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The Bouverie kitchen: mid-century warmth

Natural light and a feeling of calm pervades a newly renovated family kitchen and dining space at the home of journalist Alexa Baracaia and artist Paul Catherall, a space they share with their son Sidney,11, and daughter Sadie, 8.

The house has been home to the couple and their son and daughter for 15 years, but it is only recently that Alexa & Paul have chosen to take the plunge and renovate their kitchen. The space draws light from a double height side return extension featuring an extensive glass ceiling, whilst a large picture window perfectly frames a view out into the family garden beyond.

The clean white minimalism of the interior is counteracted by the warmth of materials chosen by the couple, and is reflective of their love of mid-century modern design. Golden oak cabinetry perfectly combines with dusty pink laminate fronts and a terrazzo countertop, whilst brass highlights come courtesy of two pendant lights by Tom Dixon.

For those familiar with Paul’s work – which would include anyone who has taken a London Underground tube journey -  it’s no surprise that mid-century design has influenced the look of the space. As one of Britain’s leading linocut artists, Paul’s work celebrates the landmark buildings of the post-war and Brutalist architectural eras, and his work has been commissioned by, amongst many others, Tate Modern, The London Underground, Wallpaper Magazine and Penguin Books.

Paul shares his love of midcentury design with his wife Alexa; this era of design was present in both of their childhoods growing up. Alexa’s design aesthetic is further influenced by her being half Italian. She is hugely nostalgic for the colours and materials of the postwar Rome suburb where her father was brought up, and where her aunt still lives.

The kitchen is an integral part of any home but for Alexa and Paul’s family food became a huge part of their lives when their son Sidney was diagnosed with a number of severe food allergies at only 5 months old. The experience led Alexa to create @foodallergyuk, a Twitter account that soon amassed an online community of fellow allergy sufferers. Alexa has subsequently gone on to publish her first book, ‘My Family and Food Allergies’, a guide to navigating childhood food allergies and a book that she wishes she had had to hand 11 years ago.

Here we sit down to discuss the roots of the couple’s passion for all things mid-century modern, life in Stoke Newington and the perils of building a kitchen extension in the middle of a pandemic.

Alexa: “Before kids I was a newspaper arts journalist -  I was media and showbusiness correspondent at the Evening Standard, and arts and entertainment editor at thelondonpaper. Paul and I first met at The Stage newspaper, when I was starting out, and Paul happened to be working on reception to supplement his early printmaking career. He used to bring me my post! Since kids I’ve been freelance…”

Paul: “I originally trained as an illustrator and started out mainly doing figurative work. Then around the millennium I began printmaking – specifically linocuts, focusing mainly on Brutalist and Modernist architectural landmarks. I’ve been doing linocut prints and exhibiting them ever since. I’ve had quite a few solo shows, but I’ve also done a lot of commissions, such as posters for TFL, work for the Southbank Centre, the Royal Shakesepare Company, and various book jackets.

“I must admit, in terms of planning for interiors for homes, this kitchen has come far more from Alexa than myself. I guess it’s because I spend so much time agonising over a colour for a print, it’s then almost too much hard work for me to do it again for the home!”

“Fortunately Alexa and I have more or less the same tastes in terms of interior design and architecture and art. A lot of it is down to appreciating that style…not that we lived in modernist homes ourselves, but more the bits of 50s, 60s and 70s design that we had in our respective homes when we were young.”

Alexa: “Paul already lived in Stoke Newington, but when we first moved in together it was to a flat that Paul had round the corner. Even though I’m from London I didn’t really know much about Stoke Newington, but I love it. It’s pretty urban and close to the centre of things and it also has a beautiful park – Clissold park – and a villagey high street – Church St. It’s certainly changed a lot since Paul first moved here, but it’s just a nice place to be with a family.”

“We bought the house we’re in – a Victorian/Edwardian terrace – back in 2006. To be honest, it wasn’t love at first sight but at that point the house prices were sky-rocketing and we were desperate not to be priced out.”

“It needed a lot of work, and it’s taken us a long time to get it to almost where we want it to be. It was quite gloomy, and ridiculously wobbly – all the floorboards were out of kilter. When you got out of bed in the morning you felt drunk because the floor was sloping! Over the years we’ve slowly tried to make it how we would like it to be and fix all the things that needed fixing.”

“Originally the kitchen was a long narrow galley style kitchen with a side return next to it, that basically became a dumping ground for garden stuff. With the kids getting bigger and with family and friends coming round we found that it was becoming more and more of a squeeze to fit everyone in.”

Paul: “It was mainly space that we wanted, but also to tie it in together and have it be open plan. We decided to do it after visiting friends with similar houses. The change was so drastic, it transformed the feel of the house.”

Alexa: “We had previously installed a kitchen from a dedicated kitchen company about 15 years ago; it was fine, but this time I wanted the kitchen to be more long-lasting. People make the assumption that because it’s IKEA it’s not durable but actually I think it’s going to have more life in it than our previous kitchen, as you can swap the exteriors and retain the inside if you want to. We wanted the flexibility that IKEA offered.”

“I started by looking on Pinterest for ideas, and then when we decided to take the plunge we worked with a friend who’s an architect who also happens to live round the corner – Nikki Blustin of Blustin Design. She designed the structure and the layout, the big glass ceiling and picture window, and then internally, we figured out ourselves what we wanted and where.”

“We essentially wanted a bigger space where we can live and cook and eat, where the kids can sit round the table and draw while we’re busy in the kitchen, and if we have people round we all have space to comfortably fit.”

“I came across HØLTE on Instagram and loved the kitchens they designed. There seemed to be a lot of care and attention to detail. We both really liked the minimal style of the fronts, and the fact that you could choose the different colours and handles. It gave us more flexibility in getting the look that we wanted, so that’s what we went for.”

“We live very close to the Hackney showroom, so it was easy to pop round. We had a really nice chat with Lisa at HØLTE and liked the way everything looked in the showroom. It was great to also see the materials themselves.”

“It was a bit of a shambles that our entire kitchen was demolished just before the first lockdown happened, so building work had to stop and we had to live with rubble where the kitchen once was! But luckily we had chosen the design we wanted just before the pandemic hit. It all ended up being completed online and over the phone, and generally speaking it all worked much more smoothly than I feared it might!

“We added a lot of bespoke elements. We love the banquette: I’d seen similar online, this kind of wooden seating and built-in, midcentury-style shelving unit. In collaboration with HØLTE we managed to figure out a plan where our builder could create the interior of the banquette seating, and HØLTE would then clad it. They also built the shelving just from the measurements we gave them from on site. The carpentry inside the IKEA pantry also makes it look a little bit more bespoke without the huge cost.”

“We’re still working on making the kitchen look a bit more personal. We’ve only just put up a couple of pictures on the wall. One is a painting by Burt Adler – I think it’s a 1960’s book illustration. It was a present Paul bought from Alfie’s Antique Market about ten years ago. It’s been sitting there waiting to go on the wall ever since.”

“The vintage 1960s Alitalia travel poster was another present from Paul. My Dad is from Rome, so it means a lot to me, and we both love midcentury poster design. It’s a gorgeous collage of the Spanish Steps, made from bits of Italian newspapers.

“I would love to have more of Paul’s pictures on the wall, but he says if he sat and looked at them he would just find things he wanted to change about them! So at the moment we don’t have any of his prints on the wall, but I’m going to insist!”

“By day, we both mostly work from home. When Paul’s not at the studio, he works from the kitchen table where he does his drawings and plans. And then in the evening when the kids come home they can sit there and play, they eat their dinner there. There’s just more space for us to be together.”

Paul: “Now the memory of homeschooling amid the rubble has faded we really appreciate being in the kitchen and we’re very happy with it. The photos taken by HØLTE made us appreciate it even more…when we saw the photos we said, ‘Wow, it looks really good! We should clear up the Lego more often…'”