Words by Dan Warden
Family values meet the guiding principles of quality and sustainability.
Across the UK, families have had unprecedented opportunities over the last two years to make improvements to the four walls they call home. For many, particularly during the unseasonably warm spring of the first national lockdown, the garden was the priority of choice, a combination of balmy temperatures and unfilled daytime hours giving homeowners the opportunity to finally ‘get around’ to those jobs they had, perhaps for years, been putting off. But as we finished our projects outdoors, and as the days turned into weeks, then into months, and the weather gradually cooled, focus quickly turned indoors, to bedrooms, bathrooms, hallways, and almost inevitably, the heart of every home: the kitchen.
As with the humble garden, a new kitchen is no small undertaking, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that it’s often relegated to the bottom of the priority list. As I speak with Kitchen Kit’s Contract Sales Director, Olivia Harriss, I’m introduced to a recently completed project which saw the final embodiment of one client’s dream space, and as you’ll see in the imagery over the following pages, it’s quite unlike the traditional image that will spring to most of our minds when we think about what a kitchen should be; unlike it, that is, in all of the best ways.
But first, I’m interested to know more about the ‘who’, the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. The business was originally founded by husband and wife, Nigel and Samantha Dilley around 12 years ago. Beforehand, around two decades ago, says Olivia: “Nigel held a lot of the service engineering contracts for appliances in Cornwall and Devon, having been in the kitchen environment repairing appliances since the start of his career.” This gradually evolved into retailing the appliances, but then along came the internet and with it, the large companies that would quickly start to dominate the retail market, leaving Nigel and Samantha looking for something else again. “That’s when Kitchen Kit was born, and after searching for the right brand, they eventually found two – Ballerina and Nobilia – who are still the sole brands we work with today.”
First and foremost, explains Olivia, “we are a family run business”, but as with any successful company, you can only employ so many family members before the pool of candidates runs dry! With Nigel at the helm, and his son Aaron heading up the installation team, the company continues to grow. “Now that we’re getting a little bigger, we’ve naturally got new employees who aren’t family based, however the ‘family’ ethos is still very much there. For us, it’s a bit more about the personal approach to ‘selling’, as opposed to churning out designs to a big market.”
I’m interested to know whether the design and installation of the kitchens themselves is something that Nigel and Aaron had to learn, and the answer is, in many ways, yes. As trained appliance engineers, they have been in the kitchen environment since the start of their careers. But in terms of the actual installation of the kitchen, Olivia explains, “that was a new skillset that they did have to learn, especially with the German brands that Nigel brought on board.”
“Installation with Ballerina and Nobilia is slightly different, because so much of it is completed in the factory before being shipped to the UK. Our fitting team is made up of four installers, an apprentice and an appliance installer, who have specialist knowledge of the German products they are fitting. To be expected from German engineering, the kitchens are built for efficient installation with minimal waste,” explains Olivia.
So what about the kitchens themselves? Why choose two brands from the continent over what’s available here in the UK? “Nigel and Aaron have worked on every type of appliance that you could possibly imagine. The quality differs from brand to brand, but it was always the German manufactured appliances that really stood out; they were the ones worth repairing. Other brands were clearly made more cheaply, Nigel has even had cuts and other minor injuries from the not-so-well-made ones. Our ethos was always based on only selling something that we would have in our own homes, so Germany seemed like the obvious place to start.”
The first brand he found was Nobilia. “Nobilia is the largest kitchen manufacturer in Europe,” says Olivia. “They’re massive! But the key with them is that their kitchens are quality, and the quality is affordable, making it accessible for the majority of people. Nobilia is a family company as well, which ties in perfectly with our own ethos.”
After much research and welcoming Nobilia to the family, Nigel continued to look for other brands and did, at one stage, try a British one. “But it was quite clear, given the way that we worked and the way we designed, that the German brands offered the best ‘fit’. Only a short while later, he came across Ballerina, and when he visited the factory in Germany, the design capabilities he discovered were absolutely mind blowing.”
This wasn’t the only reason they eventually became a part of the Kitchen Kit stable. As we all look to do more to champion a sustainable lifestyle, Ballerina really does stand out from the crowd. “The way they recycle and their environmental resources is unbelievable,” continues Olivia. “The volume of kitchens they manufacture is just incredible too, and they produce very little waste. Sustainability forms a big part of the Ballerina ethos, which is something we share. They manufacture using energy saving production technologies,” Olivia elaborates, “such as generating heat using residual wood from other areas of their manufacturing process.”
If, like me, you’re entranced by the images featured here, you’ll probably have wondered whether this is in fact a hand-built kitchen. It’s not – it’s manufactured, and what’s more, the quality, as Olivia explains, is second to none. “When he found Ballerina, Nigel knew they would work hand in hand with Nobilia, covering the needs of the two types of customers that we find here in Cornwall.
He paired them together about ten years ago, and hasn’t looked back since.”
Each brand produces ‘rigid built’ kitchens and at Kitchen Kit, the team probably don’t even know the meaning of the word ‘flatpack’. There are no ‘off the shelf’ solutions, and each kitchen is made to order. There is still a lead time of 12 to 18 weeks with Ballerina, but this owes to it being a relatively small company compared to Nobilia (which produces 5,000 kitchens a day!). Also, in part, because the brand offers a lot more possibility in terms of design, such as the made to order 1,600mm drawer fronts in the island of the pictured kitchen. “But I always say you have to wait 16 weeks for a sofa, whereas this is a rigid-built kitchen designed to your home!”
Finally, itching to know more about the kitchen in the images that Olivia has shared with me, I learn that this particular project was commissioned for a new build in Devoran, near Truro. “One of the key outcomes of the brief was that the customer wanted it to not feel like a kitchen. Because of the open space within the room and how they use it, they wanted to be able to use it for all manner of things, not just as the kitchen.
“One of the first things you’ll note is the dark colouration of the units. And there’s always a bit of a conversation around ‘are you sure you want a dark kitchen?’,” says Olivia, “but we encourage it. In fact, we have a dark kitchen at home and my kitchen is really small, so it really can work! It’s just about how it’s designed, so it was really nice to know that they were happy to explore those darker options.”
“We knew we wanted a kitchen that would stand the test of time design wise, be simple and stylish in looks,” explains the owner of this beautiful home. Their new kitchen needed to “be practical to cook and entertain in but above all be a statement in the open-plan living space”, and on the outcome, in their words: “Kitchen Kit delivered on all the above with a beautifully designed kitchen from Ballerina. We are delighted with it.”
A stunning finished result is typical of a Ballerina kitchen, and it’s really easy to see why Nigel chose to work with this incredible brand all those years ago. And when such exceptional design capabilities and build quality meet Ballerina’s insurmountable environmental credentials, not to mention the expertise brought to the fore by the growing Kitchen Kit team, the result is all but guaranteed to surpass even the most discerning home improver’s expectations.