The English cottage kitchen is the hub of the home. In most small cottages the kitchen is the living area as well. It is rare to have a dining room in a cottage so the kitchen is also used as a dining area. The front door will open up into the kitchen in many cottages making the cottage kitchen the first thing you and your guest will see.
When you begin to think about decorating your cottage kitchen take into consideration your cottage garden. Plant climbing roses around the door, or honeysuckle or wisteria the sent will gently breeze through the kitchen door and window. Take advantage of the view when decorating you may want to create a spot for your morning tea with a garden view. If you love to cook plant herbs nearby in the garden or grow herbs in window boxes.
The main feature of an English cottage kitchen is the fireplace. Old English cottages did not have fireplaces as we know them, they would have just had a fire in the middle of the cottage, the smoke going out through a hole in the roof. The roof would be covered with soot. It was during the sixteenth century that the fireplace became popular.
Wood was the main source of fuel, peat being the other, so to accommodate the large pieces of wood the fireplaces were built wide and deep, a large log was put at the back and could burn for weeks . In some cottage fireplaces there was room to add two oak seats on either side to sit on. It would be built from natural materials that can ‘breathe’ such as brick, timber, stone, and lime in the form of either mortar, plaster or wash. In some counties it is know as the ‘down’ hearth.
The ‘down’ hearth was also used for baking cakes, the cook would put an earthenware pan upside down covering the top of the cake, then hot ashes were shovelled around it (or hot peat put onto of it) while it cooked. In better cottages the fireplace may also have an brick oven for baking.
Traditionally the fireplace would have a huge oak beam or mantle and would be know as an Inglenook fireplace; Inglenook means chimney corner. All the cottage cooking would be done from here and the mantle would be covered with kitchen utensils and other useful items needed by the fireplace, such as a pan warmer to warm the bed and brass candlesticks.
Some old cottage kitchens had chimney cranes, spits and iron hangers to hold pots, installed in the fireplace. The fireplace paraphernalia could have included a pair of fire dogs which hold the flaming logs off the ground or a fire basket and fireside bellows, shovels and pokers to stoke the fire.
In some cottages today the fireplace has been replaced with the ‘Aga’ which is a focal point all by its self. If you are not used to cooking with an Aga you may prefer a regular oven and stove. There are a lot of options today for stoves and ovens. Try to find something that looks old fashioned and that you are comfortable to cook with.
If a big fireplace is too much of a bother gas inserts into a fireplace can give you the look and feel of a real fire without a lot of the work.
The old oak dresser is the next feature of an English cottage kitchen. The open shelves can have a wooden back or be open to expose the wall behind, the lower draws should be deep. On the shelves is a mix of crockery, Toby jugs, earthen ware, stone ware, china dinnerware, blue and white Cornish ware and the old English cottage kitchen favourite; pewter.
The cottager also loved to collect anything Royal. Cups with Queen Victoria’s image were once very popular, nowadays Queen Elizabeth’s jubilee and Prince Charles and Princess Diana wedding souvenirs are more popular and I’m sure the wedding souvenirs of Prince William and Princess Catherine (Kate Middleton) will be on the dresser shelves or mantles of many a cottage in the future.
The English cottage kitchen traditionally would have had a scrubbed pine dinning table for eating on. In larger cottages and farmhouses the table could be as long as seven to eight feet, enough room for the farm labours to sit and eat at the end of the working day. If you do not need to feed a large amount of people a small pine dining table will work just fine.
Chairs would be made of wood and could match or be a mix of designs. The old Windsor pattern works well in old cottages or the wheel back Windsor armchair. Another design of chair is the old rail back or if you prefer a rush bottomed or wicker seated chair. You could also find an old chair design from the English Arts and Crafts movement. Add cushions to make seating areas comfortable and cosy, especially in the cold winter months.
Today the English cottage kitchen may have a washing machine, dish washer and many other modern furnishings. In old cottage kitchens only the sink would be fitted. Traditionally though the oak dresser would have been used for storing everything as fitted cupboards just were not used.
If you live in an English cottage the kitchen may well be the most difficult room to decorate. You need to find a balance between the old and the new and work sensitively with your cottage kitchen architecture. If you can fit everything into a few draws and shelves on the dresser then the dresser is all you need. You would be forgiven if you needed more space and had to build cabinets or cupboards, you could try to find a local craftsman to build you something appropriate for your cottage. Modern appliances look better covered behind doors or screened off somehow.
Lighting should never be harsh. Avoid modern spotlights and anything too bright. Candles in brass candle sticks are perfectly suited to an English cottage and you can put them in areas to add more light if needed. Think carefully about lighting, it can make or break your cottage decorating scheme.
In bigger cottages and farmhouses you may find a back kitchen it would normally be the coolest place in the cottage. It was the area where the cottager would make home brewed beer, cider and home made wine. Butter making and cheese making also could have been done in the back kitchen. The milk for the cheese would have been heated up in a cauldron on the fire first.
The cottager was somewhat self sufficient back then. The cottage garden provided the vegetables fruit and herbs and if large enough; animal products. The cottager sometimes kept bees, chickens, ducks and pigs. What they did not make they bought from the local village farmer, artisan, craftsman or shop.
The cottager of old made bread, butter, cheese, beer, cider and wine and tea, jams, preserves and chutneys. They preserved their food by salting, drying, bottling and pickling. They used herbs for pot-porrri, they put them on the floor so when trod on they gave off a sent or repelled vermin and they made scented pillows with herbs for various uses. The cottager also used herbs for medicinal purposes.
My Grandma always gave me a small pillow filled with lavender to help me sleep…it works!