Katie Fontana is the founder of two very distinctive kitchen brands, based around old-fashioned craftsmanship and an updating of traditional British style. Starting with bespoke kitchen brand Plain English before going on to develop the British Standard label too, Katie has been at the forefront of a revolution in what we think of as a desirable kitchen, guiding tastes away from glossy, European styles and back towards the more traditional warmth of historic UK homes. Today we catch up with her to find out what she thinks are the most important elements when planning your own kitchen, and tell us about the colour trends she sees on the horizon.
What inspired you to design your first kitchen? And was it a big learning process?
“I designed my first kitchen around 26 years ago for my then-home, a traditional ‘Long House’ in Suffolk. I set about the project out of frustration that I couldn’t find anything on the market that I liked! We started Plain English after our ‘Long House’ was featured in the press and we started to receive enquiries about the design of the kitchen.”
You started Plain English in 1992 – do you think the British attitude to kitchens has changed in that time?
Kitchens have evolved over the years to become the ‘everything’ room. People like to be able to prepare food and socialise in their kitchens. It’s not a surprise that islands have become popular as they allow for separate areas of the kitchen to evolve – a ‘working’ side of the kitchen and a ‘sharing’ side for eating, working, coming together as a family.
Why did you then form British Standard – what was the starting point for the new brand?
“British goods have historically represented the very best in design and manufacturing, and while today we may live in a world of cheap imports and flat-pack convenience, British Standard demonstrates that it’s still possible to find honest, properly made products that will last a lifetime. We offer our customers a return to the days of traditional British quality and craftsmanship, but off-the-peg. Our range of kitchen cupboards and worktops are made by hand in our Suffolk workshop by people who care about good design and traditional craftsmanship, ensuring that every piece we produce is of the highest quality. Our unique approach allows you to design your ideal kitchen before choosing and ordering the cupboards and accessories from our online store; you then collect and fit the finished cupboards. Because there is no bespoke design, delivery or fitting service, it means all you pay for is the materials and joinery – this allows us to provide premium quality, affordable kitchen cupboards.”
Where do you look for inspiration these days for new collections or projects?
“The design ethos for British Standard is the age of steam; tug boats, steam trains – the feel is much more industrial than Plain English. Our ‘no frills’ cupboards hark back to the old-fashioned, honest, work-a-day, belt-and-braces stuff of our childhood.”
Tell us about your own kitchen – what is it like, and how do you like to use it?
“At home in my own kitchen in Suffolk I have a rather unfitted kitchen. I have an Aga in an old chimney recess, a free-standing fridge, a huge sink I found on the pavement at Hoxton Square and a 10 foot long work table made to my design in our workshop. I don’t use my kitchen at home much as I would like to as I have a husband in Cornwall, a showroom in London and a workshop in Suffolk!”
Part of the beauty of a wood kitchen is that it can be repainted – can you share any thoughts on colours for kitchens?
“It very much depends on the mood you want to create in the kitchen. In the past we’ve tended to choose muted colours for our showroom kitchens, as we find these are generally more harmonious with the elemental materials we typically use: wood, metal, stone. The finishes are just as important as the colours; for a long while we’ve used oil eggshell in our kitchens, as we like the soft ‘suedey’ look of it. On the whole people tend to be using darker, earthier colours for cabinetry. Blues and dark greens are popular at the moment, as are stronger gloss finishes.”
What one tip could you give us for getting a kitchen design right first time?
“Take a lead from architectural features such as windows, chimney breasts, doors. Then, consider the positioning of your sink, fridge and cooker, and think through what makes most sense in terms of practicality, and usability.”
And can you think of any kitchen design rules that you consider to be a myth?
“Some people say you should always have your sink under your window but I once surveyed a kitchen for a very famous chef who wanted his prep area to be in front of the window, as that is where he spent most his time. And of course these days, we all rely so much more on our dishwashers and dwell at our sinks much less than we used to.”