Nicola Vincent-Abnett

Nicola Vincent-Abnett
"Savant" for Solaris, Wild's End, Further Associates of Sherlock Holms, more Wild's End

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Choice... What Choice?

I’m nesting. 

This is a good thing.

I’ve had a very wonky four years, and the last one has been as tough a year as I can remember, but it would appear that the clouds are finally parting. How do I know this? I refer you back to that first sentence. I am nesting.

The husband, the dort, and I have been spending quite a bit of our spare time the past week or two having a thorough spring clean. It’s tough work, but our local charity shops have seen a nice surge in donations. They are most welcome. I hope it helps.

We have chosen and bought the paint for the bedroom, and Norm has been in and out effecting some repairs. Things are looking up.

The bug appears to have bitten pretty deeply, though, and I now have plans for a new bathroom and a new kitchen.

I have been angling for a new kitchen since we moved into Chez Abnett almost fifteen years ago. I’ve settled for moving cabinets around, and replacing worktops and painting cupboard doors a couple of times, but the job is well past due.

I built a kitchen with my own two hands once, back in 1993, driven by need, but this will be my first properly planned kitchen fitted by proper people who know what they’re doing.

I have been talking to kitchen people on and off for years... Years, I tell you.

The airwaves are awash with programs about house building, renovating and decorating, and one of the recurring themes is that kitchens sell houses. They are often described as the heart of the home, and ‘top spec’ kitchens can add thousands, even tens of thousands to the asking price of a property.

I’ve been to places that offer bespoke kitchen building services, and I’ve looked at product, spoken to designers and costed kitchens. And, frankly, I’m baffled.

Our kitchen takes a hammering. We work at home, both of us, seven days a week, 365 days a year. OK, not quite, but we’re here a lot. We’re never away from home for more than a few days at a time, and when we’re not away we cook. When I say we cook, I’m not talking about chucking something in the microwave or emptying a jar of sauce over some pasta. 

We cook. We buy produce. We make pastry and bread. We prepare soups. We chop and slice and dice. We sauté and fry and braise, and bake and roast, and poach and steam and simmer and broil. 

We spend time working in our kitchen, and when we have guests, they stand in the kitchen with us while we work. I began cooking last night for tonight’s supper, for goodness sake.

Kitchens used to be about food preparation. Fifty years ago, and for most of my childhood, quite a lot of food preparation was done by women in their homes. Around the mid-seventies, it seems to me, that began to change. By the time my children were starting school, food preparation in the home on a daily basis appeared to have ground to a halt. I became aware of this when my younger daughter would ask if she was likely to be served “real food” when invited to other children’s homes for tea. She invariably wasn’t.

She was served preprepared frozen food that was shoved in the oven or microwave, or she was served something out of a jar that was heated and tossed over pasta or rice.

Kitchens are a thing now, they are grand and glossy, and they sell houses.

I am in the market for a kitchen and I have been for some time. I prepare food in my kitchen. 

I have been in smart kitchen design places with smart kitchen designers who have been utterly unable to satisfy any of my requirements for what I consider to be a ‘proper’  kitchen. I'm not blaming them, but for reasons beyond my comprehension, they are unable to satisfy my requirements. There are plenty of choices if you want to choose from, say, a chrome mixer tap or steel, polished or matt finish; or brass or even gold, and you can have a head that swivels or not, or has a shower spray attachment or not, and you can have it in any number of styles from modern to classic to traditional. You can have this tap in hundreds of subtly different combinations. You can have two levers: hot and cold or you can have one sliding scale lever. You can have it wall mounted or single tap hole or two tap holes in the sink, or you can have it counter mounted for a Belfast sink. How many choices does a person need?

Here’s what you can’t choose. You can’t choose two pillar taps: One hot, one cold. Well you can, if you want what the trade fits in council houses, and there’s a choice of, I believe, three designs. I have a kitchen, a working kitchen, and I want a sink with two separate pillar taps, because that’s what works for me. If that's what I want, I can't help thinking that other people must want it too. Other people must simply end up compromising. I don’t want to compromise.

I went into a smart kitchen design place and was told that I would need to spend upwards of thirty thousand pounds on my kitchen. I was told about soft-close drawers and high gloss door finishes and kickboard lighting and recessed ventilation, and they couldn’t give me a hot tap and a cold tap.

I don’t want soft close drawers. When I want to slam a drawer, I want the satisfaction of hearing it slam. If I cook in a kitchen, with all that steam and grease floating about how much time am I going to spend unnecessarily polishing those glossy cupboards? No thanks! What use are lights that show me how grubby the floor is because I’ve been cooking? And if you put a ventilator into a cupboard, don’t I lose valuable cupboard space? Well, of course I do! 

Besides, I want pillar taps two of them!

I also want a lay-on sink. Drop in sinks, under-mounted sinks and apron sinks create dirt traps. I know this because I’ve put up with them before. Under-mounted sinks and apron sinks also don’t generally have integral draining boards, so they have to be added, creating more dirt traps. Sinks should be clean places. How many lay-on sinks do you suppose there are on the market right now? Yes, you’ve got it. I found a couple of cheap ‘trade’ versions and two, count them, two that I would actually fit in a kitchen... In my working kitchen. Trust me when I tell you that there isn't an industrial kitchen in the country that has anything other than a lay-on or one-piece sink. There's a reason for that.

See how much ranting I’ve done, and I’ve only touched on the bloody sink! There’s a long way to go with this kitchen, but I’m boring you, so I'll stop.

I’ve looked at dozens of brochures and I don’t know how many online sites, and there are thousands and thousands of kitchens to choose from; there are thousands of fittings and appliances, too, but as far as, actual, honest to goodness choice goes, you couldn’t slide a fag paper between them. 

As with all things, will someone please give me some real choice? Will they? I suspect not.

A fabulous kitchen by one of our best known companies
Visit the website here
I’m determined to get my kitchen, and you can bet your life that I won’t be paying thirty grand for it, or anything like that amount. This is going to take a little time and research, and a good deal of imagination. It’s fine, I’ll get there.

In the meantime, thanks very much to all you lovely people designing fancy kitchens, but they’re not for me, even though they look beautiful and they clearly satisfy the marketplace. That’s just it, though; I wonder what the marketplace is. I wonder whether people are buying kitchens to cook in at all or whether they’re buying them to sell houses.

If you’re buying a fancy kitchen to cook in, I wish you joy of it, and if you’re buying a house with a fancy kitchen in it, I wish you joy of that, too.

I’m going to do this my way. I don’t plan to move, so I guess I have nothing to lose, and besides, I have no one to please but myself and the husband.

Wish me luck.

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