Designing Your Dream Kitchen

When we got the keys to our dated 1930s home, the kitchen was built for one person only – the housewife! Now, it’s 2020 and in our household, Nick does most of our cooking. Personally, I like to sit, drink wine and keep him company! Therefore, we really needed a much more spacious kitchen. Somewhere where we could entertain guests but also have space for food prep. I can’t say I’d ever really looked at kitchens in much detail before we bought our home. We rented so many different places that we just accepted whatever kitchen the properties came with. The original kitchen in our house actually had some of the original 1930s units – Yes, it was that old! The rest was from the 1960s and we even had polystyrene tiles on the ceiling just to finish it off! 

Before we had even got the keys, we actually began planning our kitchen. I know what you’re thinking – that’s a bit presumptuous or, you’re getting a bit ahead of yourself there guys! But, we had to have a full rewire completed in our home and we wanted to get the electrician in as soon as we got the keys. If you recall from our previous blogs, we only had 6 weeks before we were moving into our first proper home. Therefore, we needed to know where all of the electrics would go in our new kitchen so the rewire could get started ASAP. At the same time as the full rewire, we also had a builder in to remove the wall between the original kitchen and the old dining room. Now, I have to say, I’m not a fan of a dining room. I’ve always believed the kitchen is the heart of the home and I loved the idea of having one space to incorporate a kitchen dining area. By removing the wall, this space was now roughly 3.7m x 6m. We always planned a future extension for this space too coming off the back wall, therefore, this forward thinking was included in our kitchen planning. 

The Floor Plan and Changes

Now, one thing we’re asked often is, was it easy to move the waste pipe and water pipes to move the kitchen. The answer is yes. The plumber was in anyway replacing all the old pipe to lovely new copper ones and fitting in additional radiators (several rooms didn’t have any) so it wasn’t too hard to re-route a few water pipes too. We had a back boiler in the dining room, in the chimney. We planned to open the chimney up to accommodate the cooker and obviously there was already a gas supply there so it was a simple decision really! Having the new waste pipe in was a bit trickier as we have concrete floors where the original kitchen was. From what I heard, cutting through the concrete wasn’t a fun job! However, it was all done within a day so it wasn’t overly pricey. Because the waste pipe had quite a long run, the building inspector suggested have a 50mm diameter pipe (it’s usually 40mm). This means that it’s less likely to become blocked, which is reassuring. 

Unfortunately, because we wanted to plan our kitchen before having the keys, we were turned away by quite a few kitchen design companies. The reasons for this were that they wanted to come in and measure the kitchen themselves (but we had no key) or that they didn’t want to plan a kitchen in case the sale fell through. Thankfully, B&Q were fine with this and so was Ikea. We went to B&Q initially for the first design. However, we wanted to make several optional layouts so we could see what worked best for us. Constantly having to go back and book appointments didn’t feel like a viable option. Because Ikea has a kitchen planner that you can use from the comfort of your own home, it was a no brainer! We decided to pop into Ikea first to see what they had, and surprisingly, we found everything we wanted in Ikea. There were a few things I knew were ‘must haves’ in our kitchen. Firstly, an island. I wanted this space for entertaining but also, somewhere where we could enjoy a snack/drink in a more casual way. Also, we 100% need a dishwasher as we both work full time and I don’t want to spend my evenings washing dishes. Plus, it was forward thinking for if we ever decide to extend our family. I wanted a built in microwave as I think they’re so ugly and take up so much room otherwise. Finally, I was adamant that I wanted a double Belfast sink because I liked the idea of having the second sink to hide the dishes drying. We couldn’t believe our luck when we realised that Ikea had all of these aspects. 

We probably planned about 5 different kitchens before settling on the one that worked best. As I mentioned before, we planned out kitchen with an extension in mind. Therefore, we kept the back wall free of all units as we will be removing some of this wall in the future. When we had our final kitchen plans, we actually measured the units on the wall and we used masking tape to tape the outline on the floor. This was an excellent way to visualise the space and I thoroughly recommend doing it if you’re in that position. By doing this, we actually realised that the island was too close to the wall units and we actually wouldn’t be able to open the dishwasher and the drawers at the same time. It’s stuff like that that you may not think about! Once we did all of this, we went back into Ikea, and we booked an appointment with a kitchen planner. They had a look over our plans and made a few final changes. Overall, it was a really easy process. 

We didn’t want too many upper units in our kitchen as we wanted to create a spacious feel. Once we had the tall unit for the built in fridge, we decided that we wanted to balance this by having tall units on the other side also. We are often asked the dimensions of our island. It’s approximately 105cm x 130cm. To save money, we also decided to fit the kitchen ourselves (I’ll write another blog on this). This was quite a gamble as we had no experience in anything like this but we took our time and made sure everything was level. In the end, it took us around two weeks to complete. We did get someone in to do the worktops though as we didn’t have the tools on that and well, we’re brave, but not that brave!

We came across some plain wooden creates in Ikea and we decided to paint them and make them into shelves (it’s all about saving money where you can). Another temporary measure we did was we used vinyl for the splash back behind the cooker. It’s definitely a cheap, temporary way to get things looking good. If you’re like us, and on a real budget, it’s definitely worth thinking outside the box on certain things!

5 Top Tips by a kitchen Designer

I got in touch with the lovely Jacqui over at the Instagram handle @homeandginteriors who has designed kitchens for a variety of kitchen companies. They ranged from modern German manufactured kitchens to high end luxury British hand painted kitchens. Here are her top 5 tips:

  1. Balance the kitchen to the room. Draw out your room to scale (use a pencil!) with 600mm lines (worktop depth) right round every wall then if you have space for an island, mark one metre from all your 600mm lines and join the up to create you island space. This is your optimum space for cabinets! I’ve drawn a little sketch if it sounds confusing (you’ll find it underneath the tips). You can then reduce areas if you want to add an island or make one bigger.
  2. If you are changing an existing kitchen, whatever you do, don’t think about or copy it’s current layout. It’s probably the reason why your changing your kitchen in the first place, make it work for you! Do you cook lots? What kind of cooking do you do? Do you need social space? Try and line things up with elements of the room, look above you at beams or windows.
  3. After sketching the room, think appliances first. What do you need, want or would use the most?? A range cooker or eye level oven? Micro combination ovens are an absolute godsend! Hot water taps and extractor hobs are the best thing since sliced bread but remember they do take up space in the cupboard below so make sure you take that into account. You tend to stand cooking at a hob so if you can, put the hob in a place where you can face the social area to chat or have a nice garden outlook. If you have an island and have to choose what to put on it, I’d definitely recommend having a hob! Most people have dishwashers so the chances of you standing at a sink are slim.
  4. Cost! If you are on a budget but still want the luxuries then you can! Find cabinets that suit from a cheaper supplier or source them through a tradesman. Get lots of quotes for everything! Cabinets, worktops and appliances, I saved £2,000 on my appliances by shopping around. Luxury gadgets really make a kitchen and if you decided to sell, mentioning them in a listing helps make an impact.
  5. Lighting is everything! You can have an amazing kitchen design but if the lights aren’t right then you will be utterly disappointed, day and night! I don’t just mean electrics, I mean natural light too! Warm white LED lights work extremely well to create the perfect ambiance and LED’s also provide the luxurious consistent flow of soft lighting that will last, save energy and replacement bulb costs. For natural light, try introducing roof lights or boat windows into the room, nothing beats a beautiful blue sky or starry night.

The Rewire

Well, what can I say. A rewire is something that you don’t want to do unless you have to – and you’ve guessed it, we had to! On the estate agent’s description of the house, a rewire was recommended so we did know that an update would have to be carried out. However, we didn’t know how hideous and destructive a full rewire was. I mean, we were complete novices! I thought it was just a matter of changing the ancient light switches but I was sadly mistaken. My electrical knowledge is pretty basic here, so I am no expert but what I want to do is talk through our experience. How much we were quoted, what we did and why we did it etc. This may not be the same for everyone who gets a full rewire but this was our ‘interesting’ experience.

Let’s Talk Money!

As I’ve said in a previous blog post, we gave ourselves the challenging (some may say unrealistic) timetable of having all the big messy work done and dusted (excuse the pun) in 6 weeks. Therefore, I had 4 electricians lined up to come in the day after we got the keys. The quotes were quite the range – I couldn’t believe it. The first electrician estimated £4,500, he couldn’t start for a few weeks and that our move in date would have to be pushed back to the end of August (not ideal). The last electrician said he could start straight away and it would be approximately £2,700. The other two electricians were in the middle of both of those quotes but you can guess which one we went with! Now, you have to take into consideration the area. The prices here in South Wales will be substantially lower than they would be in London, for example. We also spoke to the electrician about doing the chasing ourselves to save more money but it was only a difference of £300 or so, so we decided to pay the extra and have it done more professionally and let’s face, far more quicker!

The Old Electrics

The picture to the right is the consumer unit when we got the keys. We were told that the electrics in our house had never truly been updated; the silver box in the photo is the 1930s consumer unit. We actually learnt, not long after moving in, that the gentleman, Andrew, who owned the house previously, had been a bit of an electrician. So he had done all the updating himself. Let’s say that Andrew was a Jack of all trades. As much as the electrics worked, they weren’t exactly safe. Over the years, he had added sockets onto the skirting boards in each room. They were so low to the ground, I couldn’t even plug in my iPhone charger! This needed changing ASAP.

The Preparation

Firstly, our electrician was brilliant. He was on the ball! He was always checking to see where we were up to, what rooms he could work in that week etc. So if you’re reading this in South Wales contact me and I will send you his contact details. I cannot sing his praises enough. Because we wanted the work done quickly, the easiest way to do this was to remove the ceilings. We had some lovely sagging parts in some of the downstairs ceilings where the laths had given way, so this wasn’t exactly a problem. We were warned by the electrician though that it was highly likely that our original lath and plaster was made with ‘black ash’. Now, we had no idea what this meant but it wasn’t long until we got the full picture! It turns out that in 1930’s South Wales, they mixed the plaster with coal ash. It was beyond awful.

We decided to only remove the ceilings from the ground floor. This was partially because of the tight timeline we were on but it was also because the ceilings were in reasonable condition upstairs. We weren’t sure initially because all of the upstairs’ ceilings were covered in polystyrene tiles – I know, how lovely – but they were okay once we removed them. Maybe we’ll come to regret it in 20 years, who knows! We really wanted to save the skirting boards but because they had been damaged by having sockets placed on them, and some were further damaged by removing them. Ultimately, we decided to replace all the ones that were removed (which was most of them).

The Rewire Itself

Nick looking like he just came out of the Welsh mines.

The first fix took about 5 days to complete. We had lots of other work going on at this time as well as builders and plumbers were in too. Nick then filled the chases (another new skill to add to his collection) and we had a partial second fix as we had actually moved into the property. Once the ceilings were down, we worked out where all the new sockets and switches would go in the house. This is the nice part of the rewire because you are able to actually chose where sockets will go but it’s also quite difficult as you need to make decisions about where to put all your furniture. When you’re standing in a shell of a room that is covered in a soot like substance, it really is tricky to imagine where your bedside tables are going to go.

Definitely invest in some good masks. These were average.

Additionally, if you want certain light fittings, these are also something you want to consider beforehand. We knew in the kitchen that we wanted want lights above our island, therefore, that was something we had to consider early on. We also wanted a socket on our island because it’s just so handy! Overall, we’ve been pretty spot on with where we placed our electrics but on reflection, there are a few things we wish we had have added here or there etc. But you know what they say about hindsight!

I know some people are fussy about where the spot lights are placed. I wasn’t. I knew I wanted them in the kitchen/diner and running along the hallway to the front door. So I asked our electrician to place them where he thought was best and he did a brilliant job. He also chose daylight coloured bulbs, which are the best colour and I’d totally recommend. At the same time, we also asked the electrician to place spot lights in bathroom and I’m so glad we thought ahead about this as we are leaving the bathroom as it is for now really.

The Switches and Sockets

I had all these big dreams about have brass sockets and switches in each room but the electrician said that he completes rewires with plain white sockets and he could come back to update. This was something that I didn’t know. It turns out when you’re renovating a whole house on a budget, white sockets and switches are ok! It is something that we say we will update down the line and I hope we do but I think sometimes you need to say ‘that can wait’ and prioritise other jobs.

I think I have discussed the big things involving the rewire but if I have missed anything, please pop any questions in the comment section.

The House

Our 1930’s Dream

The original house
This is the estate agent’s photo

This is it. Our little, terracotta, neglected home. One thing that I have to say about this house is that as soon as we saw it, we fell in love. Both of us could see the potential this house had. It just needed a massive face lift. On the outside, the porch is falling down (as it had no foundations apparently) and the wood is rotted, it’s unfortunately terracotta, the window frames are brown, it has the original roof and it potentially needs new render. So far, we have changed a handful of those things! But, they are on the cards for some point in the future. However, the original 1930’s door was what sold it to us. It was faded a mustard yellow but the style and the glass were both so beautiful.

The Door We Fell In Love With

The 1930’s door is one of the only original features left in the house. A few people suggested installing a new one, that’s more efficient and secure, but we never could never bring ourselves to remove it. It belongs here. We knew it needed some serious TLC but that’s easily sorted with a heat gun and some fresh paint.

The Layout

Inside is your typical 1930s layout. There is a good sized living room complete with a bay window. The dining room, towards the back of the house, and beside it was the old galley kitchen. Attached to the back of the house is a slowly collapsing lean to building that includes a small utility and a very dark and dated loo.

We often get asked about the size of our rooms so if you’re wondering, here you go:

  • Hallway: 3.9m x 2.04m
  • Living room: 3.76m x 4.30m
  • Dining room: 3.74m x 3.74m
  • Kitchen: 2.73m x 2.03m
  • Bathroom: 2.52m x 2.01m
  • Bedroom one 3.43m x 4.24m
  • Bedroom two is 3.76m x 3.73m
  • Box room is 2.57m x 2.39m

Some Original Pictures