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Kitchen of the Week: Plain English Goes Contemporary in a Converted London Schoolhouse

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Kitchen of the Week: Plain English Goes Contemporary in a Converted London Schoolhouse

June 21, 2018

Built in 1859, the schoolhouse in London’s Marylebone neighborhood had in recent years been home to a surprising mix of fashion showrooms and an evangelical library. The owners themselves, a husband and wife in their sixties, kept offices here, and as they worked, they envisioned an entirely new use for the structure: their own post-retirement, airy-modern living quarters.

With plans to remove recent partitions and make the most of the original features—Victorian cast-iron girders, steel stairs, and nearly 14-foot ceilings—they hired Seth Stein Architects to do the revitalizing. “The design strategy,” says Stein, “was to express the bones and expose and celebrate the range of materials,” while “carefully integrating” all mod cons. Structural work included transforming the ground floor into open living quarters, taking advantage of the lofty ceiling heights by inserting mezzanines, and recasting the playground as a courtyard garden.

For the kitchen off the entry, Plain English, known for its elegant translations of classic British design, was recruited to step somewhat out of character and devise a setup that’s clean-lined and at home in this highly unusual former classroom. Join us for a look at the decidedly 21st century results.

Photography courtesy of Plain English.

the approximately 55 square foot kitchen has an l shaped main workspace that ru 17
Above: The approximately 55-square-foot kitchen has an L-shaped main workspace that runs under the  laundry room mezzanine, introduced by the architect “to create utility and provide a cozier, more intimate and purposeful space for cooking,” says Emma Milne, who led the Plain English design team.

The painted wood cabinets are Plain English’s Osea design, a Remodelista favorite: scroll to the end to see it in a range of guises. Note the appliance placement: a Sub Zero fridge and freezer and Wolf ovens and microwave are inset on the inside wall, so they’re in the center of the action but barely within view. Work zones enable several people to share the space: The counter and sink in the back, with the Barber Wilsons chrome tap, is for dishwashing and cleanup; the sink in the front—with Barber Wilsons’ traditional brass faucets—is for food prep and serving.

milne extended out the carrara marbled topped counter and topped it with steel  18
Above: Milne extended out the Carrara-marbled-topped counter and topped it with steel restaurant-style open shelves, a detail the owners’ wanted to replicate from their vacation house. The marble ledge running behind the sink “keeps things from rolling off the back,” says Milne, and shallow steel shelving in the front displays the wife’s own ceramics.

The kitchen is flanked by two satellites: a cloakroom and elevator to the right of the stair, and, on the opposite side, an open panty. The wide-plank flooring is original, newly lightened with a soap and lye finish. The black metal long-armed sconces are a Seth Stein Architects design.

&#8\2\20;the kitchen&#8\2\17;s contemporary edge is helped along by a g 19
Above: “The kitchen’s contemporary edge is helped along by a gloss finish on the cabinets, simple metal hardware, and the thick worktops,” says Milne. The Carrara counters are detailed with with bullnose edging and rounded corners—easy for gliding past. The white paint used throughout is from Plain English’s own paint collection: they dubbed this one Boiled Dishcloth.
the plain english team designed a wall hung, blackened steel cupboard &#8\2 20
Above: The Plain English team designed a wall-hung, blackened-steel cupboard “in the manner of a school locker”—and floated it off the ground: “This area is narrow, so to keep the cabinet from sitting heavily in the space, we raised it,” says Milne. Throughout she stuck to a materials palette of painted wood, blackened and stainless steel, marble, and brass.
v groove paneled cabinets in the back conceal a spillover refrigerator and free 21
Above: V-groove-paneled cabinets in the back conceal a spillover refrigerator and freezer and food storage area. It connects with the kitchen’s back counter.
across the room, the &#8\2\20;drinks area&#8\2\2\1; has blackened steel 22
Above: Across the room, the “drinks area” has blackened steel cabinets, a Carrara marble counter, and bar sink. The steel-framed textured glass screen adds “a vertical element,” explains Milne, “and means the tap and sink can be closed off when entertaining.”

A dining table now stands on the floor between the two sections of the kitchen. The casement windows overlook the back garden: the sills, newly lowered to the floor, were originally positioned above eye level, so that students wouldn’t be distracted.

the faucet is quooker&#8\2\17;s nordic fusion square tap, a combination mix 23
Above: The faucet is Quooker’s Nordic Fusion Square Tap, a combination mixer and hot water tap in brushed chrome (the Dutch brand invented the instant hot water tap). Here, the counter is square edged for a more formal look and the Plain English cabinet  pulls are untreated brass. (Sourcing similar hardware? See 10 Easy Pieces: Silver Finish Edge Pulls.)
seth stein architects&#8\2\17; ground floor plan details the passage throug 24
Above: Seth Stein Architects’ ground floor plan details the passage through the former playground to the living quarters. The kitchen looks onto the back terrace. The lofty living room is newly lined with a wall of glazing framed by the playground’s restored arcade of iron columns. “All new work is clearly expressed as contemporary,” says Stein.

See Plain English’s Osea cabinets in the Remodelista Architect & Designer Directory and several favorite posts:

Longing for your own Plain English kitchen? Good news: The company has recently opened Plain English Design NYC, a showroom at 51 East 10th Street. Read about the journey Stateside in Bespoke British Kitchen Design Comes to the US.

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