If you follow us on instagram you may have spotted one of our recent kitchen projects. The owners of this kitchen have been a dream client, they themselves have a passion for interior design and work in the industry so we have taken this as a huge compliment that they have chosen Bert & May with our unique and distinctive style and design expertise to complete their kitchen project. We absolutely loved how Emma (the owner) has taken on our aesthetic and incorporated it with her own bespoke and individual style. We shared a passion for the raw materials, natural finishes and the bespoke. And this has really come across in the design. So much has our love been for this kitchen we approached Emma and asked if she'd like to share her kitchen story with us.
As a collector, I like the idea of beginning a project with a piece of furniture or an object I love and seeing what happens. Interesting spaces tend to have their own story, and grow things with them. If you stay faithful to the back-story, then the place will do the work for you. When it’s your home, especially your kitchen it should say something about the distinctive character of the people who live there.
For conventional ‘dream kitchen’ design, this wisdom hasn’t quite caught-up yet. The notion of the kitchen as a purely functional space, within a few basic ‘of –the-moment’ design briefs – plus super-duper gadgets on top - is still hanging-on in there. I knew of Bert & May having long admired their encaustic tiles and subtle colour palettes. I saw on Instagram that Bert & May also incorporated kitchen design. Their East London showroom demonstrates the idea that a kitchen can inhabit an adaptable living space, rather than just co-exist. This is important for big, busy families like mine who struggle for space.
I run my own design company, Kramer and Kramer working as an interior stylist mostly in the corporate sector. My clients include big corporations like Amazon, so I know all about combining unpretentious but creative design, which works on a budget.
My own kitchen project started with the room, a worn-down industrial building at the bottom of our small garden built in 1835. The first thing I put in there – even before I’d done the rip-out - was a glazed mahogany cabinet rescued from the British Museum. I left it in there throughout, telling the builders that they had to work around it (even when it got covered in dust and there was a risk that it’d get knocked about) just so I’d never lose sight of the inspiration. I knew in my mind what I wanted to achieve, something that was faithful to the heritage but which breathed new life into a battered paint-peeled ex-workshop.
I wanted to collaborate with craftsmen willing to take a leap of faith, to build something bespoke but also to make the space work practically and organically. Utilitarian in the sense, that I could re-use materials. Alongside pieces of classically-designed furniture, which could be brought back into play right now – not just as showpieces – but could earn their keep in a kitchen that would have to feed six people, several times-a-day. The bonus is that it’s all sustainable.
Bert & May use raw materials like brass and bronze to build functioning kitchens - really exciting, combined with innovative design and craftsmanship. Working with them, I went back to the stuff that excites me: history, great design and reclamation. Our kitchen space in Greenwich, South East London has an interesting past. It’s had so many different incarnations. In the 1830s it was a tool shed and brick factory, erected by a local tradesman who built the terraced houses in the street including the one we live in, right on the end.
When the houses were finished the shed became an iron foundry and a carpentry workshop which specialised in making lamp posts for the streets around The Royal Park. Then in the 1930s, new Italian owners turned their attention to more specialist metal works and were commissioned to repair and rebuild Britain’s only aluminium statue at the time - Eros in Piccadilly Circus. The Italian family was interned during the war and the house suffered bomb damage. However, after the war the workshop thrived in the Fifties under different owners. Then, in the 80s and 90s it was taken over by upholsterers. In 2015, I took the space in a different direction again.
I launched Kramer and Kramer retail from there selling salvaged and found objects, artwork, mid-century furniture, clothing and textiles. But as more and more of Kramer and Kramer’s sales moved online and business-to-business it gave me options to repurpose the building for the next thing. Our living space in the main house had become too crowded (we have four kids and two cats) and like many families in London we knew we had to get creative about the way we used the space.
Bert & May arranged for the designer and craftsman, who would build our kitchen with his team in Yorkshire to do a site visit. Not put off by the rubble, freezing cold, lack of floor and crumbling walls he was able to ascertain what could be done with our long narrow building. We discussed ideas to help keep the character of the building alive. Metal worktops as a nod to its years as foundry and reclaimed hand-finished wood to add warmth and texture, just like I imagined it would have had when it was a carpenter’s sawmill. I explained that I wanted to keep my old oak-topped dining table along with a set of beloved antelope chairs, and he melded them into the plan. For me, the scrofulous London Brick walls, weren’t a negative thing. Inspired, we decided to use brick tiles to carry the theme through to the wall behind the cooker. The industrial concrete-floor worn smooth from years of hob-nailed boots sparked an idea to use polished concrete for the kitchen worktops.
One of their guys was a specialist who drew-up a template and made one to precision, with as a few joins as possible honed to perfection with repeated site-visits and final adjustments. Digital images of the scaled kitchen plan helped me understand what could be achieved and enabled our builder Andy James to get his head around the space he was creating the shell for. Having seen a bronze unit in the East London Bert & May shop I decided the focal point of the kitchen had to be an island, that could look out onto the garden and reflect light from the skylight to be built above. The beauty of the bronze is that it as it ages it changes colour and develops a wonderful patina like a living breathing thing, (which also means you don’t have to spend hours cleaning it.) And looking out onto a garden space helps bring a sense of the outside indoors. To avoid the kitchen looking too tough or industrial, fifties opaline globe lights in sherbet pastels from Retrouvius and my own collection broke it up a bit. A larger pale blue tulip glass light – found on a flea market in Rome - added a softer resonance. Deep push-to-open drawers made out of reclaimed engineered pine - and a chunky concrete top in soft grey for the cooker area - made a really easy-to-use cooking area. I’m not into fancy gadgets, but I wanted to make sure we invested in good quality ironware which would last. So I spent more on our lovely bronze tap and less on stuff that I didn’t need like boiling water on demand gizmos. Every piece of hardware including the amazing moulded bronze sink – still no idea how they made it – was broken down into individual costs so we could keep within budget and trade-off one thing for another when we ran out of money.
I made one more visit to the Bert & May showroom to choose the flooring which is all available to touch and feel, and opted for limed oak parquet which makes the space look spacious and modern. It’s all hand-made in Yorkshire by expert craftsmen, so it is beautiful quality and beats going to flooring superstores or the overpriced high-street boutiques. Final touches included adding my collection of mid-century dinnerware and ceramics – harking back to my college days in the Potteries. Then, various old and new bits and pieces, such as a Forties free-standing fridge for drinks and an Eighties bamboo-and-marble cabinet which looks like it could have been ripped-out of a communist era hotel.Then, last but not least there’s my botanicals, of course.
Thanks to the craftsmanship, skill and a shared vision with Bert and May the story seemed to unfold itself and continues to as we occupy the space.