Kitchen Tour: London Urchin's Fold-Out Jewel Box

Remember London Urchin and her winning London flat from last year's Small Cool contest? We were instantly smitten with her tiny yet spacious jewelbox of a flat, but we were flat-out amazed by her kitchen. She has graciously given us an up-close look at the kitchen itself, and the story of how she and her architect came up with such a clever and beautiful small-space kitchen.

Pin it button big

Mia, the London Urchin, and her architect, Jennifer Beningfield of Open Studio Architects, designed this space together with the constraints that Mia lists below.

My list of demands for the kitchen and the flat as a whole were extensive, and Jennifer had her work cut out for her. Overall, despite the small size of the flat, my main goal was that I didn't want to live like a student. It HAD to feel grown up. It also had to serve as a living/dining/entertaining/working space.

Pin it button big
This was achieved by all the doors on the cabinetry. You can make dinner, then close off the kitchen and eat with friends without feeling like you are in the kitchen, or the bedroom for that matter.

I was very concerned that the bedroom area feel very separate from the kitchen despite its placement. In the end, with the fan and the overhang, you don't even know there's a bed up there; many people don't even realize there are stairs behind the wall.

The Kitchen Demands
• Fan (we ended up with a solution that is not vented).
• As much counter space as possible (hence the sliding part).
• Dishwasher-- we got a slimline one that's 45cm wide.
• Garbage disposal -- years of living in NYC convinced me I needed one here in London.

Pin it button big

The dishwasher is to the left, directly under the induction stovetop.

• Induction stovetop: I didn't want the area to get too hot or to have open flame in such a small space....induction is much more common in Europe. It works wonderfully and is energy efficient....a bit more expensive but I loved it. This stovetop is called a DOMINO induction hob - the ones that come in pairs. It's Bosch. You need to ensure your electrical is set up to handle it though, well in advance of buying a stovetop - you don't want to find yourself in a position to have to rewire after the fact.
• Microwave and oven -- solved by the Bosch two-in-one underneath the stairs.
• Fridge and freezer...
• Plenty of outlets and storage...the back corner in the right of the kitchen has storage for toaster, small appliances, etc.

Pin it button big

The fridge and freezer are behind the two square white doors under the oven

Jennifer's brilliance is evident throughout the kitchen, in particular.

• The extra high countertops...both my husband and I are tall, and so we love that feature...this allowed the sliding wall countertop to slot in nicely.
• The decision to use hard wearing laminate; it allowed us to use color inside. She wanted red, I insisted on blue!

Pin it button big
• The sliding wall countertop is sheer genius....I use it mostly when entertaining.
• The genius design of the staircase wall - with the glass holders and everything. I insisted on a proper, grown up staircase and NOT a ladder or something that folded; she went away and came back with this amazing design. It was quite a challenge for the joiners to build, but they loved the project.
• Inside the staircase wall is some low level special tube strip lighting....so when you are dining you can have the stairway area backlit. Nice touch.

Pin it button big
• Rubber floor - she's a big fan of them and so am I, after seeing them in her flat. She ordered a range of lighter greys, but I insisted on a dark dark grey because I wanted the white to pop and in general just love dark grey. In the end, we learned that the darker you go with these dalsouple floors, the less you see the 'joints' behind the large rectangular tiles, which makes the floor look much more seamless, kind of like the black basalt you'd see in the Gucci store, but obviously not quite so dark. So all in all a success.
• The windows into the bathroom and from the stairway - these panels of shaded glass allow light to get into the bathroom (another of my demands) and allows a bit to pop through into the darkest area of the kitchen...

Pin it button big


Cookware
I cannot recommend more highly the range of Cristel cookware with detachable handles for a small kitchen. (See our video of the Cristel removable-handle set here.) They work on all kinds of heat and are dishwasher safe and store really compactly. I've got some of the Zenith model. They also look terrific. I discovered them accidentally while browsing at Selfridges here in London...they are genius and made it possible for me to have pots and pans that fit in drawers!!!

Pin it button big

The glass jars are actually plastic, and are from the Habitat store here in London which is related to the Conran store somehow. There are a few different sizes. I went CRAZY trying to find spice/storage jars that I thought were neutral, stylish, hard to break and and easy to clean. I literally had like 1000 home magazines with articles on kitchen keeping, found nothing that I liked, and then bumped into these. And yes I do own a Brother P-touch, and I do obsesssively make labels for the bottoms of all the spice jars. How embarrassing is that!!???

I have a Cuisinart rice cooker in case both the "rings" are being used. You can get them at Williams-Sonoma.

Favorite thing to cook in the kitchen
Well, it's limited because of space obviously; you can't do a big roast or anything in that oven. Normally I would do a big pot of something...stew, chili, whatever. Something easy to serve and do in advance.

Once I did baked figs with prosciutto as a starter, then homemade pesto with that pasta whose name escapes me...not spaghetti but is it bucatini? Slightly bigger than spaghetti? Anyway I am not much of a gourmand, but the point is in a space like that you want to do as much as possible in advance and be really organized about your steps if you are cooking for more than two. When it's just two there's no special prep.

Renovation Tips
And yes in general, I was totally obsessive about all the details in the apartment. I had lived in so many horrendous boltholes in my life I was really intent on getting this place right. The warmth is largely a by-product of the amazing windows, which is why I bought the place. Without the windows and the terrace and the square, none of my efforts would have been worth it, because it was more than just decorating: it was gutting the place soup to nuts, building a sleeping loft in a crawl space, inserting a beam, rewiring everything, replumbing everything - basically like building a little house.

I think while I learned a lot of lessons doing this project the main one is: don't over-improve a space that is not worth over-improving. For me, my flat is in prime Notting Hill, on a garden square, etc etc etc. The market here being what it is, adding a sleeping loft automatically adds £20,000 to the value of a studio in London. Location location location etc. So I could kind of justify it all in the big picture.

The other thing I learned with a renovation like that: make sure, particularly if you live in an apartment, that someone can be around to receive all the deliveries of appliances and materials that will be arriving. The fact that I work from home made it all possible, but honestly, every day something new would arrive and someone had to be there to receive it. Major time suck if you have a normal office job.

Pin it button big

Thank you so much for another look into your beautiful kitchen, Mia!

Republished post originally posted on April 17, 2008.

Original submissions to last year's contest
#20 - London Urchin's Jewelry Box
East Semi-Finalist #4: London Urchin's Jewelry Box (includes video)
Small Cool 2007: The Winners!

Small Cool Kitchens 2008
We had our own Small Cool Kitchen contest last year. Explore the entries and winners here:
Small Cool Kitchen 2007

Small Cool 2008
Who will be the winner this year, and who has your favorite Small Cool kitchen?

Vote Your Favorite Small Cool Kitchen: Week 1 Edition
Vote Your Favorite Small Cool Kitchen: Week 2 Edition

(Images: Open Studio Architects, London Urchin)