The Trophy Room: Kitchen Award 2019

  • 26 Aug 2019
  • Article

The 2019 Historic Houses Kitchen Award, sponsored by Neptune and run in association with Country Life.

This year Historic Houses created a new award, recognising the way our member houses evolve over the centuries to continue as family homes. No room changes more with the times than the kitchen, so nothing could be a better symbol – and test – of the efforts of our house members to keep their homes alive and relevant in every generation.

The submissions, from the grandiose to the homely, avant-garde to traditional, were pored over by our panel of expert judges: Sarah Beeny, property guru and television presenter, Kate Earle, one half of design studio Todhunter Earle Interiors, Giles Kime, interiors editor of Country Life, and John Sims Hilditch, founder and CEO of furniture and kitchen makers Neptune.

The panel’s choices for the shortlist reflect the diversity of the entries. The overall winner won’t be announced until November, when the champion will be awarded the prize on stage at our national AGM. Coverage off all three award winners – garden, restoration and kitchen of the year – will appear in these pages in the winter issue a couple of weeks later. In the meantime, we invite you to choose your own favourite from the three finalists pictured here.

Birdsall House, North Yorkshire

Creating space and proportion from division and chaos

Set on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, this sixteenth-century house, largely remodelled in a classical style in 1749, has been home to the same family since the Dissolution of the Monasteries. It is available for weddings and opens for occasional tours through Invitation to View.

Birdsall House by Simon Brown
© Simon Brown


Lady Cara Willoughby says: 

‘When we took over Birdsall in 2017, we had to rethink how we lived in the house. We were opening the it commercially and needed to find a space that was ours. Looking at the plans it became obvious that the 1950s kitchen area, with a network of six small rooms, was the right place for something new. The planners eventually agreed to us opening the space up into one large room.

I’d been toying with kitchen ideas and plans for years, not knowing when we might move in. When it came to it quotes for a bespoke build were exorbitant but standard units wouldn’t work. Luckily one of our tenants is a brilliant joiner and has a superb eye for detail, so he made almost everything.

I’m art-school trained – I used the golden ratio to work out exactly how to get the proportions right for the room. I relished finding knobs, flooring and paint. We’ve hidden gadgets (like the television) so that the first impression of the kitchen is timeless.

Today, like most families, we live in our kitchen most of the time: homework, playing games, seeing friends, watching TV, cooking and eating all happen here. We all have our space and it is very much the beating heart of our family home at Birdsall.

Dedham House, Suffolk

Juxtaposing the modern and the classical in an architect’s vision

This modest but handsome Georgian village house in the heart of Constable country has been transformed by architect Francis Terry, son, pupil and former partner of renowned modern classicist Quinlan Terry, now working in his own practice.

Dedham House by Simon Brown
© Simon Brown


Francis says, 

‘When we moved to Dedham House, it had not been changed much since it was built in the 1830s. Like most modern families, we spent all our time in the kitchen, which was small and dark, while the two large reception rooms with the best orientation sat empty for months on end.

One of these was the sitting room, which was the best room in the house, with a French window facing south and two large sash windows facing west with views of the garden. After a lot of consideration, we decided to move the kitchen to the principal room.

We felt it would be best to go for something in a modern style to contrast with the house, rather than create a neo-Georgian pastiche with no real precedent. At first, it did seem a little strange putting a modern kitchen into a beautiful Georgian room, but now we’ve done it, it seems entirely natural. Every generation adapts the country house to their requirements; this is our contribution to the story of Dedham House.’

Wood Hall, Norfolk

Sustainably making the most of salvaged antiques and reused materials

This Tudor house, partly rebuilt by Humphry Repton in the early nineteenth century, is very much a private family home. The Charlesworths have been here since 1878.

Wood Hall by Simon Brown
© Simon Brown


Brian, today’s paterfamilias, says, 

‘We decided to design the kitchen ourselves, with the help of local Norfolk craftsmen. We wanted to find and re-use as many as possible, lying around inside and outside the house. From the outset we knew we wanted a timeless look and no central island, so the room could be reconfigured if needed.

A pair of large windows each side give light from and views to north and south, making it both literally and figuratively the centre of the house, the most pleasant room to spend time in.

We started with three painted Victorian pine cupboards found in the potting shed. We left them in their original condition to become the store, tea and china cupboards. We found the top of the main table outside and had it rebuilt on wooden plinths. The slate worktop came from an old larder. The units are painted Breakfast Room Green. We assembled the assorted antique ‘kitchenalia’ ourselves.

Inexpensive light shades and dining chairs covered in cut velvet are concessions to the new and the ‘shop bought’.  We got our local blacksmith to make the racks, hanging rails and small shelves by the Aga after we saw something similar in a magazine.

The pictures are mainly by East Anglian artists and hang above and around the old fireplace, which has become the ‘Dogs Drawing Room’. A corner banquette provides office and sitting-out space. The stuffed birds are from the estate – a long time ago, though!

Find out more about the Kitchen Award here.


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