It's the hardest-working room in the house, the one where everyone feels most at home. And the kitchen is also the space on which you are likely to spend most of your home-decorating budget. Or were most likely. During the Celtic tiger years, flush homeowners would think nothing of spending five-figure sums on state-of-the-art fittings. Not anymore.
The arrival of low-cost kitchens with MDF carcasses means unit doors can be replaced at the fraction of the price of an entire new kitchen. Stainless steel and granite cost a lot of money and can look harsh, whereas laminate worktops are less expensive and give a more informal, 'modern retro' style that is easy on the eye.
If creating a kitchen from scratch, think outside the box when it comes to storage. The conventional route is for long rows of base and wall units and while this is very functional, it can look a bit cold if you want your kitchen as a more sociable space.
A new trend is for building one enormous, floor-to-ceiling storage cabinet to contain a myriad of kitchen accessories. Make a feature of it or paint it in a colour to match the rest of the room so that is 'disappears' into the space. Couple this with plain, open shelving, with crockery on display, to add to the retro charm.
Open-plate racks can hold more and are more easily accessible than conventional wall presses, where items are often shoved to the back. They also give the opportunity to display pretty china.
According to Paul Houlihan, store manager at Oxfam Home (Francis Street, Dublin 2), younger customers are asking for kitchen storage furniture from a bygone era for their kitchens. "We have a number of old-style pine dressers suitable for painting, and there are enquiries for the '50s'-style formica and glass freestanding cabinets with drop-down shelf – we do get those in occasionally."
By introducing colour and pattern, you can give the most basic fittings a fresh look for spring. In her book Cheap Chic, interior designer Emily Chalmers suggests exploring the palette of different decades to create a homely, nostalgic room.
Paint walls in 1950s' pastels (pale pink, baby blue or calm green), or paper one wall in a 1970s' geometric pattern and complement that with orange or red on remaining walls. Or simply opt for the good old standby of white paint for a low-cost freshen-up on walls, but paint furniture and shelving in contrasting tones.
Old-style wainscotting (tongue and groove panelling) is an alternative wall treatment, it looks great painted in a pale eggshell tone, and also enhances the retro look.
Modern living means that combined cooking and eating spaces are the norm and therefore the kitchen table and chairs are focal points in the room – and the bigger the table you can fit in, the better for informal dining.
Trawl auction rooms or charity furniture outlets for everything from rectangular refectory tables to farmhouse pine. Oxfam Home currently has eight sets of varying vintage, priced from €65 upwards. For tables the worse for wear, one inexpensive re-vamp trick is to paint the legs only in white or cream and then cover the surface with a wipe-down, plastic coated fabric or the simplest white linen tablecloth.
Mis-matched chairs can also be given unity with a lick of paint and new padded seat covers in a bright, cheery print. An old church pew, painted and softened with cushions is another retro seating alternative.
If your kitchen is small, hang a huge vintage mirror on one wall to give the illusion of more space. Auction rooms often have old pub mirrors with advertising script,which could look good here.
And who would have thought old-fashioned linoleum would make a comeback? Lino, as it is better known, is made from flax and oil, and came into fashion during the industrialisation period of the 1920s and '30s. It has now re-emerged as a contender for retro-style flooring, as has vinyl, – its less expensive PVC counterpart. Both cope well with the heavy traffic of a normal kitchen while also evoking a sense of nostalgia.
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