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The Downstairs Plain English Kitchen at Howe London

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The Downstairs Plain English Kitchen at Howe London

April 18, 2018

If any antiques dealer can be classified as a rockstar, Christopher Howe qualifies. The longtime shopkeeper on London’s Pimlico Road came to his trade as an art student (concentration: sculpture) and is known for applying uncommon style and craftsmanship to all that he does. And he does a lot: In addition to selling vintage goods, he has his own line of antique-inspired lighting and furnishings, world’s most charming Dog Bed Sofa included. He’s also an in-demand interior designer: Take a look at his Gloucestershire Guest Barn. His clients over the years have ranged from Lucien Freud to Sir John Soane’s Museum and Hampton Court Palace.

Christopher is attentive to customers and crew alike, which explains how he came to install a surprise, fully stocked kitchen in the basement of his showroom. It replaced a cooking setup he describes as “a damp hovel of rotting chipboard.” And, though initially modest in scope, ended up stretching the expanse of the space: 41 feet. Used round-the-clock for staff meals, client meetings, marmalade making, and dinners for 30, the kitchen was designed with Plain English cofounder/creative director Katie Fontana and her team, fellow contemporary classicists with whom Christopher had collaborated on jobs for clients. This time, he says, working for himself enabled them to make some unorthodox choices. Join us downstairs at 93 Pimlico Road.

Photography courtesy of Howe London.

the howe and plain english shared list of favorite kitchen details includes &am 9
Above: The Howe and Plain English shared list of favorite kitchen details includes “old sinks and taps, old timber, traditional drawers, and open shelves.” These all became elements in an immense painted “pine dresser reminiscent of the colossal examples in the kitchens at Petworth House and Castle Drogo,” Christopher says.

The space is furnished here with Made-by-Howe Salon Chairs and a Georgian mahogany table. Thanks to an ever-evolving inventory, the ensemble often gets swapped out for an Irish hunt table, French farmhouse table, or series of folding trestle tables, depending on the needs of the day. The hanging lantern is French art nouveau and the hanging cabinet lights have vintage ruffled glass shades.

&#8\2\20;when we first saw the long, narrow space, it was a cluttered aladd 10
Above: “When we first saw the long, narrow space, it was a cluttered Aladdin’s cave of stored furniture,” says Plain English design director Merlin Wright. “Creating the kitchen was an opportunity to stretch the normal rules of composition and make a very long plan, like a theatrical backdrop.”

The design features cupboards from Plain English’s Tetbury Long House and Spitalfields lines. The paint—”we selected neutral off-whites for the basement setting”—came from Edward Bulmer, a line of low-VOC, natural paint that Christopher swears by.

a howe signature touch: the antique stoneware sink and reclaimed taps. (the thi 11
Above: A Howe signature touch: the antique stoneware sink and reclaimed taps. (The thin black spout came from a school science lab and supplies distilled drinking water.) The counter is pitch pine that was cut from old church beams. A dishwasher is concealed to the right of the sink.

The drawers are made of white oak, which Plain English usually lacquers, “but we wanted the wood to age naturally with time and use,” says Ali Yarr of Howe, who notes, “another feature many comment on is the authentic lack of toe kick along the base of the dresser.”

the open shelves provide plenty of display space: they&#8\2\17;re lined wit 12
Above: The open shelves provide plenty of display space: They’re lined with Royal Stafford creamware in a revived pattern called Honest, available exclusively from the shop. Modeled after 18th-century cabinet hardware, the brass button and cup pulls were sand cast in the UK by one of Plain English’s secret sources.

“No one has managed to improve on the classic form of the kitchen that was the heart of the 18th-century home,” says Christopher. “We hide things away only to be reminded of the old adage, out of sight, out of mind. We invent nonstaining surfaces and automatic devices but none last—and in the end what we really long for is something enduring that ages gracefully and works.”

this is a working kitchen (in which just about everything happens to be for sal 13
Above: This is a working kitchen (in which just about everything happens to be for sale). It has a new Wolf range with an unusual backsplash made from a salvaged steel fireplace liner.

“We audaciously chose not to have an extractor hood—and to instead enjoy the good smells of cooking,” says Christopher. The in-house menu is far-ranging—at a recent Save the Rhino fundraiser, Christopher himself was flipping organic spelt pancakes—but needless to say, there’s no heavy frying going on.

of his unexpected selection of an american range, christopher explains that he  14
Above: Of his unexpected selection of an American range, Christopher explains that he was able to strike a deal with Sub-Zero, Wolf’s owners, adding: “The Wolf cooker has a tough and simple look, and that simplicity belies an intelligent system.” In the market? See Remodeling 101: The Viking vs. Wolf Range Debate.

The flooring is the original painted concrete, which, Ali Yarr says, “could be mistaken for limestone thanks to being worn down over the years; it’s now waxed to preserve the finish.”

another surprise detail: a large freestanding sub zero fridge stands under stai 15
Above: Another surprise detail: A large freestanding Sub-Zero fridge stands under stairs. At the far end of the space, the storage cabinets extend to a small pantry with a butler’s sink. And a garden in the back supplies herbs and vegetables for the table.
Above: Here’s a look at the construction process in a time-lapse video created by the Howe team.

See more of Christopher Howe’s work in Manor-Worthy Furniture and A Gloucestershire Barn by London’s Idiosyncratic Antiquarian.

And take a look at more Plain English kitchens:

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