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Kitchen of the Week: An Architect’s Colorful “Modern Cottage” Kitchen in a London Highrise

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Kitchen of the Week: An Architect’s Colorful “Modern Cottage” Kitchen in a London Highrise

June 9, 2022

We recently featured a Victorian townhouse that Studio Ben Allen recast in eye-opening pigmented concrete; see London in Living Color Inside and Out. Today, we’re visiting a precursor project: architect Ben Allen’s own kitchen in which he experimented for the first time with brightly tinted building materials.

The space is in a duplex apartment that Allen dubbed The Cabinet of Experiments. It’s located in Keeling House, a brutalist tower in London’s Bethnal Green built as council housing in the 1950s; after being saved from demolition and granted listed building status in the 1990s, the interior was reimagined as white minimalist quarters for modernists. Allen and his wife, Frances, lived with the existing setup for several years, until a chilly winter prompted Allen to decide to replace the single-pane windows and introduce under-floor heating—and that led to a rethinking of the whole apartment and the design of a new kitchen.

Acting as his own client, Allen was able to “show how the interior could be reimagined as a warmer and more intimate space. Despite the brutalist exterior and the high-rise setting, the compact two-story layout of the flat means that it feels more akin to a modern cottage,” he says. That’s especially true now. Take a look.

Photography by French + Type, courtesy of Studio Ben Allen.

allen went with a space saving galley style layout with a long counter and room 9
Above: Allen went with a space-saving galley-style layout with a long counter and room for a small table, as had originally been in the apartment. The custom cabinets have fronts of oak “triply,” a three-layered plywood. Note the continuous ledge that becomes a place to display art. Over it, Allen displays wooden kitchen tools on a cork panel as practical decoration.
the kitchen table—a vintage robin day teak design—overlooks a sma 10
Above: The kitchen table—a vintage Robin Day teak design—overlooks a small balcony. The counter was tinted with Lanxess dye by the contractor, who, Allen tells us, “did the work at cost because this was his first time experimenting with colored concrete and he wanted to be able to offer it to other clients.” Its surface will develop a patina and show stains over time.
matte gray tiles from villeroy & boch form the wall size backsplash. the ov 11
Above: Matte gray tiles from Villeroy & Boch form the wall-size backsplash. The oven is by Siemens and the induction cooktop is a Bosch (scroll up to see the unobtrusive extraction vent in the ceiling). Colorful vintage Dansk enameled pots and pitchers are displayed on shelves supported by bespoke notched brass rods, a setup that Allen designed to be changeable. The brass Mid Century Knobs on the cabinets are an American import from Schoolhouse.
the faucet is dornbracht&#8\2\17;s tara wall mounted three hole kitchen mix 12
Above: The faucet is Dornbracht’s Tara Wall-Mounted Three-Hole Kitchen Mixer with the taps installed on the side.
new multi paneled windows keep out the cold. folded up, as shown, the robin day 13
Above: New multi-paneled windows keep out the cold. Folded up, as shown, the Robin Day table is just big enough for two (see it at full length above). The Folding Air-Chairs are by Jasper Morrison for Magis. The brass pendant light is Artek’s Alvar Aalto Golden Bell Ceiling Lamp.
the late \1990s renovation had turned the space into an open plan kitchen livin 14
Above: The late 1990s renovation had turned the space into an open-plan kitchen-living room. Allen reinstated the division of the two rooms by inserting a trellis shelf as a see-through partition. The plywood panel opposite the kitchen is the side of the refrigerator (see the floor plan below). The new floor is poured resin with radiant heating.
the bright blue cabinets and sliding door are made of valchromat, a through col 15
Above: The bright blue cabinets and sliding door are made of Valchromat, a through-color, high-density fiberboard, another material Allen and team later applied to the Colorful Victorian Townhouse.
&#8\2\20;the shelf unit is intricately designed to house double sided cupbo 16
Above: “The shelf unit is intricately designed to house double-sided cupboards with space for crockery in the dining area side and a fold-out desk with home office storage on the living area side,” explains Allen. “The oak window seat doubles as a large storage unit and shelves.” The flip-down desk served as Allen’s unexpected office for many months.
the window seat is sized just right for two. 17
Above: The window seat is sized just right for two.

Floor Plan

&#8\2\20;by reconfiguring the kitchen, we could reinstate the original layo 18
Above: “By reconfiguring the kitchen, we could reinstate the original layout with the counter running the full length of one wall, gaining more floor area and connecting back to the original layout,” writes Allen. “A full-height trellis shelving unit, based on examples the studio has designed for workplace projects, partially divides the room, breaking down the scale while still maintaining visibility between the two spaces and acting as a memory of the wall that originally divided the rooms.” Note the placement of the fridge opposite the kitchen counter.

Here are three more kitchens that architects designed for themselves:

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