How to nail the ‘invisible kitchen’ trend

Poliform kitchen with the retractable Deep Shaker system
Poliform kitchen with the retractable Deep Shaker system - Emanuele Rambaldi

If Courteney Cox’s recent Instagram posts are anything to go by, it’s pretty obvious that she’s rather proud of her kitchen at her Malibu beachfront mansion. Who could blame her? You won’t find any culinary clutter here, only whole walls of gorgeous blond-wood cabinetry with full-height sliding doors, behind which is hidden all the paraphernalia of a busy kitchen. If it weren’t for her frequent cookery videos filmed here, you might be forgiven for thinking that she’s in some luxury boutique. This, you see, is the “invisible” kitchen, and you’ll be pleased to hear that there are ways of creating one that don’t require an A-lister’s budget – though it helps.

“We’re seeing much more of the hidden kitchen,” says Sofia Bune Strandh, founder of the London-based Swedish design brand Sola Kitchens. “People want a kitchen, but because it’s usually open-plan, they don’t want it to look like a kitchen – they want it to disappear into the room.” Sola’s invisible options include floor-level kick drawers that conceal pet food bowls, integrated tea-towel hangers and remote-control pop-up spice racks hidden in the hob, thus eliminating all the usual visual clues of a well-used kitchen. For the minimalists among us, it’s a welcome relief from the cottagecore trend, which sees literally every last cup and saucer displayed on open shelving and dressers.

The ultimate 'pocket-door' kitchen
The ultimate 'pocket-door' kitchen from London-based Swedish design brand Sola Kitchens - Sola Kitchens

The big-ticket solution to the “no-kitchen kitchen” is the pocket-door system, which, when the cooking’s done and the dinner party is in full swing, can hide up to three metres of kitchen space – you can basically fit the entire business end of your kitchen behind this, including the oven, sink, appliances and worktop mess. Finally, it’s possible to shut the door on open-plan living. But pocket doors are pricey: Rob Thorpe of the luxury kitchen fitter Studio 35 York estimates it will set you back about £12,000 (his company works with Next125 door systems), “though the engineering behind it is fantastic”, he adds. Also recommended are Hawa and Sola’s doors.

In fact, you can really blow the budget on invisible kitchen apparatus, and it’s not quite as “emperor’s new clothes” as it sounds. With Boffi’s “slide and hide” K Series, designed by Norbert Wangen (including an inbuilt sliding worktop that opens to reveal the sink/hob underneath), you can literally put a lid on the washing up or cooking equipment. Bulthaup’s free-standing B2 cabinet, inspired by carpenters’ toolboxes, is a hiding place for crockery, an oven, a dishwasher, a fridge and food storage, all behind vast oak or walnut doors.

A Sola Kitchens creation featuring a hidden back kitchen and invisible hob
A Sola Kitchens creation featuring a hidden back kitchen and invisible hob - Mia Lind & Lindy Cumings

Or consider “invisible induction” hobs (from Marazzi, Sola, Invisacook), where there is no actual evidence of the hob, because the heating element is hidden underneath a stone veneer that covers the whole island – your pans sit directly on the stone. Everyone raves about Bora’s downdraft extractor, which is integrated into the hob: “It does away with the overhead hood, which is a real kitchen giveaway,” says Simon Ribchester, head of design at renovation company Beams. But the real status symbol of the invisible kitchen is the “Narnia pantry”, where “you open a cabinet door”, explains Bune Strandh, “and it leads to a hidden utility room – for storage, extra sinks, the dishwasher – where you can get rid of everything if you’re entertaining”.

Bulthaup also makes good use of freestanding cabinetry
Bulthaup’s free-standing B2 cabinet is a hiding place for all manner of kitchen equipment - Emanuele Rambaldi

For the other half of us, there are plenty of affordable hacks and sensible investments that can “de-kitchen” a space. The invisible kitchen isn’t just a luxury proposition – after all, most of us need our kitchens to work hard and serve as more than just a room in which to cook. Besides, who wouldn’t want to escape all the stuff if you could? Essentially, it’s about “paring down the insignia of kitchens that makes them so identifiable”, says Mike Shaw of Proctor & Shaw Architects.

If renovation is on the cards, he suggests removing the above-counter cabinets (which immediately identify a room as a kitchen), and replacing them with, say, shelves for plants (provided there is enough storage in the below-counter cabinets for the kitchen clutter that you might not want on show). And perhaps a kitchen island could be more like a table, he adds, “which fuses better in a living space”; also consider “richer” materials not normally used in kitchens – for a flat in Marylebone, Mike disguised cupboards and a fridge-freezer behind panelling made from chunky Douglas fir battens.

A breakfast area can be hidden away by a sleek tambour door when not in use, such as this one by Sola Kitchens
A breakfast area can be hidden away by a sleek tambour door when not in use, such as this one by Sola Kitchens - Lind & Cumings Design Photography

Alternatively, you can actually hide pretty much all your kitchen apparatus behind Courteney Cox-style floor-to-ceiling cabinets: “I’d give one whole wall over to cabinetry,” advises Ribchester. “You can take everything off the surfaces and build it into that wall, leaving you the rest of the room to be decorative and playful with.”

Opt for handleless, push-touch opening mechanisms, he adds, “to allow cabinets to blend into the background; similarly, you could match the cabinetry to the floor”. Go large with the woodwork, if possible – larger doors means fewer joints, explains Thorpe, which means “there’s less going on for the eye – you want to make it look as simple as possible”. You could even completely conceal a black-coloured oven, he adds, by installing black cabinetry (perhaps one reason why black kitchens are currently trending). And if you can’t afford the cabinetry, matching your wall paint to your cabinet colour will go a long way towards softening the visual separation.

A hidden back pantry/larder from Sola Kitchens
A hidden back pantry/larder from Sola Kitchens - Lind & Cumings Design Photography

A cheaper alternative to a fully invisible kitchen is to build in a hidden larder/breakfast station, suggests Amanda Neilson, a Kent-based designer. “With a hidden larder, everything that you need for breakfast is in there: the coffee machine, toaster, food, a small worktop, all behind bifold or pocket doors.” Not only will it hide much of what normally permanently clutters a kitchen work surface, “it will elevate the whole space”, she says. If pocket doors are over budget, Neilson suggests a less expensive tambour door, with slats that roll up and into a recess.

Ribchester recommends borrowing “from the aesthetic language of the living space, to decrease the visual noise of the kitchen”. That could be as a wholesale refurb, or simply a bit of a reshuffle. Perhaps there’s a place for freestanding furniture, or even “an armchair, a table lamp and art for a reading nook to sit in and search for that recipe”, suggests Neilson.

Freestanding furniture borrowed “from the aesthetic language of the living space" can create a more relaxed ambience
Freestanding furniture can create a more relaxed ambience, as Amanda Neilson's design demonstrates - Lucy Williams Photography

Of course the hard work – which won’t cost anything – is “being brutal with the amount of pots and pans you need”, says Neilson, who advises clients to store anything beyond a tight day-to-day edit in a separate cupboard (ideally in that Narnia pantry). But perhaps the best, cheapest hack of all is to remember to turn off the kitchen lights when you’re not using it, says Thorpe, so “your eyes aren’t drawn to the area”.

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