21 Feb, 2022

Kitchen Reno

Photos | Shona Wong

It’s the one you’ve been waiting for! Grab a cuppa/coffee/glass of wine/packet of biscuits/whatever and get comfortable, it’s a long one.
Let’s talk kitchens…

A Bit Of Background…

When we bought our house, back in 2012, I was pretty happy with the kitchen. I mean, it wasn’t my dream kitchen, but it was white with solid wood worktops and a range cooker (I remember my friend Des laughing when I showed her the house details before the viewing, and saying: nice oven! What will you be doing with that?? Haha! Good point!). But more of the oven later… We’d moved from a lovely, two bedroom flat in Maida Vale (but one that we were in the process of buying when I was told I was pregnant with not one, but two babies (to this day, still the biggest shock of my life), that by the time we moved when the twins were two and a half, we were bursting out of!) with the tiniest kitchen, so for me this was a big step up. And even if we’d wanted to, we certainly didn’t have the money to change it (and the front garden was always going to be the priority once we did have the cash, and you already know all about the gardens).
Fast forward five or so years, and I was starting to fantasise about a new kitchen. It wasn’t so much the look of it, as the fact that it just really wasn’t particularly well-designed or functional. It had all (well, most) the right elements, but there were lots of irritating details that you would never really have noticed unless you’d lived and cooked in it. I won’t bore you with them all, but a couple of examples – there was a breakfast bar, but the cupboards underneath were the full depth, not half, so you couldn’t sit comfortably with your legs under, you had to eat side-saddle; very little cupboard storage; annoying size cupboards/drawers etc.

So by 2021, I was really ready for a new kitchen (plus, aged 47 this would be the first kitchen I had ever had that was of my own design and choosing, so I felt I had ‘done my time’). The other factor worth mentioning is that I also felt really guilty ripping out a perfectly decent kitchen (albeit one with, by that point, rickety cupboard doors and stained worktops…) – this is when you wish the kitchen you want to replace is hideous, right? I really didn’t want it to just get dumped and end up in landfill. But more of that later too…

So 2021 was the year of the new kitchen. But there are a few key factors worth noting. Firstly, we didn’t want to get any kind of loan, or use credit cards to pay for the new kitchen. And secondly (due to the first point), we didn’t have a huge budget. I did have a pretty clear idea of what I wanted though (no surprises there…) – white, simple, Shaker style, white marble/quartz worktops, open shelving… Something timeless, but beautiful that I could add warmth and texture to with rattan elements/details and my pretty clutter. But functional too (I know, so unsexy, but I’d waited a long time for this kitchen, and I needed it to work on multiple levels…). As you can imagine, I had plenty of saved images, tear sheets, Pinterest moodboards etc., and I definitely know what I like. So although I was going into the unknown, I felt pretty confident about it overall. Then I had a consultation with a kitchen company over Zoom back in March last year, and afterwards just felt completely deflated… I won’t bother to name them, as it’s really not my/Little Spree’s style to mention things that I don’t like, but instead to celebrate, share and champion the things I love (and think you will too); but let’s just say, the design was AWFUL (yes, I was very clear about what I wanted/liked, and did politely and diplomatically express this as we went along. There were a lot of “no that’s not possible”…) Oh and did I mention that it lasted TWO HOURS!!! Now a two-hour kitchen consultation, to me, was my idea of heaven. But an hour in, and I realised that the end result was most definitely not going to be my dream kitchen (far from it), I definitely lost interest. The design just felt very prescriptive, and didn’t really take into account any of my specific points and requests. And it was also way over budget. Not ideal.

So I promptly parked the kitchen reno for the time being. I just assumed it was a budget thing that was coming between me and the kitchen I actually wanted (by the way, in case you’re wondering about the liberal use of ‘I’, Tom had/has precisely zero interest in the style of the kitchen. He was all for getting a new kitchen, but that was it. I was on my own! Actually that’s not entirely true, he had one tiny request (I’ll share that later), but then after polling a few ‘in the know’ friends, I was assured that this wasn’t the case (about my budget). Hmmm.

Enter, Gina, my kitchen fairy godmother (I just didn’t know it yet), and interior designer. Now I was definitely not in the market for a designer (well not besides the one who literally designs the actual plan of your kitchen on the computer program at the kitchen company) to help me realise my dream kitchen – let’s not get carried away here! I’m on a relatively modest budget by today’s standards, and anyway, I already have a really clear idea of what I want and how I want my kitchen to look. Plus, I am a stylist after all; a visual person with a strong sense of what (I think) looks good and what doesn’t. So…

After the first disastrous design Zoom, I must admit, I’d lost my kitchen mojo a little. Yes, I still desperately wanted the new kitchen, but would I ever be able to afford the one I wanted, and organise it single-handedly to make it happen? I really wasn’t sure. I was introduced to Gina through a friend, who had mentioned me and the issues I was having. Gina was literally just getting her new interior design business off the ground (she was previously a New York based lawyer (more of that later…) and had offered her help. She very kindly suggested coming to the house to see the current kitchen/space, and chat about what I wanted and take it from there. I was delighted to have a sounding board, if nothing else.

Once Gina had seen our kitchen in person, and my various Pinterest boards, she had a very clear idea of what I was looking to achieve from the kitchen. What I very quickly realised was that although, yes I know what I like and have a pretty good eye for interiors (although, of course it’s by no means my field of expertise, that will always be fashion, as you guys know), I really had no experience of designing an interior space or room beyond the superficial and soft furnishings. This was an entire project, and I must confess the thought of navigating it single-handedly (Tom was snowed under at work) was pretty daunting. Sometimes you just don’t know you need someone to hold your hand until they’re actually holding your hand right? Anyway, to cut an already long story a little shorter, there was a lot of back and forth between Gina and myself, and Gina and a couple of kitchen companies, then finally we settled on Howdens. I always knew I was never going to be getting all the fixtures and fittings from the same place anyway, it was just going to be the units and possibly the worktops. I went for the Chilcomb range from Howdens. I had actually seen it in a friend’s kitchen not long before and was really impressed. You have the option to paint it yourself, but as I knew I wanted white, the Porcelain that they offered ‘off the shelf’ was perfect. I always knew I wanted a white marble worktop, but knew that actual marble was completely impractical, so I went for the Quartz, which looks so good (and just like marble). It was the most expensive thing in the kitchen by a mile, but I wasn’t going to budge. Throw all the money you can at the worktop (that’s my advice anyway). And I did! But I couldn’t be more pleased with it, so it was definitely worth it.

Gina came with me to the first design appointment with Howdens (in Acton if you’re interested?), and after discussing at length what kind of storage and configuration I wanted/needed (she asked me to WhatsApp her pictures of the contents of my drawers and cupboards) and had a really clear idea of what we were looking for. Now this is when I first realised how truly invaluable Gina really was (and was going to be). Remember that episode of Sex & The City when Charlotte is looking at wedding dresses with Anthony in Vera Wang? That! Gina wasn’t afraid to say what I felt too awkward saying (ridiculous I know, but true…). Always polite, charming and diplomatic, but firm and authoritative (she knows when something is possible, even if Howdens are saying it’s not). She also has such great instincts – for example, it was Gina’s suggestion to have the single cupboards either end of the row of wall cupboards, as opposed to the other way around – such a small, and seemingly insignificant detail on paper, but so pleasing to the eye in reality. And definitely not one that I would even have considered alone. I’m all about balance and proportion, but Gina takes it to a whole other level. The attention to detail is beyond (and trust me, mine is pretty good!), and her no-nonsense approach saves a lot of time and energy (see what I mean about her past life as a New York lawyer? That.). She just cuts right through any bullsh*t. So refreshing. And so un-me! Haha!

Howdens don’t actually fit kitchens, so I had to find a builder. Luckily a neighbour had just had some work done, and recommended theirs, so that was relatively straightforward (well, ish…). I’m not going to lie, one of the things I found the most stressful about the entire kitchen project was being the one liaising between the builders and Howdens. There were A LOT of emails/calls/runs to Howdens (and it was a really busy time for me work-wise…) – builders telling me something was missing, Howdens assuring me it was there, me having to go back to the builders and tell them it was there etc. etc. Aaaaargh. Deep breaths. It would all be worth it in the end. Nobody died.


I knew the style of tiles I wanted (high gloss finish with a traditional handmade feel), so that was pretty straightforward. I did change my mind a couple of times about which areas to tile or not to tile – initially I only wanted to tile behind the hob. Eventually I decided to tile all the way around, and at the last minute actually decided to add another row on the top.
Scroll down for tiles details.
The grout colour we used is Maipei 103.


I knew I wanted a Belfast sink, and ideally a double one, but unfortunately that wasn’t possible as the dishwasher was going to be to the left of the sink (the only place it could go really, and where it was before), and there wouldn’t be room. But I’m very happy with the single one. One of the (tiny) things I love about it (apart from the overall look, obviously) is that if the dishwasher is running, you can put dirty things in the sink, and they are hidden. The downstairs of our house is completely open plan (which personally I don’t love, but that’s another story for a different day), so this small detail is quite a big deal for a neat freak like me.


Even before I had decided on the handles, I knew I definitely wanted an antique brass tap. This one kept coming up in searches, so that was a very quick decision/purchase. Then when I spoke to two girlfriends (both with beautiful kitchens) about the one I had ordered, they both laughed and said they had the exact same one. I have to say, I love that you can flick a tap on really easily when you’re cooking/holding something (as opposed to the taps you have to twist, which are a little more fiddly). This was a Gina tip, that I now fully get.
Also, if you know the brand and exact product details of something, like a tap, always Google it to find the best deal you can. I couldn’t believe the price differences for the exact same tap, depending on the stockist. There was over a £100 difference between my first search and the one I finally purchased here. Crazy!


I had seen these from Rowen & Wren a while ago, and went for the small in Antique Brass. I used them for the drawers and the cupboards. Then for the fridge, freezer and larder cupboard I used these (in large). Then for the dishwasher and bin I used these. Love the Antique Brass with the white. And they look great with the tap (I like that they don’t match).
I was still undecided about the finish for the tap and cupboard knobs, handles and pulls. I was still deciding between the matt nickel and the polished brass (I definitely knew I didn’t want anything shiny) until just before the project started. But Gina made the point that because the kitchen is so white, the brass will add another element of warmth, and stop it from all becoming too clinical. She was so right. When I look at the kitchen now, I am 100% certain that I made the right choice. They tied in with the rattan too, which is very pleasing to the eye I must say.


I knew I wanted open shelving, and I wanted Shaker style. I also wanted specific dimensions, so knew I would almost certainly need to have them made. After a bit of research, I went to , and was really pleased with the results. I had them painted the same colour as the walls.
I store all my crockery on the bottom shelf (easy for everyone to access, including the kids), then larger serving bowls/dishes/platters and vases on the top shelf. Only pretty things on display. Obviously.
Love them.

Extractor Fan (or not)

So I ummed and aaahed about whether to have one or not, a lot. I even went as far as buying one, but I ended up returning it. Gina and I discussed the idea of having one ‘boxed in’, but in the end I just decided to ditch it entirely. We have three windows in our kitchen, so ventilation isn’t an issue, and anyway, the one we had previously hadn’t worked for years anyway. I think it’s just one of those things that you think you need to have, but you don’t. In fact, many kitchen companies are now saying that they aren’t even suggesting having one at all these days. Also, I really like the way the hob looks without one. I may still add something above (some kind of hanging rail/hooks perhaps?), but haven’t decided. But for now, I’m leaving it as it is.

I bought the non-integrated appliances from , and the rest (fridge/freezer and dishwasher) from Howdens. I really wanted a gas and an electric , so bought those separately. I decided against another range cooker for two reasons – 1: I only ever used the second, smaller oven when I cooked a roast dinner (approximately four times a year), and 2: as I was going to be losing a bit of counter space by boxing in the whole boiler into a cupboard, I needed that extra space back. Have I missed it? Not so far.
I also upgraded our toaster (the time had come to make the switch from a two to a four slice – exciting times), kettle and coffee machine.


There were quite a few things that I had already earmarked (Wish Listed), and top of the list was the Edit58 x Matilda Goad rattan light shades, which I’d coveted for years. Already a fan of baskets, rattan, jute etc. in our home (as you all know), I already knew I wanted those materials in the new kitchen. I also knew they would add warmth and depth to the all-white space. Don’t forget to order your ceiling roses – I have these ones.
We already had the rattan table lamp in our previous kitchen, and it was a no-brainer that it would go in the new one. Sadly it’s no longer available (it was old Zara Home), but I have found a couple of great alternatives below (scroll down). I have long been a convert of lamps in kitchens (specifically on the kitchen counter) – I think it was a tip I learnt form my interiors guru, Rita Konig. I love the cosiness of lamps, and have them all over the house. But the slightly more unexpected element of a lamp in a kitchen is always appealing to me. Ours is always on because our kitchen isn’t the brightest. Otherwise, just flick it on in the evenings. I’m all about the cosy.
I also had the ceiling lights repositioned (also to accommodate the pendants over the breakfast bar), reconfigured (whoever built our house clearly LOVED spotlights – they are literally everywhere!! It’s like a hotel room…),quite a few removed, and all new spotlights fitted. Gina was so helpful with this.
I have these bulbs (I originally got ‘Daylight’ bulbs, but my God they were BRIGHT. I swear you could see our kitchen from space once those were fitted! They had to go, the white was literally hurting my eyeballs)…


We had wooden stools previously, but I knew I wanted an update, so I ordered these. I love them (they’re super-comfy thanks to the ‘butt moulding’), but they are just a little bit too high for our counter. So I have actually ordered these to replace them. Stupidly I assumed that all kitchen counter tops and stools were a standard height. I was wrong. So measure before ordering!


We already had the flooring down (it’s the same throughout the downstairs of the house), and didn’t want/need to change it. But in case anyone is interested, it’s this.


Like lamps, rugs are a little more unexpected in a kitchen, which I love, and they add a cosiness and warmth, which I love even more. I’ve always been a fan of these rush rugs, and the fact that you can get one made to measure meant I could have the perfect fit for our (square, so hard to find rugs to fit) kitchen. They’re great value too.

Hidden (and mostly dull, but much loved) Details

A few things that I specifically wanted, and now absolutely love about the kitchen.
1. The pull-out bin (I know). It has two sections – one for general rubbish at the front, and one for the recycling (we just use it for cans/bottles – we have a separate basket for the cardboard, but we take it to the recycling bins near our house most days) at the back. Gamechanger. Sometimes I go over and slowly pull it out, and in again. Just because…
2. The pan drawers. SO good. We have a section of three of these large drawers – the top one for cutlery (I would 100% recommend the wooden cutlery insert – it’s amazing). Can you tell that our previous kitchen was pretty basic?? The second one houses various things such as napkins, tea towels, tin foil, cling film, bin bags etc., plus it is where we keep iPads, notebooks, pencils and pens, a bit of everything really. All neatly stored and out of sight (this is the stuff that used to wind up in piles on the counter tops, and drive me INSANE). Then the bottom one is where we keep various cooking utensils (large bowls, electric whisk etc., not pans funnily enough – they’re in another cupboard next to the oven). But the sheer size (including depth) of them means you can store SO much shit stuff in them. Amazing.

So What Happened To The Old Kitchen?

As I mentioned before, I never felt comfortable/happy just dumping a perfectly good kitchen. In fact, I felt really guilty about it. It just seemed so wasteful. I had already ordered the skip when a friend casually asked me:
“What are you doing with your old kitchen? Have you thought about selling it on ?”. Mind blown. I never even knew that was a thing! But apparently it is. Very much so. So that same day I photographed the kitchen (multiple shots of every angle and element), looked up the details of the kitchen units, appliances (yes, I sold those too, as I wanted integrated, and I knew I wanted a new oven), lights, stools, bin… Everything. Listed it (all together, everything included in the sale, collection only, specified a collection deadline) and sold it pretty much immediately. Boom. One very happy buyer (she was using part of it for her own home, and the rest for a To Let renovation project she was working on, and she couldn’t have been lovelier). She collected it the day the new kitchen was due to arrive (I had to carefully orchestrate the (careful) removal and collection of the old kitchen, with the delivery of the new one (and did I mention that I was art directing a shoot that day?).
Anyway, I had ‘recycled’ the kitchen, and made some money (to put towards the new one) in the process. I couldn’t have been happier. Plus, I changed the skip to a much smaller one, so that saved a bit of cash too. All in all, a great success, and one that I would definitely recommend doing.
I sent my friend a big bunch of flowers!

General Tips

Really think carefully about what you want from your new kitchen. Visually and practically. For example, the new kitchen had to be beautiful (naturally!), but I was also really adamant about having plenty of storage (as the previous kitchen had so little), so that everything could be stored away in its own place, and pulled out/used/put back easily by everyone. I had always really loved the extra tall wall cupboards that I’d often seen in American kitchens, so I got the tallest ones that Howdens make (I would have gone taller if I could have). I love them.

Make a list of your must-haves (could be big or tiny). Mine were (stand by for the glamour…) a pull-out bin (I’d spent the last ten years having to move the Brabentia bin (I know) out of the way every time I wanted to get anything out of the freezer. Not a huge problem admittedly, but very irritating nevertheless; the rattan shades; and the pull-out pantry cupboard (I wanted all the dry food in one place – easy to see/access for the kids).

As with anything visual or home related, always, always go with your gut. And if you’re not happy with something (and it can be changed), don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s your home after all. As lovely as your builders may be, they are unlikely to have the exact same taste as you, and just because they say “everyone has it there” or “that always goes there” doesn’t mean you have to. It’s your kitchen, you’re paying for it, you’re allowed to change your mind about things (by the way, I am very good at telling other people to be assertive, but I am pretty rubbish I must admit…). I changed my mind three times about the position of the oven (I won’t bore you with the details, but it was an issue with centring it on the back wall); and as I already mentioned, I added an extra row of tiles at the last minute. Ok, so nothing major (although the oven repositioning did end up delaying the installation of the worktops by two weeks – not ideal), but I know myself too well, and if I hadn’t spoken up I would have been irritated every time I looked at said oven/tiles. And I almost certainly would have made those changes eventually anyway, which would have been so much more expensive and disruptive. And frankly, annoying.

Start a spreadsheet. Now I am not a spreadsheet girl at all (urgh), but it was SO useful/helpful to have a list of everything, including suppliers and arrival dates etc. And of course, all the prices, all together in one place/document. Those last minute extras can really add up, so it’s much easier to keep track of them when you can view everything at a glance.

Set up a temporary ‘mini kitchen’ before the new one/builders arrive (another tip from a friend – thanks Claire). Then we packed everything else away in boxes. I just kept the essentials – kettle, tea, coffee, sugar, milk (it would be fine left out for the day), bottled water, bread, butter, cereal, 6 x cups (two for the builders), glasses, knives, forks, spoons (in a glass) on a tray in the sitting room. Then in the bathroom I had a plastic washing up bowl, a drying rack, washing up liquid, brush, cloth, tea towel. I would wash up in the bath (not ideal, I still have the back twinges to show for it…), then leave things to dry on the rack. Far from ideal, but we managed. We also had a lot of takeaways!

Having a designer help you with your kitchen is not (as I assumed) reserved for the super-rich. They will be able to get you trade discounts on most things, which you may not have thought about/realised, which will work in your favour costing-wise. Designers also just know where to get the best things from, at the best prices. And what’s worth spending on and what  really isn’t. The thing is, you’re doing it once, they’re doing it ALL the time.  I never ever would have considered it before, but if I were to do another project (looking at you, bathrooms that we’ve hated since we first set eyes on them back in 2012!) on my own, I would definitely contact Gina again. To have someone in your corner who has all the information you need at their fingertips has been invaluable. And definitely reduced my stress levels.

More About Gina…

“Hi, I’m Gina, Founder and Creative Director of gm design studio. We are a full service interior design and interior architecture firm, specialising in renovating and furnishing properties. Our style draws inspiration from the sophistication of traditional English homes, the casual elegance of the Hamptons, and a bit of Scandi cool for good measure. We combine this with well-thought-out practical solutions to ensure form and function operate harmoniously.
For most people, their home is their primary asset, and renovating a home can be a daunting, time consuming, and expensive project. We aim to streamline and simplify the renovation process, by helping homeowners to identify their needs. We then work closely with architects, builders, suppliers and joiners to deliver homes that are both comfortable and liveable, while at the same time beautiful and curated.
I absolutely loved working with Sarah on her kitchen renovation. She has an amazing eye, and together we were able to update and elevate her kitchen to better suit her aesthetic and practical needs. I am thrilled with how the kitchen turned out, and so happy she loves it too.
From a room ‘refresh’ to a full house renovation, please feel free to get in touch with me at gina@gmdesignstudio.com, and follow  us on Instagram @gm_design_studio_ to see what we’re up to!”


I have pulled together a pretty broad edit of kitchen related things below. Many of which I already own/have in my kitchen, or are similar/very similar to things I own; or simply things I like that are in keeping with the overall feel and style of my kitchen, that I think you will like, or that I am earmarking myself.
I have listed everything (with links) in our kitchen below, but if there’s anything I have missed, or that you want to ask, feel free to get in touch here.
I hope that was useful. Let me know!

Sarah xx

ps: I’ve just had word that lovely Lisa at edit58 will be getting more stock (they’ve been out of stock for a while now, and I know that many of you are waiting) of the scallop shades at the beginning of March. Whoop!

pps: thank you to the lovely Erica at Howdens in Acton. She was VERY patient with me!!

ppps: don’t look too closely at the (lack of) skirting in the left corner. That still needs to be sorted. If I’d waited to get that done, this post would have been delayed even more!!

pppps: still wondering what Tom’s one request was? A pull-out spice cupboard. Yes really. And yes he got it. Of course he did.

All Kitchen Links
(these are all the exact things I bought)

Kitchen (Chilcomb in Porcelain) | Howdens
Marble Effect Polished Quartz Worktop | Howdens
Belfast Ceramic Sink | Howdens
Tap | Abode Ludlow
Sink Strainer | Astini
Hob |
Oven |
Knob Handes | Rowen & Wren
Cup Handles | Rowen & Wren
Pull Handles | Rowen & Wren (large)
Plug Plates | Heritage Brass Vintage Range
2 Gang Switch | Heritage Brass Vintage Range
Fuse Switch | Heritage Brass Vintage Range
Wall/Shelf Colour | Farrow & Ball Strong White
Pendant Shades | edit58 x Matilda Goad
Ceiling Roses | Jim Lawrence
Ceiling Spotlights | Astro Lighting
Tiles | Mandarin Stone, Zellige Nouveau Metro White Gloss
(sadly no longer available, but we have sourced some similar alternatives hereherehere, and here)
Shelves |
Weathered Oak Stools | Cox & Cox (but they’re a little tall for the worktop, so I am switching for these)
Flooring | V4 Urban Nature
Handwoven Rush Rug | edit58 (made to measure)
Wall Colour: Farrow & Ball Strong White

*Just as a reminder, I aways acknowledge any collaborations/gifts/discounts. There were none in this project. However, I would thoroughly recommend working with an independent designer such as Gina, not least because of the trade discounts they can help negotiate, as well as their specific expertise, which I’ve talked about above*