Going beyond aesthetics

The kitchen in this Norwegian cabin is a harmonious mix of various rustic materials and finishes,...
The kitchen in this Norwegian cabin is a harmonious mix of various rustic materials and finishes, from the reclaimed wood used to make the cupboards to the plaster-effect treatment on the walls. PHOTOS: CATHERINE GRATWICKE
Modern rustic style suits the current mood when we want our homes to look authentic, not flashy, and our rooms to feel grounded, not self-conscious and styled, writes Emily Henson in Modern Rustic.

Modern Rustic, by Emily Henson,  published by Ryland Peters & Small.
Modern Rustic, by Emily Henson, published by Ryland Peters & Small.
Perhaps no room in the house has changed as dramatically over the past half century as the kitchen.

Once a purely practical space that only the cook spent time in, today’s kitchens are sociable, multi-tasking places where we eat, entertain and relax. They contain equipment and technology, from ovens to extractor fans, work surfaces for food preparation and some kind of dining space, too, if we can squeeze it in, for happy gatherings, busy breakfasts and homework sessions. This space must offer great functionality, but everything should also look good, from the cupboards to the crockery.

Luckily, the modern rustic kitchen can rise to this challenge. Clutter-free yet full of character, it is well-designed, easy to live with and so much more interesting than a standard white kitchen.

The modern rustic cooking space loves to mix old and new — whether that means fitting a modern kitchen in an ancient building or combining state-of-the-art technology with antique furniture and reclaimed floorboards. Contrast is key. Forget matchy-matchy or minimalist styles and revel in the juxtaposition of rough and smooth, industrial and folky.

Rather than source your entire kitchen and dining space from the same supplier, take a mix-and-match approach and seek out furniture, tiling and surfaces from different outlets and makers for a truly bespoke look. There is nothing wrong with buying a simple white kitchen ... but you could then combine it in interesting ways with freestanding pieces and characterful flooring and work surfaces. Remember, too, that a good fitter can make even inexpensive units look beautiful, so track down someone with experience and skill.

Recycled material has been used to transform a 
Recycled material has been used to transform a bland 1960s property into a home brimming with personality. Larch wood cladding on the kitchen cabinets brings nature in and is brightened with mismatched glass handles. The work surface is made from crushed, recycled glass, with bits of mirror mixed in to add sparkle.
It is a good idea to collect samples first, to make sure treatments and materials work well together. Keep your eyes open when out and about for exciting combinations.

Lots of restaurants and bars have their kitchens on view, so if you see a mix of surfaces and colours that you like, note it down ... alternatively, simply base your look on something you already own, whether that is a single plate or a beautiful wooden table.

If you are designing the cooking and eating space from scratch, it is important to go beyond aesthetics. Consider how many people will use it and when. Will this simply be a place to cook and give the kids breakfast in, or will you be entertaining in here, too?

A classic kitchen table is the simplest way to create an eating area. It is also a non-permanent feature that can easily be shifted. Just make sure there is at least a metre of floor space around the table, allowing chairs to be comfortably pushed back.

This house has a grand dining 
This house has a grand dining space, so this oblong table in the kitchen, with bench seating built around, is for informal meal times.
If you are short on square footage, a bench built against a wall with a table alongside it is a neat and practical solution. You might also consider building in an island that doubles as a work space and an eating area.

Choose chairs that perfectly suit your strand of modern rustic. Elegant mid-century designs with waspish waists suit a pop rustic scheme, while a simple wooden bench looks perfect in a pure rustic setting. Chairs with padded seats allow you to incorporate upholstery and different textures in your dining space, to create a warm, inviting feel. You could also re-cover existing seat pads in a more vibrant material for a shot of brightness among the rusticity.

Cupboards faced with waxed 
Cupboards faced with waxed larch teamed with a dramatic, vintage cabinet — filled with an eclectic collection of tableware — adds great personality to this kitchen. New oak flooring keeps things sleek underfoot.
When choosing materials for your kitchen, think about functionality as well as appearance.

Wooden work surfaces bring a touch of rustic warmth and can help link the kitchen with other furniture in the room and beyond, but don’t be afraid to use a more contemporary material. This will combine functionality with sleek good looks and can be easily steered towards the rustic by dotting it with earthy accessories and attractive kitchen kit.

Whichever work top you choose, consider contrasting it with the units below. Cabinets faced with reclaimed wood against a polished concrete or cool composite work surface create an exciting clash of rough and smooth.

Kitchen flooring should complement the space rather than be the focal point. In a small kitchen, choose a surface that will work throughout the whole area. In a large room, you could opt for a practical material in the cooking area, such as tiling or stone, and something more decorative elsewhere. Solid wooden flooring helps to absorb noise, resulting in a calmer environment — ideal in a large, open-plan home, which can have tricky acoustics. Poured flooring such as concrete or resin brings a contemporary edge.

Fully integrated appliances, hidden behind sleek doors, are staples of super-sleek, contemporary kitchens, but it is not necessary to conceal them in a modern rustic room.

A stainless-steel range will make a strong focal point with a professional feel, and you can cosy up its appearance with warm wood and darker shades elsewhere. Or set an oven and fridge into a wall of timber-faced cupboards, for a nice clash of colours and materials.

Think imaginatively about the style of storage. A traditional run of base and wall units makes efficient use of space, but you might also like to team built-in furniture with freestanding pieces. Open shelves help a kitchen feel more lived in and allow you to display much-loved china. Larders are another good option. In place of a traditional island unit, seek out a freestanding work table that you can prepare food at, with storage below.

Finally, display a few pieces of kitchen kit that combine form and function beautifully. Whether that is a stack of handmade ceramic bowls or chunky chopping boards leaning against a wall, choose just a handful of objects and arrange them thoughtfully to gently round out your modern rustic space.


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