In the past 30 years I've owned or rented a grand total of seven houses or apartments - some modern, some dating back to 1842. With this in mind, I offer two simple pieces of advice to new home-owners or renovators: first, make sure the roof is sound, and, second, tackle the kitchen.
You will spend much time in your kitchen, working, and, if it's spacious enough, gathering there with friends. Australians are drawn to the kitchen as a place of assembly and conversation, just as the ancient Romans headed for the forum for the latest news from the outposts of their empire. The kitchen is a place to meet, to share a wine, to share a meal.
The kitchen I installed at Rosemont, an 1857 property in Sydney's Woollahra, was designed by Leigh Prentice. For St Kevin's, an 1893-built heritage-house, also in Woollahra, Peter Stronach of Allen Jack and Cottier designed a stainless steel kitchen - standard now, yes, but not when it was realised in the '70s. It went on to win an award from the Royal Australian Institute of Architects. And the kitchen at Dysart House - a 22-room property in Kempton, Tasmania, that's been used as an inn, a ladies' finishing school and a private residence since it was built in 1842 - was designed by Peter Lovell of Lovell Chen. In renovating and living in my many kitchens, here is what I've learned:
1 Engage the services of an architect, preferably one who likes food and can cook. My first kitchen was a decent DIY job. For the second I consulted Babette Hayes, then design consultant of Belle. Babette's was better.
2 Arrange the kitchen to work from left to right. Set the left-hand area up (with a small shallow sink) for all preparation, next place the stove, then a large sink and subsequently the dishwasher.
3 The left-to-right theory works best with a long horizontal work bench. However, a U-shaped bench will work equally well, such as the one Peter Stronach designed for me at St Kevin's. That genius cook Anders Ousback worked in it when he kickstarted his catering business, and what was a domestic kitchen could handle food for 50.
4 Invest in a quality oven. Skimp elsewhere on recycled stuff if necessary (restaurants regularly go broke and fabulous commercial equipment can be picked up for a fraction of its original price) but not on the engine of the operation, the stove.
5 Make sure you have a decent-sized oven. Come December you will regret having to cram a turkey into a space designed for a leg of lamb.
6 Be not afraid of a combo. I've always preferred gas on top, electricity below. It's your call. And a warming oven can be a great way to use lower space.
7 Make every square centimetre of storage area count. Even right-angle corners where you can install a revolving widget to hold all the jams and chutneys you receive at Christmas and spend the rest of the year consuming.
8 Avoid pale-coloured floors. They're fashionable but beyond impractical. Cork is cheap, easy to clean, doesn't display conspicuous stains and is comfortable to stand on for long periods.
9 Remember the essentials. Glass-fronted cabinets, felt-lined cutlery drawers, two sinks, racks from which to dangle frequently used spoons, skimmers, ladles and the like, are not luxuries. They are essentials.
10 Choose bench height that suits you. Bugger anyone else who may occasionally use your kitchen. It's your space and your back that will be bending over it most of the time.
PHOTOGRAPHY WILLIAM MEPPEM
This article is from the April 2013 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.