For Merlin Wright, design director for British firm Plain English Designs, which is poised to launch its very first New York studio this spring, the most beautiful kitchens show restraint. "Some American kitchens focus on elaborate details, which can overpower the subtleties of the architecture," he tells MyDomaine. While Wright admits there's no typical British kitchen, Plain English projects certainly embody a different aesthetic than that in the U.S. "What we do are very understated Georgian-inspired kitchens," he says of the bespoke, made-to-measure service. Think classic Georgian joinery, brass and leather pulls, and muted colors that reflect the beautiful British landscape.
We pored through the Plain English project archive for kitchen cabinet ideas and inspiration. Consider your kitchen remodel plan sorted.
Two-tone kitchen cabinets have been popular in recent years, but Wright has a fresh take on the trend. "You can use colors in blocks, so maybe a wall of cupboards in one color and then paint taller cupboards in another one," he says. "You can also keep all of the cupboards the same color and paint the island an entirely different color," which Plain English applied to this blue-and-white kitchen with brass faucets.
Unsure whether to choose open shelves or opt for doors? Consider how frequently you'll use the contents, says Wright. "This is a very personal decision. Open shelves look good when the contents are tidy, but if the objects on the shelves aren't used regularly, they can get dusty, and so many clients prefer cupboards with doors."
Renovating on a budget can be challenging, but if there's one room you shouldn't scrimp on, it's the kitchen. When choosing materials, he recommends thinking about how the kitchen will age. "[Our] kitchens are made with high-quality materials that age well. Timber and natural stone in hand-painted finishes are good examples," he says.
The one finish to avoid? "We don't use spray finishes, as they look worse with age and wear," he says. "Everything in the kitchen is meant to age well, and [our designs] are based on models that have withstood hundreds of years and still look great."
Navy, charcoal, and black cabinets can look sharp and handsome, but Wright says they should only be chosen if your kitchen receives plenty of light. A dark color palette "can help define the form of the cupboards, [but] this sort of coloring can work as long as the room is well-lit."
A subtle way to add character to your kitchen is by changing the cabinet interior paint color. "Different internal colors in glazed cupboards can add depth and interest to the elevation," he says. "When using a cupboard with solid doors, it can provide an interesting contrast, like a colorful lining in a business suit."
If you're looking for paint color inspiration, he says warm hues are on the rise. "Now we are looking to move away from grays and putty colors to move more toward rich colors such as yellows, browns, and reds."
"Scale is very important to note when designing a kitchen," says Wright. Light fixtures and pulls are carefully chosen to complement the space and color scheme and ensure they age well after repeated use. "Drawer pulls are a personal choice for the homeowners, but they should be an appropriate material and size given the color of the kitchen and its overall aesthetic," he says. "We favor unlacquered brass or iron, which are materials that age nicely with time and use."
Crisp, bright white might be a popular paint choice in the U.S., but Wright says he tends to avoid the harsh shade. "White is not an incredibly popular color in our kitchens, but if we do white, it's an off-white or pinkish white because a brilliant white can be quite harsh," he explains."
Cabinet color choice has the power to make a kitchen feel spacious or intimate. "Sometimes we match colors when we are working with eye-level cupboards because using the same hues makes the cupboards disappear, rather than stand out and make the room feel tighter," he explains.
A master of attention to detail, Wright likes to experiment with paint finishes, too. "We do not typically paint two separate shades on a cupboard, but we would use the same hue in two different versions: gloss and eggshell," he says. "This creates the illusion of two tones."
Wright's number one piece of advice? "Avoid gimmicks. Character is added with accessories, such as ceramics and lighting," he says. There's no rush to finalize these pieces during the renovation, either. "These items can be added over time."
Clever storage is at the heart of Plain English designs, but before drafting your dream pantry, Wright says it's important to honestly assess the contents. "It's key to be realistic about what needs to be stored," he says. "For those with a lot of smaller appliances such as mixers or juicers, a counter-standing cupboard or 'appliance garage' is a great alternative to the traditional storage space because it blends in with the rest of the kitchen while providing an enclosed space."
While Plain English specializes in made-to-order kitchens and interiors, Wright loves to balance new cabinets and countertops with reclaimed finds. "A favorite is reclaimed hardware such as faucets, taps, and sinks because they do not look pristine," he says. "Another way to add character is to use restoration glass, which has a slight wobble to it."
"Larder" isn't typically a word we use when talking about American kitchens, but Wright says they're making a comeback. "Larders are also a brilliant storage idea, and they are becoming more popular in the U.S.," he tells MyDomaine. "The idea is quite an old-fashioned one, as the true larder was meant for a time before fridges. Similar to a pantry, a larder is a good way of reaching for things you use regularly like spices, herbs, or teas," he says. "They can be turned into a sort of mini kitchen if you choose to add a sink."