Case Study: Graham & Emma

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Rural theme kitchen featuring an AGA cooker

Embarking on a major building project can be stressful for any couple, but Graham and Emma took it one stage further by doing much of the work themselves. Graham handmade many things from the doors on the kitchen cabinetry through to a clever sliding wooden wall.

Graham, who is a lawyer, and Emma, a health visitor, have been living in their rural Devon house together for around 18 months. Between them they have five children, between 11 and 19, so it was important to them that they created a house that worked for a large family and for their two American Cocker Spaniels.Graham and Emma with their self-built kitchen in Devon

The couple, who are getting married in December, wanted a mix of communal spaces, but also room for everyone to have their own space.

When Graham bought it, the property was a small and uninspiring pebble-dashed bungalow. The original building dated from the 1960s and nothing much had been done to it since.

“It was a house that needed a complete revamp,” Graham says, “and we hadn’t had the money or time to devote to it until recently. Emma recently sold her own property, which gave us the money to start on our plans.”

Originally a three-bedroom bungalow, there are now six, as well as an open-plan family space. When the building work is complete, there will even be a cinema room and roof terrace accessed via a statement-making staircase.

Building work on the house began in February of last year, with work on the kitchen starting in June. It’s been very hands-on and very much a joint project for the couple, who have set out to create a dream home for their family.

The results are stunning. An open-plan living arrangement complete with a sitting area, dining space and a beautiful kitchen offers a great place for them all to spend time together and is perfect for social cooking. The kitchen has been a labour of love and is both unique and bespoke. There’s a warmth to it and it has clearly been built with great attention to detail. It was a nerve-wracking process for Graham and Emma, who weren’t quite sure how it would turn out in the end.

“I ordered the worktops and the carcasses separately, but putting the two together was quite a quick process,” Graham says. “The difficulty came with the concrete used to support the island unit ends and the work surface. That was a huge endeavour. I made a frame with wood and then mixed the concrete, poured it in and waited for it to set. The problem was that I made them in the garagenot in situand it took eight guys to move each one.” As each weighs around three quarters of a ton, it’s unsurprising that it was a herculean effort.

The family lived with cupboards with no doors for around four months. Emma and Graham believed making the doors would be a long process, but in the end it only took a few days. The trouble was in finding the right wood. In the end, quite by chance, Graham found some pallets in a garden centre that were “just the right colour” and asked if he could have them. They needed to be dried out before they could be used, so had to be left in one of the stables outside for a few weeks before they could be worked on.


AGA Dual Control in Pearl Ashes with brick walls Kitchens can be hugely expensive, so it’s amazing to see what Graham and Emma have achieved on a relatively modest budget. The carcases for the kitchen cabinetry cost £2,200 and the Dekton work surfaces around £6,000.

“The work surface was an investment,” Graham says. “but we chose it because of its reputation for being indestructible.”

It is heat-resistant, stain-resistant and is meant to withstand all the activity a busy kitchen environment. Both Graham and Emma were slightly worried about the edges, as they’d heard these could chip if something falls on them, but so far it’s been fine.

“Because we got lots of things from different places,” Emma says, “our worry was that when we put it all together it might not work. We feel we’ve been really lucky and it has come together perfectly."

The warm shade of the work surfaces has been mirrored in copper accents throughout the kitchen, including a double copper basin and a striking copper tap the couple found on eBay.

There are many quirky features, including the ornate pipework used to hold up the oak shelves. The bricks used throughout the kitchen are mellow in tone and add to the industrial feel of the kitchen.

“They’re reclaimed,” Graham says. “It took me forever to get them here. I had to collect more than 2,000 from a building site. We’re lucky we’ve got a good builder who is good at brickwork.

“It was difficult to decide how to finish off the ends of the island unit and the run of cupboards and keep it looking industrial. I could have clad it with wood, but we’ve got a lot of wood and it didn’t feel quite rustic enough. I wanted something that contrasted with the wood, rather than it just continuing. I’d seen people make concrete plinths on TV’s Grand Designs and wanted to try it. The bags of sand and cement for the ends barely cost anything.”Graham in front of kitchen island

He has struggled with polishing the concrete and now has decided to leave it with the rougher finish, which looks great with the texture of the wood and bricks.

Emma had always wanted an AGA cooker. She grew up with friends whose parents had one and remembered how warm their kitchens were, very much the heart of the home.

“When the children get up in the morning they head straight for the AGA and eat their breakfast standing next to it.” Emma says. “We all really like it and so do the dogs.”

The couple chose a 3-oven AGA Dual Control in Pearl Ashes because they felt it worked best with their lifestyle. They work all day and they like the fact the hotplates can be switched on only when needed and they can turn the cooker down when aren’t going to be using it for a few days.

“It’s an investment,” Graham says. “If we ever decide to move, the AGA is a selling point and it’s timeless the AGA lasts such long time. It’s an expense to begin with, but I think you get your money back.”

Choosing the colour was tricky. The AGA was ordered early in the process and Graham and Emma were unsure exactly what the kitchen would look like when it was complete. They felt Pearl Ashes would work with anything they ended up choosing. “I think Graham would have been a bit daring and gone for a bold colour,” Emma says. “I would have,” he agrees, “but I think we’ve made the right decision. If we went for something more colourful it would have dominated the kitchen, rather than gel with what’s around it.”

Emma finds the AGA perfect for family cooking, often making curries, baking fish and cooking up lasagnes for weekday suppers.

AGA Dual Control in Pearl Ashes“Because we work, we try to cook quick things during the week. I went to an AGA demonstration day and I belong to an AGA Facebook group, so I’ve learned a lot about AGA cooking and find it really easy. Graham struggles a bit with the concept of starting things off on the top and then moving them to one of the ovens, but overall we’ve found it very simple. I find rice, too, is much nicer cooked in the AGA.”

Graham is a fan of Grand Designs and has watched every episode, so it's perhaps fitting that they've created their very own beautiful and inspiring grand design in the heart of the Devon countryside.