Updating a Victorian home with an open-plan kitchen

While renovating their Victorian cottage Nicky and Gerry Dowling seized the opportunity to create a large and sociable open-plan kitchen-diner

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‘Moving house was a big decision for us,’ explains Nicky. ‘The children were grown up and living their own lives, so we felt that the time was right for us to sell the family home and move to a smaller property. We knew the area well, though, and wanted to find a place nearby to be close to our family and friends.’

The couple sold their house in May 2011, moving into rented accommodation to put them in a better position when something they liked came up for sale. Two months later, a Victorian property was put on the market as an executor’s sale, and it could not have been more perfect.

Set in a sought-after Conservation Area, it faced a picturesque village green with a duck pond and cricket club, but what appealed was that it hadn’t been touched since the 1970s. ‘These places don’t come up very often,’ Gerry recalls. ‘It needed refurbishing and modernising but was on for a good price. It ended up as a sealed bid process, so we were lucky to get it.’

Fact file

  • The owners: Nicky Dowling, a part-time dental receptionist, and her husband Gerry, a building contractor
  • The property: A three-bedroom, semi-detached Victorian cottage
  • The location: Esher, Surrey
  • What they spent: The couple’s kitchen project cost around £29,500 for fixtures and fittings. Savings were made by Gerry’s company doing the building work. Costs to fit out a similar space would be around £15,000

Kitchen cupboard and cooker

The kitchen

While Gerry was busy with the construction work, Nicky focused on choosing the kitchen. ‘I knew I wanted a traditional Shaker-style design as it would be more in keeping with the house itself,’ she says. ‘I thought white would be too stark and I was looking for a different shade to the usual cream, so when I walked into the showroom and saw the kitchen in French Gray, I was sold.’

Luckily the couple have similar tastes, and Gerry was happy to go along with Nicky’s choice, especially as she does most of the cooking. They both wanted to replicate features that would probably have been in the property originally, such as a dresser and wood panelling. Gerry also fitted traditional-style French doors, suited to the age of the house, to gain a good view of the garden. ‘The style often has coloured glass in the detailing but we decided to keep them clear for a more modern look,’ he says. ‘We also included a skylight to get as much natural daylight into the cooking area as possible.’

Open plan kitchen

Interior design

When it came to designing the kitchen, the layout had to include space for the huge reclaimed teak dining table and chairs that the couple brought from their previous house. ‘We bought them from Hampton Court Flower Show around 10 years ago and they’re actually designed for outdoor use,’ says Nicky. ‘They are great for entertaining, especially when the whole family are round.’

Nicky also takes credit for the built-in dresser-style unit. ‘I had seen something similar in a magazine and wanted a place where I could plug in all my electrical appliances so that they’re ready to go when I need them,’ she explains. ‘The additional worktop makes this a great space for using a food processor or liquidiser, and I keep all my baking ingredients on the shelves above.’

The L-shaped room lends itself perfectly to the large island unit, with bar stools creating an informal seating area. ‘I love the dining table but sometimes we just want somewhere to perch while we have a coffee or a bite to eat,’ Nicky explains. ‘I also look after my two granddaughters, Amelie and Tallulah, for a couple of days a week, and they sit here colouring while I’m making their lunch.’

The subtle colour of the units adds warmth to the scheme, with decorative book shelves and panelling included to echo the style of the island unit. ‘It’s such an easy kitchen to work in,’ says Nicky. ‘It feels as though everything is just where I need it.’

The costs

Doors, windows and skylight£6,000
Work surfaces£2,700
Flooring and underfloor heating£2,500
Sinks and taps£300