If you're tired of the super sleek, whitewashed kitchen aesthetic, may we suggest taking a cue from the English? Plain English Design, described as “the epitome of simple domesticity,” creates bespoke kitchens that embody an understated, timeless elegance we can all get behind—and they just opened their first international showroom in New York City. From custom cupboards and cabinets to high quality materials and finishes, the design is more reminiscent of simple kitchens you used to find "below the stairs"—those that were mostly used by the help, like on Downton Abbey—rather than high-end spaces with fancy amenities.
As Plain English’s design director Merlin Wright put it, “When times changed and kitchens were made for use by the owners themselves, it became fashionable to use more decorative elements and exotic materials. The main difference between our kitchens and ‘modern’ styles is in our attitude towards longevity and the aging process. In the UK, we still have a lot of period buildings, and we enjoy the original architectural features with their patina of age and use to the point that old buildings here are often more expensive than new ones.”
Their mission is simple: Create lasting designs that get better with age, instead of constantly replacing components as soon as they show wear. We talked to Wright to learn how to incorporate the unique elements from this uncomplicated aesthetic into our own homes.
Pantries vs. Larders
While your dream kitchen almost definitely includes some sort of pantry—a room-temperature place to store kitchenware and non-perishable foods—have you ever considered a larder? Typically, the larder falls somewhere between a fridge and a pantry in terms of function, but they're all around super useful in any home. A larder is a large, often walk-in cupboard used for storing produce, cheeses, butter, and eggs (among other items). Cold larders rely on adjustable hit-and-miss vents, which lead to the outside of the home, to both cool the temperature and air out food products naturally.
Simple Long-Lasting Materials
Though the Plain English kitchen is pared down in its design, the main emphasis is placed on the quality of each material. From multiple different woods to choose from to subtle, custom finishes, every detail is carefully considered. Since the general aesthetic gravitates away from trends and glamour and leans toward understated simplicity, metal finishes include brass, satin chrome, iron, tourmaline, satin nickel, polished chrome, painted knobs, and wooden knobs which round out the style.
Though integrated appliances have certainly become more of a trend for the modern day kitchen, Plain English creates designs are so seamless, they’re almost hidden. Although the kitchen is completely modern in its function, it carries that elegant look of a Georgian space due to its lack of shiny metals.
A British-Inspired Palette
Call it needing a break from all those rainy days, but the Brits are no stranger to using clever color in their kitchens. Based on British food and drink (with names like Mushy Peas, Pretty Pickle, and Milky Tea), Plain English has two color collections that embrace richer hues and shy away from grays and putty colors. It's a refreshing break from the all-white kitchens we've been seeing here recently.
Cupboard Range Styles
While Plain English offers five ranges of custom cabinetry, one feature that stood out to us was their counter-standing cupboards. The unique addition adds a bit of extra storage in an unexpected place. Open shelving mixed with traditional wood cabinets is another popular way to add a modern touch to a more simple design.
Looking to bring a little British style into the heart of your home? Wright advises us just to keep it simple, invest in quality materials and seamless finishes, and "don’t overfill a room with cupboards full of things which are seldom used."
If you'll need us, we'll be researching historic English kitchens while counting down until the royal wedding.