Wednesday 11 July 2018
Very much queen of her kitchen, the client for this job had very specific ideas about what she wanted. She was after a workstation that could be used and accessed from all sides, literally an island unit.
She demanded: an uncluttered work surface with enough room to roll out a large quantity of pastry, ample deep space for large pans and mixing bowls, no drawers, shelving open on both sides but with a divider in the middle, a bin for vegetable peelings to be composted and rails for hanging cooking implements, tea towels and oven gloves.
She liked my suggestion that the rails could be used to push the unit around on lockdown castors, allowing it to be moved out of the way when not in use. A further advantage of its mobility was that the kitchen opened on to a large decked balcony area with a permanent barbecue, so this unit could be rolled outside in fair weather for preparation and serving, straight on and off the barbie.
Lastly, my client wanted this piece to be built in time for a major family gathering (customers are like that!) so the short lead time meant digging into my stock oak rather than ordering and waiting for delivery of another timber type. Luckily she appreciated the time constraint so could see the sense in that, and a brief 'back of the envelope' sketch later saw me in business.
Aesthetics & ergonomics
Whoever does the cooking in a household – and these days it as likely to be the man as it is the woman of the house – the layout of a kitchen is paramount. Kitchen companies make a fortune building and installing overpriced fancy kitchen designs but when it comes down to it, commonsense plays a big part in eventual success.
Let me give you an example of expensive and poor design. Some years ago I was asked to build a kitchen in an octagonal lodge cottage that was in private, not estate ownership. On 'plan' the kitchen was a sort of five-sided flat diamond. A well-known and expensive kitchen company wanted to cut off one corner, losing valuable space, and then fit unsuitable storage units.
Then an architect came up with his own design which followed the ergonomics handbook to the letter and resulted in the work surfaces being lowered under the window sills, giving 'broken height' surfaces in spite of the fact that cooks need a continuous and easy-to-clean worktop for putting down plates and dishes and for ingredient preparation.
My solution was to ask the rather tall client if his longish arms would reach a slightly lower work surface. Answer: yes. His wife by comparison was petite. Again, it was easy for her to use lower work surfaces. Thus I simply ran the entire worktop below window height without breaks, except where joints were needed. The entire kitchen space was also utilised and little-used items were stored in the corner cupboards behind other things. The result was a low-cost, sensible, ergonomic kitchen that they were both happy with. End of tale.
Turning to this island unit, the same thing holds good: access all round, sensible operating height, mobility and, crucially, no hinged doors to keep opening and closing or avoiding; not rocket science, just a sensible everyday solution.
The lack of doors also simplifies construction. Solid wood is used throughout, which means a lot of timber preparation, but the unit should give a long life without looking tired and grubby as melamine-faced chipboard would do.
A novel idea was to make it 'flatpacked' by using barrel bolts to couple everything together. This fixing method was better for me as it made delivery easier; no need for a van.
This is made in my favourite American white oak although other hardwoods are suitable. The top is a piece of standard F-jointed lighter-coloured worktop such as maple, obtainable from a good timber yard or kitchen suppliers.
1-2 Use boards that are sufficiently 'full' in thickness so that you end up with the correct final thickness. Rough cut overlength on the compound mitre saw or use a portable saw as I did here.
3-8 Try and match board colour where you can as there are wide panels throughout and American white oak can vary a lot in colour.
Plane and thickness all the boards. Both edges must be prepared so you can choose which ones will be glued together.
9-10 Mark the boards for jointing and biscuit slot them to help with alignment, ensuring that the biscuits won't show when the boards are trimmed. Glue up each panel in turn and check for flatness before leaving to dry. Since all the joints are butt joints without any complication apart from fitting the barrel bolts, all components can be cut to finished size.
11-12 All boards and smaller components can be belt sanded flat and then given a coarse random orbital sanding ready for fitting together.
Click here for: Part 2