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Julia Kendall (DIY SOS and ex kitchen designer) on KBB sector

The ex-kitchen designer, interior design expert and star of hit TV show DIY SOS chats to Rebecca Nottingham about the kitchen industry and her role at this year’s National Home Improvement Show…

How has the KBB industry changed since your early days as a kitchen designer?

Kitchens have always been my passion, it's still an area of interiors I get really, really excited about. The industry has developed and moved on so much since I started out. In the beginning, kitchens were small and there was virtually no open-plan style back then. When I first started out in the industry, it was deemed acceptable to spend 10% of the value of your property on the kitchen design/install, but of course house prices have gone up so much that’s just ludicrous these days. In the middle of the market, I’ve seen the industry slow a little, but it’s clear that people still want really beautiful kitchens.

Being involved with the National Home Improvement Show, I get a lot of people coming to me for advice. From what I see, there are an awful lot of people undertaking extensions on their homes now, as the improving-not-moving culture continues to take hold. It’s fair to say that kitchens are still very much at the top of the list for everybody despite the difficult economy.


You’re part of the National Home Improvement Show’s expert advice team. What are you hoping to achieve from your time at the show?

I want as many people to bring along their plans with them to get really good, solid advice that they can then put to good use within their home improvement projects. The show will be full of cutting-edge suppliers from all aspects of home improvement so there's an awful lot to be gained for anyone, with any budget and any size project.

What's the best piece of advice you could give to someone embarking on a home renovation project?
Plan as much of the project as you can in advance, before you even think about getting people in for a quote. The more you can decide on before you start the process, the better. I’d also advise them to make the kitchen one of the priorities. I'm still amazed at how many people leave planning their kitchen to the last minute.


You’re in the process of planning and building a new home of your own. How’s it going to look?

My husband and I have four children and they have almost all flown the nest. We've spent the past 11 years in a child-friendly home and now we will be designing the new house very much for ourselves. We’re not too worried about the resale value and as such, we're being quite indulgent with the design and layout. Although it's 3,000 sq ft, it's only going to have two bedrooms. My husband will have his own study with a billiards table and I'm going to get the kitchen I’ve always dreamed of. We're really into the The Good Life style of living, so we’re going to keep pigs, chickens and bees. The main kitchen will be open-plan, with a secondary kitchen with a larder area and lots of storage for all of my jams and honey.


What KBB products will you absolutely have to have in there?

My kitchen will have an AGA for sure, and lots and lots of work surface space is paramount. I'm a big Corian fan. Being a bit of an eco nut, I also want to integrate some more natural surfaces in there, so it'll also feature marble and timber. I have a big aversion to wall units these days, so I'm hoping that won't be necessary. The bulk of the storage will be in the secondary kitchen and larder area. I’ve set my heart on two dishwashers. One will be a standard size for when and one will be a drawer-style model. Bathroom-wise, I’m desperate for a lovely free-standing bath and walk-in showers. I will probably design timber structures to hold the basins, but I haven’t got to that stage yet.


You describe yourself as a bit of an ‘eco-warrior’. How important do you think the ‘eco’ message really is to consumers?

I think consumers are probably more interested in the eco message from a money-saving aspect, rather than from a ‘save the planet’ point of view, if indeed they are even thinking of it all. I think that energy and water saving is vital, but maybe there isn't enough understanding of what that specifically means to individuals and their homes. In our new home, my husband and I are hoping to generate as much energy as possible. We recycle a lot of water and we’re looking at including solar panels as well.


Do you think that the recession has had a positive effect on interior design because more and more are decorating their homes for themselves rather than to sell on, so they are being more adventurous?

I couldn't agree more. Prior to the recession, most homes were property developments, so they were being decorated for resale. People weren’t treating them as their own and therefore weren’t expressing themselves. There’s been an obvious change in that mentality over the past three years, and people are now decorating their homes for themselves. We’re seeing a bolder use of colour and people are experimenting with styles and design much more. It's great for kitchen and bathroom designers as they can now be much more creative with designs.

 For the full interview, see the July issue of kbbreview