The Rise of the Unfitted Kitchen

What first drew my attention to the “unfitted kitchen”, and thus starting a love affair with mismatched culinary spaces, was somewhat of an accident. Moving into our little cottage at the start of Covid lockdown, while it was only half renovated and without a kitchen, meant I had to get creative when setting up a temporary kitchen space.

 

Since our move was unexpected and last minute, I didn’t want to rush into getting a run-of-the-mill kitchen installed. My heart was set on a particular, traditional style of cabinetry for this cottage. And I was willing to wait until I could find someone to build it. That meant, however, creating an interim kitchen using furniture we already had. 

An antique french oak buffet as a work bench. Two of our white cabinets as pantry and extra storage. And a small kitchen table in the centre. This little table became my meal prep area, and is still where I sit and prepare meals most nights. You can see more of it here and here.

Flexibility

Months after moving in, our magnificent Falcon Elise cooker arrived, so again I rearranged things. My husbands great-grandmothers old meat safe (which we’d restored) went next to the cooker. An antique shoe cupboard I bought at auction became added storage and a little bar area (very important!) in the corner of the room.

Functionality

What I realised during this period and process, was how much I love our unfitted kitchen and how authentic it feels. It’s simply about practicality and functionality, rather than appearances. It’s also made me appreciate the small things (like a decent sized working sink!), and forced me to ponder what truly makes a kitchen function well. Finding clever ways to store our kitchenwares, and displaying pieces I truly love, rather than hiding everything away behind closed doors. It reminds me of all those rustic and humble kitchens in old farmhouses in rural France, England and Italy. The ones where “nonna” and “maman” create fresh, seasonal home cooked meals for their families daily. 

The more I went looking for these style of kitchens, the more I fell madly in love! Beautifully authentic, unique, imperfect spaces, filled with vintage pots and plates, baskets, fireplaces, vintage art, old and mismatched furniture for storage etc.

At the same time, it dawned on me that 95% of kitchens today are just slight variations of one another. And frankly quite boring. While an unfitted kitchen undoubtedly won’t suit everyone, or every home, I find myself yearning for a kitchen that’s unique. A bit more imperfect, and loaded with old-world charm. A kitchen that feels more like a beautifully decorated room, not a sparse workspace devoid of its inhabitants personality.

Inspiration

Some of my favourite examples of unfitted kitchens are below. You can see many more on my Unfitted Kitchens Pinterest board here.

The Rise of the Unfitted Kitchen
One of my absolute favourites kitchens EVER, particularly for its mix of colour and personality, is this Hampshire kitchen by the uber talented Max Rollitt. He’s a master at creating deeply comfortable and beautifully unconventional spaces. Photography by David Gibbons.
The warmth, charm and clever mix of antique/vintage furniture pieces makes this kitchen space so inviting. Hampshire kitchen by Max Rollitt. Photography by David Gibbons.
I adore this chic, rustic style kitchen by Oz Architects. The weathered wood beams and central brick & plaster fireplace make this space so incredibly warm & welcoming. 
A beautiful, European style kitchen with plaster pink walls, rustic timber island that’s more furniture than cabinetry, plus a lovely pot rack and copper collection. By Joris Van Apers
I just love the idea of a working fireplace in a kitchen. Regardless of style, it projects an instant air of coziness and warmth. By Joris Van Apers
Rustic elements combined with contemporary subway tiled walls and marble shelving, ooze character and sophistication in this beautiful, unfitted kitchen in Primrose Hill. Captured by legendary photographer Paul Massey
Unfitted kitchen in Maine
I love this deconstructed and eclectic coastal kitchen in Maine. You can see more of this gorgeous coastal retreat on Remodelista. Story and photography by Justine Hand.
How cool is this classic contemporary kitchen by the amazing Ham Interiors?! This is actually the co-founders own home. I mean, hello double cookers!! An AGA and a La Cornue. What a dream.
It wouldn’t be a post about unfitted kitchens without including the Dorset residence of Ben Pentreath and Charlie McCormick., Their kitchen is the mere definition of this post. A cheerful and distinctly English country interior, featuring an 18th century Welsh dresser displaying treasured pottery. A central antique kitchen table and an AGA positioned within the old fireplace hearth also add lashings of charm.
The gorgeous kitchen of the wonderful Alexandra Tolstoy, who I found on Instagram. Her utterly charming country cottage is a perfect specimen of deconstructed and authentic living. The kitchen in her new London home is equally as unfitted and homely. Image by Simon Brown via houseandgarden.co.uk
Verdict

So, are you a fan of the unfitted kitchen look? Or, do you prefer the more streamlined, typical kitchen style that we mostly we see today? Regardless, I hope this has at least inspired you and made you think outside the box when it comes to creating your own dream kitchen.

There are definitely ways you can create a more paired back example of this style in your existing kitchen. Adding things like baskets, artwork, lamps or wall lights, plates on the wall, or even ditching the overhead cupboards and opting for open shelves. If you want more inspiration on unfitted/deconstructed kitchens, head over to my Unfitted Kitchens board on Pinterest

Hope you all have a great week!

Nicki xo

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  1. I’m trying to renovate our 1900 kitchen to an unfitted electric functional space due to preference of aesthetic & more practical cost vs. wall to wall cabinetry. I’ve collected an old store counter & wood/glass four fronts in hopes to have cabinet boxes made for them. I’m keeping my parlor wood-stove fir warmth & unexpected power outages. 🤞Hoping my plan works the way I envision it.

  2. Charlene Scott says:

    Ok, but what is a meat safe – please tell me more!

  3. Ruth French says:

    My oh my! I googled ‘unfitted kitchens’ and stumbled upon you eloquent, glorious ramblings. I’m a Food Journalist and Absolutely Loathe fitted kitchens. My heart beats to the song of glorious treasued processions josling for space with essential yet beautiful tools that have lasted the generations and we’re turned on a lathe of love. You have made me immensely happy to know that I’m neither alone, nor mad. We don’t Have to follow the vagaries of fashion do we? Bravo you!

    1. Hi Ruth, apologies for the late reply. I am SO thrilled that you not only love this post but that you also share the same love for “unfitted kitchens”! I am so in agreement with you – there is just something so charming, intriguing, and homely about an unfitted kitchen and I just wish we would see more of them. The European’s seem to have it figured out and I see so many in Italy, France, Poland etc. I think I need to do another post as have lots of people share the same passion! Nicki

  4. Love the looks – just the thing I want 😀

  5. I love these kitchens. Never heard the term unfitted but it is the style I have used in my home and have always been my matra to decorate with the things you love not from a magazine or pinterest photo. Anyone who walks into our house can immediately tell our interests and I think our homes should reflect who we are. Thankyou for affirming this.

    1. Thanks Kathy and love that you share this aesthetic & style also! When I wrote the post I wasn’t sure if it would be popular but it’s quite the opposite! I think we all need a reprieve from the identical kitchens we see today, and spaces that are much more unique and interesting (and clever).

    2. Agree, so many if the all white kitchens look the same from one up the next. I think it’s easy to get caught up with trends & I often remind myself choose what I’ve lived forever: aged woods, soapstone, brick, stone, etc.

  6. Desiree Pennington says:

    Thank you for your post. It makes me feel that I am not alone! My kitchen was just a room with a sink under the window, and a cooker in the corner! I did buy a second hand run of cupboards and work surface, but with advent of a navy preloved aga from eBay, I got rid of it! Everything is moveable in my kitchen, apart from said sink and aga. I can clean behind everything, and recycle to my heart’s content. None of our cutlery matches. The walls are tongue and groove in Farrow and Ball eggshell slipper satin, with mismatched blues on different cupboards and curtains. All the surfaces are wood…but different from each other! The room dates from 1690’s, but the closest I can explain it to you is that it’s probably more 1890’s….art deck, William Morris! After all, nothing ever matched for him!!

    1. Hi Desiree, sorry for the slow reply. You kitchen sounds like a dream, and I have to admit when you were describing it, I just thought “ahhhh, I want to see this beautiful colourful kitchen!”. It sounds so charming, warm and authentic – and utterly unique to boot. I’m just obsessed with kitchens like yours and think there should be more of them (and less where everything it built in, put away, and clinical).

  7. I adore unfitted kitchens. But don’t fool yourself, it IS just as much about appearances.

  8. This is the exact style I’m trying to explain to my designer. We’re renovating our kitchen. I told her I want an “unkitchen.” I had her take out all the uppers in the design. I’m on the hunt for vintage and antique pieces to replace planned built-ins. I feel so much more comfortable in a less formal kitchen.

    1. Sounds like we have similar taste and I love the look too. Feels less structured and contrived. I think you’re in the right track with your designer so good luck!

  9. I love your eclectic style! May I ask where you found the 2 white cabinets that you use as a pantry and extra storage?? Any and all specific into would be appreciated. Thanks for sharing!!

    1. Hi Joyce,
      Thanks for the kind words! We actually bought those cabinets off a local friend and they had them custom made sorry. I get asked SO often about them and have had quite a few offer to buy them. Sorry can’t help but I must admit I love vintage or antique cupboards so if you see once you like consider getting it painted. Often some old brown cupboards/cabinets just need a paint to give them a totally different look. Nicki 🙂

  10. Rae Livesey says:

    Love your style and the pics are nice good choice
    of kitchen love it all 😀

    1. Thanks Raewyn! A slight departure from my kitchens past, but living in this little cottage has me really exploring new design ideas. Love that Max Rollitt kitchen especially. xo

  11. Loved this post Nicki!

    1. Oh thanks, Brooke! So glad. Have been wanting to do a post on this for a while now.

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