Caroline McGhie is the award-winning chief property writer for The Sunday Telegraph Life and author of the best-selling househunter’s handbook The Telegraph Guide to Commuterland.
In her recent article Why top homes need top kitchens, she makes some interesting comments as regardless of budget, be it £10,000 or £100,000, its all relative and whether you have a London town house or a 4 bed semi in the burbs of Manchester, we all want a bit of wow factor in our kitchens.
Enter one of the most amazing kitchens in the country and you might not recognise it for what it is – an expression of extreme wealth, London on steroids, the home as refuge in a turbulent world. This kitchen is a concoction of whites, a laboratory. Its brainpower is concealed behind iceberg cupboard doors. But underground, below this Kensington street, you can cook up a wild party and indulge all your senses.
First the technology. There are five Miele ovens, four Sub-Zero fridges, three dishwashers, seven Gaggenau gas hobs. All you have to do is cook on them. Then you can wander into the cinema, plunge into the multi-seater sofas where flinty-eyed 007, Daniel Craig, is already waiting for you on the huge screen. At the flick of a switch you can turn the swimming pool into a dance floor for 60 with a bar. Your largesse is kept in the wine room, big enough to keep 1,600 bottles at an even temperature, and 3,100 cigars. “We dug out 22 metres under the garden, put the kitchen on the lower ground floor, the swimming pool below that, and the cinema below that. Fitting the kitchen cost £120,000,” says former investment banker and developer Christopher Marek Rencki. This is a Poggenpohl kitchen with knobs on. “Dishwashers are important if you entertain like I do. One is for glasses only, 40 or 50 in at a time, four minutes at 200 degrees.”
While Mary Berry talks sponges, soggy bottoms, fruit fillings and icing techniques, taking us back to an age of innocence and childhood wonder, London developers are catering for the shadier world of the exiled Russian oligarch. The house, South End, has a mix of bullet-proof and shatterproof windows, a vault with an eight-inch steel door, steel gun and ammunition safes, CCTV cameras watching every room, and cars parked on top of each other in a stacking system behind a bullet-proof electronically operated sliding wall. It is on the market at £13.75m with John D Wood (020 7908 1100).
A little way off in Latimer Road, the same agents have floated another house on the market without any kitchen at all. At £1.995m, the price is not so stratospheric but includes a budget of £50,000 for the new owners to specify their own kitchen. “Kitchens and bathrooms are so personal, they are often the first thing to be changed when new owners move in. I have often seen brand new kitchens ripped out and replaced immediately,” says Rollo Miles of John D Wood.
The kitchen has, it seems, become a room where you can spend as much as you would on a sports car. New research to be published tomorrow by Lloyds Bank Insurance shows that a century ago it was the most functional room in the house, but now it’s the most valuable, worth an average £4,909. The study shows a third of those questioned spent most time at home in the kitchen and more than half now entertain in there rather than the living room.
Even if we can’t live like James Bond, we crave the hardware.
According to Lloyds Bank Insurance, more than 40 per cent of us in the past year bought a new coffee machine, and 33 per cent bought a bread maker. Melanie Backe-Hansen, house historian and author of House Histories: The Secrets Behind Your Front Door, sees how modern life has changed our home. “Living spaces are less defined than in the Victorian period, and far more multifunctional. The tradition of families sitting down to eat together may be impacted by longer working hours, more hectic social lives and the growing influence of technology.”
While we happily spend on the coffee maker, we don’t sit down to eat together. The survey shows that around 59 per cent of home owners eat at a different time to the rest of the family. Some mothers, however, have designed their kitchen to be the centre of family life. Sarah Rogan lives in stylish Gaunt House at Standlake, just outside Oxford, where she has opted for a kitchen which has all the fun and colour of the circus. The Aga is lime green, glass is raspberry pink, the fridge is vinyl wrapped in pink, green, red, blue and orange.
The children, Grant, aged nine, and Mollie, six, ride their scooters around the central island. On hot days they spill through the French windows to eat on the terrace. “I have a bell I can ring to call them in. We have nearly 40 acres with the River Windrush flowing through, so they can’t hear if I call. But we always eat together.” The ritual will probably continue when they move abroad and sell Gaunt House. Savills (020 7016 3780) and Knight Frank (020 7861 1114) are asking £6.25m, which also includes two cottages, a pool, tennis court and paddocks.
True chefs always make their kitchen a top priority. In Pauline Bow’s kitchen in Great Chesterford, near Cambridge, the La Cornue professional kitchen range looms like a parked train. It has gas and electric ovens, a plate-warming drawer, a griddle made of sizzling lava rock, and four gas burners. The brand is known as the big beast of the kitchen. It is large enough to take suckling pig. Customers include Kylie Minogue, Silvio Berlusconi and Brad Pitt.
Chinese cooking is Pauline’s thing – she owns The Phoenix restaurant in Cambridge – so she regularly removes two rings from her La Cornue and lowers in a heavy wok to stir-fry beef for large numbers. “My kitchen range is very exclusive, very strong, very good,” she says. “The gas oven is good for faster cooking, the electric is steady and mellow and good for baking.
“My kitchen cost £80,000, including the Sub-Zero fridge and ice-making machine, the microwave, the coffee maker, the steam oven. It is worth it because it is forever, and here for whoever buys it.” The kitchen is a modern counterpoint for October House, also in Great Chesterford, which is a beautifully restored Georgian house with five bedrooms, a two-bedroom coach house, workshop, landscaped gardens and pond filled with koi carp. Bidwells (01799 516688) is selling at £2.25m and only serious cooks need apply.