Kitchen Design Blog

Cherrio! It's The Traditional English Kitchen Design

Written by Carrie | May 9, 2019

If you've watched episodes of the British shows Downton Abbey or Upstairs Downstairs, you know that kitchens weren't always the "heart of the home". At least in the sense that they used to be—particularly for the middle and elite classes. Instead, kitchens were more of a basement production, so those who lived above could pretend that food magically appeared before them at their beck and call.

The English Kitchen Design: A Brief History

What we refer to today as the Traditional English Kitchen design was modeled after the Georgian-era tradition of a "servants' hub". Spanning the 1700 to 1800s under the rule of King Georges (I-IV), it was a time marked by vast social and political change. We know the British are associated with the aristocracy and monarchy and their kitchens reflected this division in class systems as well.

The Georgian kitchen designs were simple and modest—after all, the servants didn't require all the vast amenities the rooms upstairs had. In that regard, the English kitchen is functional and practical for all your cooking needs. This design is on trend in 2019 and adding English flair into your home pulls out all the best qualities of the Georgian kitchen without the antiquated feel.

If you want to bring that charm into your home, here are some characteristics of the English kitchen that have evolved naturally over time from its place in history.

Photo by Mark Wilkinson Kitchens, Harrogate

Fancy an English kitchen design style

During the Georgian-era, servants observed a family-style dining experience—only after the resident family had eaten of course! In a time of zero to minimal-electricity, where form is second to function, there was a sense of family and togetherness even if it was delegated to the servants' quarters. We can see how these historical, yet family-centric tenets have transferred into a contemporary, "upstairs," format.

Photo by Humphrey Munson

Keep calm and carry on with a functional kitchen

A working kitchen prioritizes function over form to meet all the needs of your family. Optimize work space countertops to get the most out of your room. Simple and practical materials were favored in these designs. Marble offers up beauty and elegance but also a solid choice for all your cooking needs. If marble isn't an option quartz is just as practical and durable.

Be sure to think about a work flow that fits your needs with a layout that works best for your family and your kitchen. Adding ample storage solutions is another step in designing a room that’s not only functional but useful for years to come.

Photo by McCulloch Furniture ltd

By order of the queen—a muted, neutral color palette

Sticking to a more monochromatic palette makes sense in a busy kitchen that was ultimately designed to serve others. Who could be concerned with repainting cabinets, trim and other accents, in an assortment of complementary colors? There was no time to worry about design elements like that while having to simultaneously serve three meals a day and afternoon tea in a prompt and efficient manner.

The muted color choices are a smart and effective foundation that work just as well in today's busy family kitchens. Meals and snacks are constants as parents, kids, grand kids and friends shuffle in and out of the room around work, school and extra-curricular schedules. Going with one or two neutral colors in a trendy matte finish means lower-lifetime maintenance needs and costs.

Photo by Woodstock Furniture

Furniture-like kitchen cabinetry fit for a king

While your kitchen appliances and certain accents may be contemporary (we’re thinking stainless steel sinks or stylish stool seating), an English kitchen-inspired remodel will have traditional trim and finish accents. You'll want to take a furniture-like approach to cabinetry as well.

This would include more ornate or raised-pattern trim on cabinets and items with feet or pedestals on the bottom. A stand-alone cupboard or hutch are incorporated for all your storage needs. Even a mantel over the oven captured the classical architecture of the time. If there are any family heirlooms include them in this design. There are opportunities here for you to showcase the formality of the kitchen while creating something beneficial for your family.

Photo by Kintz Cabinets-Custom Woodworking

Cheers to a functional kitchen island

The island (or a big butcher block) is a staple element in these historic rooms. And it can be a furniture-like piece as noted above. Maybe you want to re-purpose something from another room, or you made a great find at a flea market. Refurbish and convert a dresser or sturdy table into a workable island. Keep in mind that these items may need to be upgraded to ergonomically correct heights to accommodate your posture when prepping for long periods of time. You always want an accessible and livable kitchen!

The island is another area for precious storage space. Just like the kitchen on Downton Abbey, keep this area in mind for your large mixing bowls or pots. You'll have exactly what you need all within arms reach. The extra countertop space also gives you more room to prep your meals for all those hungry guests.

Photo by Bath Kitchen Company

Order and symmetry reign supreme

Order was the very basis of the English monarchy and class system, and that same penchant led to a celebration of symmetry in the home. In this way, stepping into the kitchen provided a feeling of uncluttered balance and tidiness.

You don't have to go crazy making things symmetrical, but do consider balance in terms of texture, contrast and materials. To add some modern updates to your space you may choose pendant lighting over the island. Depending on your island size be sure to think about the balance over each plane of view. And always include storage solutions to keep surfaces as free and unfettered as possible.

Photo by Tom Howley

Bits 'n bobs: embellish with restrained luxury

Often, outdated or slightly faded luxuries from upstairs were handed off to the downstairs realm. This meant the kitchen benefited from embellishments providing feelings of grandeur—like velvet drapes, a prized china tea pot or a marble baking slab—but they were never overstated. With hand-me-down items you won’t be taking a page out of the maximalist style design book but rather refining those items for just a few simple, elegant accents.

Photo by Barnes Vanze Architects, Inc.

To be or not to be: plainer, high-quality materials

These kitchens were put to near industrial-level use, so materials were high-quality for durable and lasting solutions. As we mentioned under the monochromatic point, they also needed to be easy-to-maintain. Thus, a slab of non-porous quartz or sealed marble on the countertop and open shelving for easy-access honor that preference. These are choices for a practical and highly functional kitchen you’ll love for years to come.

Photo by EJ Interior Design, Eugenia Jesberg

Ready to restore order to your kingdom? Include some of that old-world and functional charm to your space with a traditional English-inspired design, and contact the consultants at Kitchen Magic for a free, in-home consultation.