Renovating a house can throw up a lot of expense, some of it unexpected. So when Ben Arkell and his wife, Fahmida Bakht, ran short of cash after extending their kitchen, they decided they would furnish it themselves.
Drawing on their design college backgrounds, they used reclaimed items to craft a unique kitchen where every piece tells a story – right down to the children’s graffiti on the units. The quirky yet homely result is an impressive example of what you can achieve with a little money and a lot of creativity.
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When Ben, Fahmida and their family moved into their 1850s terrace in south-east London., they found that while the exterior still boasted its original Georgian-Victorian features, the interior had been stripped of its history. ‘There was no sense of a house, of what it was in the 1850s, so we made a deliberate decision to go for the complete opposite of that,’ says Ben.
There was still an outdoor toilet and bathroom – space the family thought would be better used to make a bigger kitchen. Tom Gresford of Gresford Architects drafted a design for a rear extension and side-return infill that was a very modern contrast to the period house in a Conservation Area.
They remortgaged the house to fund the project, but after seven months – with the extension built and the floor laid – they had spent their budget, so they turned to DIY to complete it.
Ben had trained as a carpenter before working as a theatre production manager, and he made the kitchen himself. Using the skeletons of Ikea units as a foundation, he crafted new designs with reclaimed wood from Retrouvius, which was sourced from a school. ‘I love that it shows the life of those kids,’ he says of the graffiti and ink splodges.
Almost everything in Ben and Fahmida’s kitchen can be traced back to a former life, including the East German railway clock, which was found at an antiques fair. ‘We always try and use reclaimed items when we can,’ Ben explains.
Though the couple’s tight budget kept Ben and Fahmida from achieving the finish they wanted, it’s the handmade style of the kitchen that gives it charm. They’ve combined their love of clean lines and modernist style with vintage items that they’ve collected for a look that’s very personal to them. And it’s even more impressive given that the interior is all their own work.
‘We love our kitchen and it never ceases to be a delight,’ says Ben. ‘The kids have so much space now, and when the doors are open in the summer, they can run straight into the garden, too. It’s completely changed our lives.’