Tour this colourful open-plan kitchen with exposed steel work

Kitchen extension with marble-worktop island, dining table with striped tablecloth, vibrant artwork, colourful pillows and checkerboard teal flooring

A creative couple used vibrant colours, vermillion window frames and their eclectic art collection to design an eye-catching and individual family home. KBB journo Ben Webb reveals the details behind its beautiful open-plan kitchen…

When Mel, an architect with her own practice, and Slev, who is the creative director of PR company Inkling Culture, bought their terraced house in Forest Gate, East London, it had been on the market for ages, but they knew it would make a perfect family home. They lived in the house for six years before embarking on the major development of the ground floor – the creation of a wraparound extension and a new open-plan kitchen.

Kitchen island with marble worktop, rainbow-coloured chairs and red beams, with wooden cabinetry and shelves in the distance
The large kitchen island is a central part of the design – a place where they can cook and friends and family can happily socialise and hang out. Photography: Emily Marshall.

Mel believes it is vital to take your time. “I always tell my clients to get to know their house,” she says. “I drew lots of different layouts that we discussed at length, and they changed a lot.”

The first key objective was to allow in more light because the rear of typical Victorian terraced houses is often a little gloomy. “That was huge on our agenda,” Mel says. “I was hoping to never have to turn the lights on at breakfast, which we have certainly achieved even with a North-facing garden!”

Corner banquette with striped pillow and colourful cushions, next to dining table with striped tablecloth and wicker chairs
Slev’s collection of original art is a vital part of the overall look and colour scheme.

Choosing the glazing

A long expanse of glazing was installed on one side wall, which gives lovely views of the trees along the street, while the blue of the sky on bright sunny days becomes an integral part of the palette.

Unusually, Mel chose not to install full-width glazing opening on to the garden but instead opted for a single door and arched windows, which offer a lot more control over the room temperature. “I hate getting too cold or too hot, and didn’t want the only option being to open the door and get cold instantly,” she explains.

Extension with kitchen island, wooden cabinetry and marble worktops, looking out to the garden through red Crittall windows
The main kitchen cabinets were kept in natural, solid oak with a contemporary, slim-framed Shaker design. There are lots of drawers for easy storage access.

The kitchen design

Mel thought long and hard about the internal layout. First, the couple decided to create two distinct areas – a kitchen/ dining area and a separate living room. Next, they tried to fit in the largest kitchen island possible – a place to cook and sit together to socialise.

“The Bora hob with downdraft extractor was always going to sit in the middle of the island, as my husband loves cooking and entertaining,” says Mel.

Kitchen island and wooden cabinetry and drawers with marble worktops, and glazed cabinet in the distance
Matching the exposed steel structure to the ruby-red doors has given the open-plan kitchen an engaging look and feel.

Mel was also determined to include a laundry room – a “bugbear” of living in terraced houses is the pile of washing that always collects in the kitchen – and a toilet with proper ventilation. The clever solution was to create an internal courtyard, which lets in plenty of light but also allows the toilet to have an outside wall.

“Slev, the chef of the house, wanted an even bigger island rather than the courtyard, but ventilation won,” jokes Mel.

The trade-off was that he got a TV on the kitchen wall to watch sport while he cooks. When not in use, the TV is hidden behind a wall-hanging they commissioned specially. Made by artist Lizzie Scarlett, it is a quilt with designs of their daughters’ birth flowers.

The couple chose a Shaker kitchen but updated it with slimline borders to give a more contemporary feel. The natural oak doors were chosen to create warmth and a contrast with the off-white zellige tiles.

Wooden cabinetry with marble worktop and brass tap, with wooden shelf above displaying pottery, plants and books
A narrow shelf is supported by brass brackets that echo the finish of the tap below. It is perfect for displaying plants, pottery, candles and artwork.

The interior design

With the layout settled, the next stage was to decide on the interior design. The plan was to create a “happy, cosy and uplifting feeling”, founded on deep-red window frames. The initial idea was a darker terracotta, but they ended up with a brighter, spicier ruby colour. “You can get Crittall in any colour you want so it seemed silly not to go bold with it,” Mel says.

Island with marble worktop, pantry with glazed cabinetry and white drawers, and open shelving and white cabinetry in the distance
The standalone pantry is Laura’s favourite part of the kitchen design. The bench seating has handy storage, which helps to contain the clutter.

Mel enlisted the help of good friend and interior designer Laura Parkinson of Palmer & Stone, who gave the couple valuable “options we hadn’t even thought about”. Having worked on each other’s houses, they collaborate on projects because they see the benefits of combining their complementary skills.

“We knew we wanted a chequerboard floor design, for example, and Laura found us the mint and off-white flooring with flecks of natural brown that we fell in love with,” says Mel. “This gave a softer colouring than the black and white we had been considering. It is bold without overpowering the room.”

Heart-shaped open shelving displaying colourful books, cups, plants and pottery, with white drawers and open shelves underneath, next to glazed cabinetry
The bespoke heart-shaped open shelving was included to add a unique touch.

Laura says the choice of floor tiles helped to shape the design. “The floor was a huge decision we made early on in the planning and which focused the direction of the scheme,” Laura explains. “Using a bold decision like this at the start can really help. It is a reference point for all the other materials you want to use, and it can keep you on track.”

The finishing touches

Brass touches, including the industrial-style Perrin & Rowe tap, were added to the mix of colours and textures. The soft-pink Setting Plaster paint by Farrow & Ball, which envelops the room, makes a perfect backdrop. “I love the fact that Mel and Slev had such a clear vision of the colour scheme, which reflects who they are brilliantly,” says Laura.

Table lamp with striped yellow base, checked blue-and-white tablecloth and pot with plant, with orange painting displaying a white heart, and a framed map on the wall
Vibrant paintings blend well with patterned table lamps and tablecloths.

“Adding the soft pink to the walls and ceiling ties all the bright pops of colour in to the other materials and finishes; the natural oak, marble and brass. It lets your eyes rest on one thing at a time.”

Layered lighting

Laura also helped to create a versatile, layered lighting plan that offers different combinations depending on what the family is up to – from atmospheric lighting for entertaining, to task lighting above the worktops for food preparation.

The layered kitchen lighting can be adapted to different functions and times of day, from moody wall and pendant lighting for entertaining to task lighting above the worktops for cooking.

“I love our lighting and how it creates different moods,” says Mel, who says the new space has given the family a wonderful new way of life, from gazing through the arched windows into the garden and enjoying breakfast around the hob.

“I wouldn’t change anything about the project,” she says. “It has enabled us to live in our home exactly the way we want to.”

Extension with island with marble worktop, and wooden cabinetry with marble worktop in the distance, separated from garden with red Crittall-framed door
Mel achieved her goal of having the North-facing open-plan kitchen bathed in natural light, without the need for electric lighting during the daytime.

Laura Parkinson’s words of wisdom:

  • Layering lighting gives a much better end result. Wall, pendant, down lights and five-amp lamps on separate, dimmable circuits give optimum flexibility.
  • Go for wide drawers rather than lots of cupboards in your kitchen design; crockery, utensils and tins lying down are much easier to see and access.
  • Think about how you want to feel within a space, as well as its aesthetic. This should be your reference point for colour, lighting, upholstery and window treatments, as well as layout and scale.
  • Using a mixture of materials and textures results in a balanced, harmonious scheme. A tiled floor and Crittall-framed doors work well in this design, as they are softened by the natural oak and deep upholstery on the bench seat.
View from the kitchen into the garden through red steel door and arched windows.
The single door and arched windows offer Mel more control over the kitchen’s temperature.
Red windows on brick wall and red Crittall-framed doors looking out to patio, with wooden kitchen cabinetry and appliances in the distance
Crittall doors work well in this open-plan kitchen design.

As originally told to: Ben Webb | Architecture: Mel. Architect | Interior design: Palmer & Stone | Photography: Emily Marshall

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