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I Want To Update My Kitchen

How kitchens look, and how people use them, are both very different today from in the past.

Listed Building Consent may be required to create a new kitchen or alter an existing one if your house is a listed building, and you should seek advice on this before carrying out any changes.

Black-and-white image of an old cottage kitchen. Assorted crockery and kitchen implements hang from hooks in the walls or sit on long low shelves and a wooden table.
© Reproduced by permission of English Heritage

History of a kitchen

Historically, the kitchen was a functional room for preparing and cooking food, which in wealthier homes was usually done by servants. Its central feature in early times was a large open fireplace: this would have been ‘modernised’ with a range for heating water and cooking in the 19th century.

Historic kitchens also had fittings such as ceiling hooks, a fitted dresser, and a stone or tiled floor. The scullery (for washing pots and pans) and the pantry (for food storage) were separate rooms. Today, changes in equipment and family life mean that these separate historic functions are now combined in one room, the heart of the modern house.

Making changes to an existing kitchen

If you want to replace modern fittings, plumbing, wiring and finishes in your existing kitchen with new work, this is usually straightforward. If your house is listed, consent is not normally needed to replace an existing kitchen, but if you are in any doubt check with your local planning authority. You may need permission if you also want to change the size of the room or alter features or structures that are part of your house’s historic character.

If you need to put in new pipework or fit extra equipment such as a new extractor fan it’s important to avoid damaging old fabric such as timber beams and plaster ceilings. Make sure that new services are easy to reach and reversible, as plumbing and wiring have to be regularly renewed and maintained.

Find out whether your kitchen has any important historic features before you start work. You should expect to keep features such as a bread oven, cast iron range, stone flags or old floor tiles, a plaster cornice, a fireplace or fitted dresser. You will probably need consent to remove them.

Farmhouse kitchen with stone floor, wooden table, chairs and dresser, beamed ceiling, and iron fireplace

Creating a new kitchen

If you want to move the kitchen into a room not previously used as one, there are some key issues to consider. Front reception rooms often have features such as plasterwork, fine joinery or chimneypieces that need to be retained. It can be difficult to build a new kitchen into a formal room without damaging its character. Finding out about what is important about the interior of your house will help you decide if moving or enlarging the kitchen is the right thing to do.

If you are thinking of combining two or more rooms to form one large kitchen-dining room, find out about the wall you want to remove. Taking down a load-bearing wall will need advice from an engineer or architect. Even if the wall is not structural, removing it will alter the historic layout of the house, and could damage its character. As the internal layout and different decoration of rooms tells the story of your house’s history, it’s important to understand this before you make changes.

Walls may include features such as chimney breasts or doorways, as well as decoration - plasterwork or panelling, for example - that needs to be kept. Listed building consent is usually needed before you can take down a wall or make a larger internal doorway, but if the wall clearly has no historic importance removing it may be possible.

For more information on Victorian kitchens, see Victorian Society - Kitchens.

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