Welcome to Real-Life Renos, where we’re pulling back the curtains to the home renos we just can’t get enough of. Tag along as our favorite designers, chefs, and cookbook authors welcome us inside their spaces and share the behind-the-scenes stories behind their transformations. We’ll explore their takes on sustainable living, how they express their identities through design, how they create beautiful spaces that center around accessibility—and so much more.
Every kitchen has its (hey)day, and Meera Sodha’s London kitchen was no exception. Originally belonging to her parents, the apartment (which dates back to the 1800s) saw her, and an interesting cast of roommates, through their 20s and 30s. One of those roommates, Hugh, eventually proposed to her and stayed on in the apartment as her husband. It was also where the food writer and author wrote two bestselling cookbooks, Made in India and Fresh India.
But, the kitchen, while loved, was cramped. After one too many tins of food fell out of its stuffed cabinets (not to mention the arrival of one, then two, babies and a dog), it started to feel too small. “It was almost comical how challenging it was to do anything in it, including writing a recipe that used lots of pots and pans,” she explains. Meera eventually returned the apartment to her parents.
During the lockdown last year, Meera—who has great affection for the tiny Victorian apartment with “wonky ceilings”—decided to fix it up for her parents. “I had such a happy time in this apartment that I felt a duty of care towards it, to make it wonderful—and also to transform the kitchen into the most efficient version of itself.”
One thing going for the kitchen was a large window that looked out onto an old tree; other than that, there was very little that Meera wanted to retain. Not the tiny prep space next to the hob. Nor the especially small under-counter fridge and the rest of the outdated appliances (the buttons on the oven had worn off years before, making temperature control guesswork). “The floor felt like it was ‘made of cheese,’ according to the first builders I brought to the space. The previous owners had stuffed newspapers under there to try and level it out.”
The challenge was going to be to create a beautiful kitchen that didn’t cost a fortune, but was built to last at least 20 years. To that end, Meera decided that she would spend on the nuts and bolts of the room—things you don’t necessarily notice immediately but are critical for longevity—and strategically save on the carcasses of the kitchen. “I decided to work together with IKEA for the cabinetry, and a good builder to plan the project.” And off they went.
Let’s take a look at how this makeover shaped up:
A bespoke-looking kitchen, but on a budget
Enter Plykea, a UK-based company that makes custom fronts, worktops, and shelving. Using the solid carcasses of IKEA’s durable cabinetry, Plykea replaced the fronts with beautiful, sustainable birch doors and custom hardware. They delivered the worktop cut to size, and were also able to provide extra plywood for shelves—and an extractor fan cover. “By covering your electrical appliances with custom fronts, you immediately declutter the kitchen, and transform the space,” explained Tim Diacon and Adam Vergette, co-founders of Plykea, over email.
Making the layout work (harder)
“We decided to change the layout from a galley kitchen to an L-shape to create more space. This would allow for a longer prep area, a good-sized fridge and dishwasher (no compromises there), and a workhorse of a milk-white Smeg oven and hob,” says Meera. To fit more in, the wall was pushed back a couple of centimeters and reinforced so that they could put up load-bearing shelves. “I now have shelf space as far as the eye can see,” she says.
Increase the storage space
Having the shelves run as deep as the extractor fan (around 15-16 inches deep) means Meera now has storage for everything from pots and pans to platters, tins, jars... even cookbooks and plants. “Given the uncertainty around food availability during the lockdowns, we shifted to eating more food from the store cupboard. This made me realize the importance of having enough storage for ambient, dried, and tinned food," she explains. Gone are the days of storing tins and cans in the living room!
Create A Sense Of Calm
The apartment sits on a busy market street in the center of London, so Meera wanted the kitchen to feel like a calm refuge away from the hustle and bustle. Plykea were happy to oblige with natural birch plywood fronts in calming hues, warm brass edge pulls, and floating shelves to create breathing room. These were paired with an oak floor and white walls. Plykea also added warm under-shelf lighting to brighten up the small kitchen. For extra warmth, Meera added in old brass pots, clay pots, and vintage wooden boards that remind her of India. “There’s a lovely tactile French grain sack on the floor for making coffee barefoot in the morning,” she says.
The overall result? A much more practical, more beautiful and ultimately, more useful cooking space. “There’s finally a proper space for cookbooks and enough space to store pots and pans,” says Meera. “In fact, I'm ready to write another couple of cookbooks in it.”
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