Where better for Smallbone of Devices to launch its new range than the kitchen designers’ very own home? And where better to dwell than the converted Friary of St Francis, a brogue’s shuffle from Westminster Cathedral? The building was designed in 1884 by Henry Astley Darbishire, Peabody Trust’s trusted architect. His flats on nearby Pimlico Road form a rambunctious High Victorian yellow brick hallelujah to piety. They rise above quotidian stockists: Semmalina toys; Ramsay art, Tomasz Starzewski fashion; La Poule au Pot wine dining; Wild at Heart flowers; Michael Reeves furnishings; Gordon Watson antiques; Gallery 25 antiques; Moloh fashion; Luke Irwin art; more Luke Irwin art; Langston antiques. Living over the shop has never been so glam. Oh. Em. Gee. The former friary elevates philanthropic grandeur to a whole new level: a four storey loggia lined Romanesque palazzo of patronage.
The reports of the death of fine dining are greatly exaggerated. Eating out hasn’t quite cataclysmically descended from fish knives to fishwives. More like a move from blue blood to blue jeans. Out formality; informality. Chris Corbin and Jeremy King are the pioneers of creating dress down town restaurants with an uptown social scene. Meritocracy over aristocracy. Michel Roux’s La Gavroche and Gordon Ramsay’s Pétrus may still be serving haute cuisine at triple the price and triple the waiter-to-customer ratio, but the brasserie scene dominates now in London. Fine dining is niche, not norm. Even the famously conservative Marcus Wareing has binned the white linen tablecloths at his fine dining restaurant in the Berkeley Hotel. He’s replaced the late David Collins’ interior with “free and easy dining accompanied by American style service”. Peter Sheppard who along with Keith Day designs for Smallbone observes, “Restaurant style creeps into homes.”
Ever since its seminal 1970s Pine Farmhouse Range, Smallbone has been setting kitchen trends. In the 80s came Hand Painted and then in the 90s, when everyone else was busy doing fitted, came Unfitted. This trailblazing salute to Charles Jencks’ postmodernism introduced freestanding furniture, stoves, larder cupboards and the singular kitchen island. “Fitted kitchens first became popular in the 1950s,” relates Peter. “The Brasserie Range continues the move away from fitted kitchens. It’s influenced by the 30s, based around the needs of the family. A place to cook and chat. The starting point was an oversized dresser in a French bistro we frequent. It adds to the relaxed Provençal ambiance. We’ve adapted the dresser, adding sliding glass doors, an integrated worktop and back painted open shelving.”
Characterful strips of knotty oak contrast with nickel plated saucepan style drawer handles. Plain cornices and skirting boards are finished with a slip of brushed stainless steel. It’s versatility, though, that defines this range. The traditional plate rack has been updated to hold glasses under it. The ceiling rack now has a wraparound shelf. Below the sink unit is a slatted ledge for Keith and Peter’s pug, Chanel. St Francis is not just here in spirit. A bronze statue of the patron saint of animals is on the wall outside. As for the kitchen island, that’s so last century. Smallbone’s Brasserie Range has three islands of varying size. The kitchen archipelago.