Q&A with Katie Fontana of Plain English

Planning a kitchen presents one of the most daunting design challenges…

Katie Fontana, Founder and Creative Director of Plain English & British Standard shares her secrets of success with us.

Katie Fontana of Plain English

Q. How do you begin to design a kitchen – with the joinery or with appliances?
A.  A kitchen design starts with a plan of the cupboards.  If people have particular appliances they want to use it might influence the cupboard style we suggest for them but otherwise appliances get chosen later.

Q. When would you specify a fully fitted kitchen as opposed to freestanding?
A.  If you consider a work table or island to be freestanding then most kitchens these days have a mixture.  Our Osea Kitchen is a completely freestanding modular kitchen but all our other designs are fitted.  A fitted kitchen accommodates itself to the space it’s designed for while a freestanding one has to be accommodated.  An architecturally complex space needs the majority of cupboards to be fitted.

Q. How many drawer units are essential in kitchen design?
A.  As many as possible without making the kitchen look like the archives of the British Museum but certainly a minimum of three.  However, it’s important to remember that lots of drawers require lots of handles and there’s a danger these will dominate the look of the kitchen.

Q. For pots, pans and plate storage, is it better to have cupboards, drawers, or a combination of the two?
A.   A combination is the ideal.  Drawers are much easier for accessing heavy saucepans while wall cupboards – if you have enough space inside them and don’t have to pile bowls on saucers on plates – make china more accessible.  Floor cupboards or a Butler’s Pantry work well for big bowls and vases.

Plain English kitchen

Q. When would you recommend integrated refrigerators and dishwashers rather than freestanding ones?
A. Dishwashers always look better when integrated and fit seamlessly into a run of floor cupboards.  With fridges, it’s different.  An American fridge with a big single integrated door would look cumbersome and out of proportion with the cupboards in the rest of the kitchen.  Aesthetically (and in general) integrated fridges suit a more traditional style and exposed fridges a contemporary one.

Q.What is the recommended height of kitchen counters?
A.  900mm (including worktop)

Q. Following the great success of Plain English why did you decide to start up British Standard?
A.  I remember you could buy single, properly made, affordable kitchen cupboards from hardware shops when I was young.  They had a British Standard certification number to give assurance as to their quality.  I suppose by starting British Standard I wanted to go back to those simpler times but I also wanted to make the quality of Plain English’s joinery accessible to people who appreciate good design and craftsmanship but have smaller budgets.

Q. Which is best – painted cabinetry or timber?
A. Painted cupboards allow you to refresh your kitchen every couple of years.  Marks and scuffs can be painted over and the whole room can be given a completely different look with a colour change.  On the other hand, when timber gets bashed and scuffed, that’s it.  Of course solid timber ages beautifully; it changes colour over time and becomes a deeper more honeyed version of its youthful self.

Plain English kitchen

Q. What is important to consider when deciding on kitchen flooring?
A. Ease of maintenance and durability is a priority for some clients who are concerned about  the potential for staining, breaking, slipping and general wear and tear in the kitchen.  Then there are those clients for whom the aesthetic takes precedence.  The floor and worktop should complement each other and work within the colour and textural scheme of the kitchen.

Q. Do you have any tips for kitchen lighting?
A.  Use a lighting expert – lighting is a minefield and scarily easy to get wrong.  Put task lighting at the top of your list.

Q. There is a huge choice of worktops available – from simple laminates, to wood, granite, marble, and composite stones such as Silestone or Caesarstone. Which type do you normally recommend?
A.  As composites get better and better we are using more of them but our hearts are in natural wood and stone.  They do stain and mark more easily but they get better with age and develop and beautiful patina over time.

Q. When is it essential to have an extractor unit and how does this impact kitchen design?
A. Unless you don’t mind the smell of roast chicken lurking in the furthest corners of your bedroom an extractor is essential.  Good extraction needs either an outside wall or a powerful motor and plenty of the right sized ducting.  The means of extraction needs to be discussed with your builder in the earliest stages of the project.

Plain English - the London showroom

Q. Is the kitchen work triangle, sink, cooker and fridge, relevant today?
A. Unless you have an island separating the sink from the cooker, it’s hard for the cooker, fridge and sink not to form a triangle.  If you do have such a separation a small additional prep sink in the island overcomes the problem.  In general, we tend not to get too hung up on the work triangle and worry more about designing a kitchen that looks beautiful.

Q. Which is preferable- a range cooker or an integrated oven and hob?
A. One isn’t better than the other.  The choice comes down to the look you want and the way you like to cook.

Q. How can the finishing touches (paint, hardware, hinges) transform the look of a kitchen?
A. Plain English’s joinery is essentially very simple; it should blend seamlessly into the architecture of the kitchen.  All our cupboard doors are hung on traditional butt hinges but with paint and ironmongery the only limits are the imagination of the client.  Naturally a dark blue kitchen with a white marble worktop and glass door and drawer handles will look completely different when painted white with Georgian brass ironmongery.

Q. Apart from ‘the essentials’: refrigerator, oven, hob, dishwasher, what other appliances do you clients require? Warming drawers? Microwave? Coffee machine? Trash compactor?
A. Steam oven, boiling water tap, microwave (normally hidden in a cupboard), warming drawer (often used for proving bread dough)

Plain English - Osea Kitchen

Q. What is essential to consider when deciding on the kitchen tap? What do you think of the integrated boiling water variety?
A. The style, the finish and whether you want a mixer or separate hot and cold water taps.

Q. What other types of joinery can Plain English provide?
A.  Plain English makes fitted cupboards and shelves for every room in the house.  We also design and make dining tables and produce two styles of kitchen/dining chairs.  We have recently started designing internal glazed screens and have just completed our first run of galvanised steel cupboards as part of an Osea Kitchen scheme.

Plain English, the joinery company started by Katie Fontana and Tony Niblock in 1992, celebrated its 20th birthday in 2012. Its roots lay in the Suffolk longhouse Katie and Tony built together and for which Katie designed the kitchen cupboards. Simple in style and construction, based on early Georgian ‘below stairs’ designs and quite different to anything you could buy on the high street at the time, the cupboards were an instant success. Today Plain English is one of the most highly regarded kitchen companies in the UK, valued for its understated elegance, its design integrity and the quality of its handmade cupboards. More recently, Katie Fontana launched British Standard, a ‘no frills’ collection of off-the-shelf cupboards which can be bought online with no design, delivery or fitting service. By doing away with the extras that give Plain English its bespoke edge, British Standard can sell cupboards that are of equal quality but at a much reduced price.

Plain English workshop & showroom:  Stowupland Hall, Stowupland, Suffolk, IP14 4BE
Tel: 01449-774028  Brochure Line: 0870-2403562

London Showroom: 28 Blandford Street, London, W1U 4BZ, Tel: 020-7486 2674

British Standard Showroom : 41 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6PB, Tel: 020-7870 7688





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