The joy of having a new kitchen

Back in 2019, my grandfather passed away, a few weeks shy of his 99th birthday. Whilst he had generally been in good health, considering his age, he had been taken to hospital with an infection. My grandmother had died 10 years earlier and we think he decided that it was his time to go.

This might seem like a rather sad and confusing way to start a blog post about a new kitchen, but his passing meant that I inherited a sizeable sum of money once all of his affairs had been sorted. We used some of this money to renovate our child’s room, a small amount was invested and I used some to fund a postgraduate university course.

The rest was used to renovate our kitchen. We moved to our current house in 2015, which is an early twentieth century property that’s needed quite a bit of work over the past 7 years. We renovated all of the rest of the downstairs before we moved in – mainly out of necessity due to damp issues – but had only made minor changes to the kitchen at the time. These were limited to a new washing machine, new power sockets and a new laminate floor.

The old kitchen mostly dated from the 1950s, when what was presumably a Yorkshire Range was removed and the chimney breast covered up. It had some new units and work surface in the 1980s/90s, when the previous owners also blocked up the access to the cellar underneath. So in all it was very dated, and once the money and opportunity came to renovate it all, we decided it needed updating.

We actually started the process over a year ago, although it wasn’t until February that we paid the deposit, and work started in May. During May we had a makeshift kitchenette in our dining room – we moved the existing fridge and freezer out, and purchased an Ikea Tillreda portable induction hob for cooking, in addition to our existing Instant Pot, microwave and kettle. Between these, we could cook most things that didn’t require an oven.

By early June the kitchen was substantially finished, but some small jobs weren’t complete until September and our decorators only finished painting it last week. As it stands, we don’t yet have the replacement fridge-freezer but it’s on order and should be here by Christmas.

Here’s an overview of what we changed:

  • Opened up access to the cellar. We removed the kitchen cupboards and work surface that were built over the steps down to the cellar, and installed a new bannister. We could then move our washing machine out of the kitchen and into the cellar, where it’ll soon by joined by a tumble dryer which we’ve not had before. This also gives easier access to our gas and electric meters, which we also had replaced with smart models, and gives us more storage space. As part of this, we had the cellar window replaced (the old one was broken and not watertight) and a radiator installed, along with plumbing and electrics for the washing machine.
  • Opened up the chimney breast. Previously there were some small but deep cupboards that were where the range presumably used to be, but these were awkward to access. Instead, we’ve got two wide draws for cookware and utensils, along with the hob and recirculation unit.
  • Induction hob. Speaking of these, we ditched our gas-powered oven and hob unit, and replaced it with an induction hob and two electric fan ovens. The old cooker unit was small and only had four rings; it was actually smaller than the space allocated for it and so we must have dropped all sorts down the side of it over the years. The replacement induction hob is twice the width and has five zones. It also heats up pans much quicker, although we had to replace the majority of our cookware as many of our older pans were not induction-compatible (i.e. they didn’t have any magnetic material in them). Not that this was a bad thing – many of our pans were cheap ones bought when we were students, whereas we could afford better ones this time. Switching away from gas to electric is also safer (no naked flames) and better for the environment, although we still have a gas boiler for heating and hot water.
  • Ovens. We opted for two identical large Bosch ovens, each with a grill, rather than a unit with a large oven and a smaller combination oven/grill (I believe Americans would call the grill a ‘broiler’). These are built-in and mounted off the wall with drawers underneath, making it easier to get food in and out of them. The ovens perform significantly better than our gas oven did – much shorter cooking time, and we particularly appreciate the pizza mode.
  • Recirculation unit. Above the hobs is an air recirculation unit, which sucks up cooking fumes, filters them and then has an exhaust back into the kitchen. Ideally we would have the outlet leading outside but this is still better than before: previously, we had an extractor fan that was on one window, well away from the cooker, and it hadn’t worked for a couple of years anyway.
  • New fridge-freezer. This hasn’t arrived yet – we only ordered it last weekend – but we decided to have one large unit that would replace the existing under-counter separate fridge and freezer. Both have seen better days; the brackets holding the bottle shelf in the fridge have broken off and the plastic drawers in the freezer are cracked. Plus, it’s not great having to constantly bend down to access the fridge, so we’ve gone with a wider, American-style fridge-freezer with the fridge compartment above. It’ll also have a cold water dispenser, which will be useful for me when working at home on hot summer days. It’s a Hisense model which seems to score well in independent testing.
  • More storage. One major issue with our previous kitchen was small cupboards, which we filled before we’d even unpacked all of our cookware, crockery and food. This time we’ve gone for more storage; the centrepiece being a full height larder where we can store (just about) all of our food and drink. We also have more, bigger drawers; like with the fridge-freezer, this should reduce the amount of bending down required. The major benefit of having more storage is that we can put more things away and keep our work surfaces clear – before, we had to keep all sorts out due to a lack of space and so often our utensils would get covered in grease.
  • Easier to clean. By being able to put more things away the whole kitchen should be easier to keep clean, and we’ve gone for relatively simple fixtures to facilitate this. We’ve also gone for painted walls; before, the walls were covered in wallpaper which over time had absorbed grease and all sorts.
  • Better lighting. Previously the kitchen had two long fluorescent strip lights, although I replaced these strips with LED bulbs a couple of years ago. Unfortunately one strip stopped working, and so we had a small Ikea clip-on light to illuminate the main working area, which helped but also meant we couldn’t close the cupboard door it was clipped to. In the new kitchen, we have under-shelf lighting for all of the worksurfaces, and seven spotlights in the ceiling.
  • Two radiators. When we moved in, there was just a small electric fire to heat the kitchen; when we had the new boiler installed in 2016, we had this replaced with a standard radiator but it had to be small to fit the space. That radiator is now in the cellar; whilst its replacement is also small, we have a much larger tall radiator at the top of the stairs down to the cellar. Apart from when the oven was on, the kitchen was one of the coldest rooms in the house before.
  • New smart dishwasher. The old dishwasher that was there when we bought the house was terrible; sometimes, our crockery would come out more dirty than when it went in, despite our efforts to clean it out. We didn’t specifically ask for a smart dishwasher but our kitchen company provided one – I understand that earlier this year there was a worldwide dishwasher shortage and that’s what they could get. As with the other built-in appliances, it’s Bosch, and uses Home Connect, which is fully compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT. Mainly it’s useful for getting a phone notification for when it’s finished, or when the salt or rinse aid needs re-filling, and you can ask Google how long it has left. Most importantly, it works really well as a dishwasher, and we’re able to use it more extensively than the old one, including washing cookware.
  • Tumble dryer. This is actually going in the cellar, but previously we had to use a ceiling mounted drying rack for drying clothes – which inevitably ended up smelling of bacon or whatever else we were cooking as well as getting in the way. Whilst we have also bought a heated drying rack, it takes around 24 hours to dry a full load, and having a tumble dryer will help for bulkier items like bedsheets and towels. It will use more energy, but we’re using the last of our savings to have solar panels and a battery installed next month; this was another reason for switching from gas to electric for cooking. We’ve opted for a Grundig dryer which is a heat pump model, and therefore has much lower running costs than condenser models.

We have had to make some compromises with the new kitchen, which is namely work surface space. To be able to fit in access to cellar and the larder, we have significantly less work surface available, but the extra storage means that we can actually keep what we have clear and so the amount of useable space is about the same as before. And as mentioned, we had to buy new pans from ProCook, but those that we’ve bought are a significant improvement over our old pans anyway.

It’s been a long journey, but by Christmas it should all be finished. Back in March I actually made a short video listing all the things that we hated about the old kitchen and how we’re addressing them, which informed this blog post. We’re very lucky that we inherited enough money to be able to get a kitchen which better suits our needs; it not only looks good but also works for us. I hope my grandfather will be happy with what his inheritance has allowed us to get.

We still have more work to do on the house; the downstairs is almost done but two of the three bedrooms need work in time, as does the stairwell and upstairs landing. We’ve done some redecorating in the bathroom which has made it look less 1980s but eventually it’ll need replacing. I’m hoping that we’ll be able to save some money once the solar panels and battery are installed next month.