking the detailed appeal of Victorian-era entrance halls. ‘We’ve had a lot of success with patterned tiles used as an accent behind the hob, and as decorative elements on floors,’ says Shahini.

Accessory-wise, butlers’ sinks are key if you’re going all-out country. Shahini suggests appliances with a bit of a retro edge to complete the look, such as Smeg ovens or toasters. ‘Choosing handles and kick plates in stainless steel will give a modern twist,’ adds Hudson, ‘as will opting for simple, bold profiles on your countertops and cornices.’

 Light and colour

The right light fittings are crucial to modern country interiors, and this is where pendants come into their own. ‘Use concealed LEDs under the wall units to provide countertop lighting,’ advises Shahini. ‘But for mood and drama it’s vital to have a series of large industrial pendants – either above the island or over a dining table.’

The modern country kitchen allows for wonderful colour applications, from the subtlest neutrals to sharp, citrusy brights. Yellow is still having its moment – a perfect upbeat note for accents such as bar stools, crockery and table linen.

Contemporary cool

If clean lines and a noticeable lack of clutter are more your bag, a contemporary kitchen is the best way forward. While modern country styles work best with a bit of space, the contemporary look can work seamlessly in both generous and more compact kitchens. A small galley-style townhouse kitchen, for instance, will benefit from masses of clever, concealed storage and a pared-down persona. Less of the tchotchkes, more pull-out wire baskets. ‘I think a minimalist kitchen evokes a minimalist lifestyle,’ says Hudson, ‘so you need to be sure of how that room is going to work for you. You may have fewer wall units, for instance, and perhaps no floating shelves to display things.’

Philip Richards, brand director of blu_line kitchens, believes in a rational approach to the kitchen as living space. ‘A modern kitchen is really defined by functionality. It needs to work effectively, addressing all the tasks required. With this in mind we take the line of “less is more”, keeping our designs focused and uncluttered and not trying to do too much.’

 Talking textures

The joy of clean-lined kitchens is their extreme elegance. Texture has a choice role to play, upping the ante when it comes to the ‘normal’ kitchen cupboard. ‘Glass is one of our most popular cabinetry finishes,’ says Philip. ‘It has a real depth and beauty to it, and a sophisticated high-gloss appeal.’ Stone cabinetry is another beautifully luxe option, and blu_line has developed its own range of 6 mm-thick custom stone doors.

When it comes to work surfaces, engineered quartz countertops provide countless options for a sleek, understated look. The extensive palette of neutrals is ideal for this pared-down aesthetic, and Philip recommends using flamed granite or concrete for accent counters.

Wood of course, can be beautifully modern – either as subtly textured cabinets, or as a raw, matt flooring to offset accents of glass and stone.

Accessories that work

While handleless doors and concealed appliances maintain a sense of visual calm, contemporary kitchens work on a highly detailed, internal level. Drawers are orderly zones of happiness, with cutlery, crockery and cookware cocooned on non-slip mats. Bins have their own retractable homes; pull-out veggie baskets and angled spice racks are right where you need them. Custom shelving allows for groceries and bakeware to be stored in immaculate, vertical towers. ‘I think the other important element to consider is a separate laundry and scullery,’ says Philip. ‘Space allowing, this makes all the difference in keeping your work zone clutter free.’

How to style it

Contemporary kitchens provide a wonderful backdrop for accessories, and pendant lights are an obvious choice. Look out for simple, modern shapes in matt black ceramic with timber detailing. Rather than being sombre, black accessories can be beautifully dramatic, so think about platters and crockery in a matt or low-sheen finish. Heavy linen table accessories will work so well here; look out for shades of grey, vanilla, olive and taupe.

When it comes to furniture, look for items that can contribute to an all-modern scheme. It may be a standout piece like simple Wishbone chair, or a really beautiful contemporary photograph, simply framed.

Styling: Francoise Jeanne de Villiers; Styling Assistants: Kelly Kaimowitz, Robyn Lane & Jani Adeley Oosthuizen; Photography: Gareth Van Nelson/


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