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Plain English

Luxury bespoke kitchen and cupboardmakers

Started by accident in 1993 when founders Katie Fontana and Tony Niblock were unable to source a suitable kitchen for a traditionally inspired Suffolk Longhouse, Plain English has since continued to lead from the front, providing immaculate English kitchens, built with an unparalleled dedication to quality.

The craftsmen of Plain English create their designs with each clients needs in mind, combining the traditional proportions and simplicity of Georgian joinery with details and appliances that suit modern needs. The simple forms and exquisite details that converge to create a Plain English design will be a great addition to any home, whether traditional or modern.

Following the recent opening of their first US showroom on New York’s iconic East 10th Street, we caught up with the company’s design director, Merlin Wright to learn more about the tailored process that goes into each immaculate Plain English designs.

How has the brand of Plain English and the product evolved since its creation?

Since the creation of Plain English the market has changed considerably with much more competition including imitators who bring in cheap cupboards from abroad. Our response, apart from introducing some new ranges, has been to provide a much more bespoke and high-end product with particular
focus on a personalised service.

What are the key design elements of a Plain English kitchen?

Our approach is based on the ethos of Georgian joinery of the 18th and early 19th century as can be seen in the ‘below stairs’ area of houses of the period. The joinery wasn’t designed, as such, but was made by local craftsmen to a fairly standard system of details and proportions. It was made, above all, to be practical unlike the fancier furniture in grander parts of a Georgian house. For this reason we feel that our cupboards are classic rather than fashionable and work well in both
traditional and modern buildings.

What is the typical leadtime from start of design to installation?

Leadtime is typically five to six months depending on how quickly the design can be resolved and the readiness of the site.

The quality of craftsmanship seems to be an integral part of your brand, how do you continue to prioritise this as your brand grows, especially with your recent expansion to the
United States?

Quality of construction is a key element of our approach. We use traditional techniques such as dovetail joints and the best materials that will age well and last indefinitely. All our joinery including that for our American projects is made to order in our Suffolk Workshops by cabinet makers who are individually responsible for each cupboard; there is no production line. Equally important is the standard of installation; in Europe we have our own team of fitters. In the US we have partnered with a team of top-end installers based in New York.

The scale of Georgian English design is usually rather large. Today, space is often a luxury, especially in New York. How do you manage the proportions to fit in line with today’s often smaller living constraints?

Regarding scale, we are used to designing kitchens of all sizes. We often provide kitchens for clients in both their town and country properties. The larger kitchens are usually, but not always, in the country. The main difference in approach is that for more compact spaces the kitchens tend to be more ‘fitted’ with scribed-in cupboards to maximise storage space and work surfaces. In larger spaces we can propose looser compositions with a mixture of fitted and freestanding elements
to add interest.

A good kitchen is hugely dependent on efficient functionality, what common design elements do you strongly advise your clients towards?

In terms of functionality, ergonomics are, of course, important but so are the emotional aspects of using a kitchen so we’re not afraid to play with the rules to achieve an interesting result. The main thing is to work with each client to develop a scheme that suits them as clients have very different tastes and needs. It’s important to work out how people really live in a space as it’s easy to be unrealistic about how much storage/fridge space one needs. Another area to explore is basic space planning as we often see clients who are thinking of putting their kitchens into what is clearly the wrong room..!

If your client is on a budget, what are the key elements you encourage them to invest in?

If a client is on a budget the trick is to keep it simple as it’s easy to double the cost with a complicated solution or by specifying too many luxury options such as special inserts and
pull out trays.

Good design is often in the details. What approach do you take to choosing the complimentary details such as sinks, faucets and ironmongery? Do you specify these for your customers or just recommend what you feel, from experience, works best
with your designs?

Details such as sinks, taps and ironmongery are a vital part of the design which, the same as buttons on a coat can make or ruin the overall effect. Our cupboards can be detailed to look classic or quite contemporary so we have a library of hardware and accessories that we like and which we suggest to clients. If a client particularly wants something they’ve seen elsewhere then we’ll work with that - it’s usually fine as if they like our kitchens then they generally have pretty good taste..

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