Picture the stately manor in Downton Abbey or the quaint cottages in the BBC’s Escape to the Country—no matter how grand or modest, these homes always seem to have historic charm and cozy, moody vibes, undoubtedly due to their location: Great Britain. One room, in particular, has captivated we Americans above all others—the kitchen.
“The U.K. has a lot of old houses, and we are used to restoring original features in a way that preserves their quirks and patina, so I think we’re less concerned with perfection and newness,” explains Merlin Wright, design director at London cabinet company Plain English. With kitchens lasting longer in Britain than Stateside, they need to be built to last—both stylistically and physically.
Cupboards are often made from solid hardwood, then painted (and repainted). Layouts are carefully planned for every daily task, from putting the groceries away to cooking a weeknight dinner. With everything mapped out to the most minute detail, it goes without saying that we could learn a thing or two from our friends across the pond, starting with these five features that you’ll rarely find in an American kitchen (but should!):
An Aga Stove Photography by Sarah Elliott for Plain English
Brits traditionally like to conceal their appliances behind cabinet doors to keeps things cohesive. “It makes such a difference having clear counters,” says Imogen Pritchard, design manager at Plain English in New York. However, there is one exception: the Aga stove. “I love one in an old country kitchen,” says Wright of the cast-iron cooker that stores heat at various temperatures and doesn’t require it be turned on or off. “It’s a very quirky item and it’s always warm. It makes the kitchen feel alive.”
A Scullery Courtesy of Plain English
British kitchens are where everyone congregates, so they often include a large dining table where most family meals are eaten. That leaves us with this question: Do you have to stare at the dirty dishes all through dinner? This is where the scullery comes in, a small room at the back of the kitchen that is a mix between a walk-in pantry and a laundry room. Often outfitted with a sink, dishwasher, and washer-dryer, this petite space becomes the hub for washing all things, from towels to Crock-Pots.
Cupboard Organizers Courtesy of Plain English
In American kitchens, drawer dividers often come in store-bought plastic form, but in England, they’re built right into the kitchen, in every shape and size: Pull-out trays, bottle organizers, wicker baskets, crockery pegs (to store pots and pans), and knife blocks create easily accessible places for everything. Plain English also builds styles with ventilation to hold anything from onions and potatoes to garlic, freeing up precious fridge, pantry, and counter space.
Warming Drawers Courtesy of Plain English
If you want to treat yourself to something extra special, Wright recommends warming drawers for dinnerware. “These are essential in professional kitchens and extremely useful for the rest of us to keep plates and cooked dishes warm,” she explains. Though these are certainly not essential, they come in handy for people who love to entertain large groups; no lukewarm green beans here!
A Larder Courtesy of Plain English
Brits have a secret way to keep their kitchen cabinets and countertops tidy: a full-height larder (aka a pantry). “It usually involves beautifully organized dry foods; a home for the coffee machine that isn’t getting in the way of chopping veggies; and a breakfast cupboard for everyone to help themselves, make a bit of a mess, and then close the doors and on with the day,” says Pritchard. These typically contain a combination of shelves, trays, drawers, spice racks, and bins, as well as a marble shelf to keep items such as cheese and charcuterie cool. If a cheese shelf doesn’t convince you to follow in the Brits’ footsteps, we don’t know what will.
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