How often does the average woman get the chance to design the kitchen of her dreams? One small catch: downsizing to a smaller apartment meant the kitchen had to fit into an area only half the size of her previous one.
The existing kitchen was a narrow galley, and the kitchen door was right next to the front door. To open it up, we decided to knock down the wall the kitchen shared with the living room, and build in a bar counter; as a bonus, sealing off the old kitchen door gave us a decent entrance hall.
The Big Choice
For the kitchen design, we researched every option from Pasir Ris to Pasir Panjang. At the lower end of the scale was the incredible value of a $15,000 Ikea kitchen, and the thrifty part of me – maybe inherited from my Methodist granny – couldn’t help wondering why everyone doesn’t go that route. One reason we didn’t was that their sizing is standardised, and with our limited space, every centimetre counted.
At the upper end is a place like Kitchen Culture, where you could blow $100,000 on a Porsche kitchen without even trying. Early in the planning stages, Roy bought from them a Liebherr fridge, a thing of grandeur around whose substantial dimensions the rest of the kitchen (and budget, I like to say) had to be planned.
Eventually, we settled somewhere in-between Ikea and Porsche: a Pronorm kitchen from a massive new showroom called Interior Affairs. What first impressed us was its amazing display of fully designed kitchens and bathrooms. People blessed with good spatial skills seem to be able to examine plans, brochures and samples and easily visualise what the result will look like. Roy’s like that, but I most certainly am not: I need to see interiors in the flesh, so to speak.
The showroom team was good, too; we went back a number of times and spent many hours chatting to the general manager Jonathan Loo, and the managing director René Maan, a charming Dutchman.
Our Pronorm kitchen came with soft-closing hinges and all the other little luxuries a woman’s heart could desire. On the basis of Roy’s initial sketches, Jonathan came up with his own detailed drawings and an artist’s impression.
After that, we met with him a number of times to refine and re-refine the plan: the number and sizing of drawers, doors, shelves, internal fittings such as hinges, cutlery trays, knife holders, spice-racks, a full-length pull-out pantry and so on. (To be honest, it was mainly Roy who met with him: at a certain point fairly early in these sessions, I would feel my blood sugar dropping and eyes glazing over, suddenly aware that I couldn’t bear even a minute more of the technical gumph.)
We needed a hob, an oven, a microwave and a warming drawer – correction, I wanted a warming drawer, and you’ll be glad to hear I’m using it – and Interior Affairs was able to supply the Bosch models we wanted at competitive prices. You can trust me on this: Roy, master sleuth and comparison shopper extraordinaire, had done his homework.
He also realised just in time that the two Bosch hobs agreed upon, each with two burners, would not work in our space, because their big burners were at the back, too close to the wall to hold my wok. Instead, we chose one De Dietrich hob with four burners.
For counter tops, we chose CaesarStone. There’s a homogenous alternative that looks good and is less expensive; but I wanted everything white, and CaesarStone is said to be less susceptible to staining from the red wine, turmeric, beetroot and other colourful substances that frequent my kitchen.
Though the brochure showed a recessed sink and drainer, the CaesarStone sold here is supplied locally, and no stonemason in Singapore had the machinery to do what we wanted. Happily, they were able to arrange for the work to be done in Indonesia.
High quality taps are especially important in an open-plan kitchen, so we went for Grohe, also supplied by Interior Affairs.
The big, solid, wooden bar-top counter came from a German range made from Iroko hard wood. Incidentally, this tree is sacred to the Yoruba people of Benin, who believe that the spirit of the Iroko man remains trapped in the wood and can be heard in houses that are constructed of it. I sometimes hear a faint and intermittent rumbling noise in the night; but as it seems to stop around 1am, it’s probably just the MRT.
As for the all-important stainless steel foot-rail on the other side of the bar counter – to help keep your balance while you’re eating your cornflakes – it was impossible to find the foot-rail supports here; so we ordered them through the mail while holidaying with friends in California, and brought them back on the plane.
The kitchen was originally in two areas, the “wet kitchen” two or three inches lower than the “dry kitchen”. We levelled the floor.
Loving the all-wood kitchens we’d seen in Sweden, we wanted the warm look and underfoot comfort of wooden flooring. But various experts said sternly: “No wood in the kitchen!” – probably because of the tendency in this part of the world to chuck buckets of water everywhere, rather than cleaning floors with a damp mop.
Laminate didn’t appeal, and we couldn’t find linoleum that we liked. Then, while looking for floor tiles for the lounge, we noticed a showroom floor that seemed to be covered in attractive wooden planks. They were tiles, in fact, and that’s what we chose… to everyone’s relief, particularly Eddie the contractor.
Fitting It In
Manufacture and delivery of the kitchen components from Germany took around three months. In the meantime, our builder constructed the new walls, Roy having been instructed by the Interior Affairs guys to make sure they were accurate to the millimetre, according to the plan; there would be no opportunity to adjust the kitchen components once they had been built.
Even with that famous German efficiency, however, we found we should have allowed for a small margin; one component arrived 2mm bigger than shown in the plans. Here’s a useful truth: it’s easier to fill in a tiny gap with silicone than to shave plaster from a wall.
Before the kitchen cabinets go in, everything else has to be done, including the floors; the cabinets are fitted last. When the plumbing pipe-work went in, and thereafter the electrics, we had to ensure that everything was placed exactly right.
Interior Affairs came to check on the construction work right at the beginning; and once more during the wall construction. But it was Roy who measured and re-measured; even so, our contractor had to knock down and rebuild one of the dividing walls that was not to plan. After the experience of building this kitchen, we would never dream of letting a contractor get on with it in our absence.
Ordering made-to-measure kitchen carcasses that have to come from Germany is, admittedly, only one of many options. Although you have more leeway than you would have at Ikea, say, even these units were fairly standardised. A local joiner or carpenter might offer more flexibility; but again, it comes down to quality. We know that our German stuff is well made.
Seems to me that the more effort and planning you put into something, and the longer you have to wait for it, the more you’re going to enjoy the fruits of your patience and efforts. Never has a kitchen so small made a woman so happy.