Why Instagram-worthy kitchens aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

If you’re thinking about redoing your kitchen – and dreaming of an Instagrammable result – former delicious. food editor Rebecca Woollard has some design advice: ignore the social media-led fashion for form over function. Open shelves? Oil paintings? An extremely good-looking kitchen will only let you down, she says…

Why Instagram-worthy kitchens aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

Last year, while renovating our kitchen, I followed high-end kitchen accounts on social media. I loved the look of these spaces, with shelves full of glassware, paintings suspended over ranges and fabrics draped across the windows. I nodded as they slagged off spotlights, reviled cupboards and extolled the virtues of unlacquered brass that you never have to clean. I imagined my new kitchen, Insta-perfect and full of charmingly bohemian character. And then I did (almost) everything they said not to, because I remembered a kitchenis for cooking in, not looking at.

Let’s start with those open shelves. “Country house kitchens didn’t have cupboards!” the influencers cry. “They used shelves, so we like to as well.” Very Gosford Park, but country houses had armies of staff. Nothing sat on those shelves for more than a few days before a scullery maid would dust it. Picture your best glassware sitting on open shelves, slowly being coated in layers of grease and dust. Kitchen extractors are inadequate at best – the fat released by cooking has to go somewhere, and if you’re displaying your best crystal, it’s going over them. Do you have dogs or cats? Enjoy all the hair stuck to everything as well. Cupboards have a purpose, and that is to keep things clean.

"Picture your best glassware sitting on open shelves, slowly being coated in layers of grease and dust"

Next, lighting. Pendant lights look gorgeous, but if you plan to use your kitchen at night (or after 4pm in winter) you’re going to need overhead lighting too. Cooking in dim light is depressing and dangerous, so go one better than William Morris and have something that is useful AND beautiful.

A quick word on unlacquered brass. I fell hard for this one and spent hours googling door handles to match the outrageously expensive taps and light switches (I regret nothing, honest…). I haven’t cleaned the handles once in a whole year, but that’s because they’re constantly touched.

The taps and light switches lasted maybe three weeks before I snapped and cracked out the Brasso. My taps may be shiny and ‘uncool’, but at least the metal I paid too much money for is still golden and not tarnished black or green.

Oil paintings and fabric in the kitchen? You do you, but personally I want as few things as possible in there that will cling onto all those cooking smells. Limit the quantity of unwipeable surfaces and you limit the stale smells. So what do I recommend if you want a kitchen that looks nice and actually works? Big drawers – they hold much more than cupboards and you see everything all at once. Quartz worktops over marble or Corian – it’s much more hardwearing.

Go to town on the tiles – they’re functional and they make spaces look beautiful. Lots of lighting, preferably from different sources so you can createdifferent moods. Eye-line ovens to save your back, and big, big sinks – the biggest you can fit in. You may not end up a kitchen influencer, but at least you’ll be able to cook some good food.

What do you think? Is it worth sacrificing kitchen practicality for a bit of style – or are you a strict functionalist? Let us know in the comments.

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