Interiors journalist Linda Clayton tells us why only an AGA would do when planning her new kitchen extension
When you specialise in kitchens, and have written approximately eleventy-billion guides to buying appliances over the years, choosing your own should be a breeze. Sadly, it’s more like a hurricane of indecision. Overwhelmed with choice, and possibly too much technical information, when plotting appliances for our new kitchen extension my husband Nick and I went around and around in circles. We wrote lists of our must-haves, and lists of pros and cons. We dithered and deliberated and, at one point, came close to divorce. Finally realising, deep down, only an AGA would do.
We only had two reasons not to get one. The first issue – my obsession with induction cooking – was serendipitously solved by the launch of the eR3 Series . Admittedly it looks a little lop-sided but the induction zone has all the tech I’d come to love from the induction hob in my old kitchen, such as timers and power boost. And, more importantly, meant we wouldn’t need to waste precious prep space on the island (or equally precious budget) with a separate induction hob. (Foregoing induction wasn’t an option.) Result.
The second issue was a little tougher to resolve. Compared to regular on-demand cookers, there’s no denying the running costs of an AGA are higher. Not as high as they used to be, but definitely higher. And, much to our dismay, we’re not Russian oligarchs. We did the math, factoring in that it will be on 24/7, as I want the warmth as I work from home, and turned off during the summer months and the running costs were coming in at about £1,200 a year. (Now that it is in, our electricity Smart Meter reveals the true running cost, with the hob on half power, the top oven on baking and the bottom oven on, is 0.18p an hour so, with a three-month seasonal break, our math was pretty accurate.) So, just as I do when considering another pair of new shoes I don’t need, I started justifying the expense. Argument one, we’d not have to turn on the oil-guzzling heating as much. Working from home, this would prove a considerable saving. Argument two, I cook dinner every day, often baking before the school run too, so we could deduct the expense of heating up an electric oven from cold one-two times a day. Lastly, and by no means least, stage two of our renovation plans include photovoltaic panels on our south facing extension roof, which means our electricity would, eventually, be free. Sold!
The reasons for getting one mostly boiled down to nostalgia. We both grew up in homes with an AGA, and we both loved the way the ambient warmth gets into the very bones of a house. Never do you have to come home and stand about in coats until the central heating ramps up. I’m pretty reptilian; always riddled with goose-bumps, always putting on extra jumpers. I’ve been known to pop a hot water bottle up my gilet while I work (not a euphemism). The promise of constant, bum-toasting warmth was very appealing. Plus, there is no better roast than an AGA roast, fact.
Finally, the deed was agreed, the only decision left was which colour? When you’re spending a significant sum, this is not a decision to be taken lightly. We also had the disadvantage of not really knowing what style of kitchen we were going to install (and this is still a point of contention). Nick makes bespoke kitchens for a living, so it could be modern, it could be trad, it could be anything in-between. But we needed to order the AGA asap, before we ran out of budget and so that we could get it installed before the old kitchen was ripped out. So, in the interests of flexibility and timelessness we went with classic black – a colour that can look contemporary or trad depending on the rest of the décor. Yes, it’s a safe choice but safe is wise when buying an appliance that costs more than your family car and will most likely outlive you.
Our AGA eR3 Series 100-4i arrived last September, delivered by two very lovely AGA installers who got it up and running within hours. Unfortunately (or fortunately for his business), Nick’s workload went postal at around the same time and the construction of our kitchen was put on hold for “a few months”. Instead he rigged up a really very serviceable (if hand-knitted) temporary kitchen, allowing our builder to work on turning the old kitchen into a laundry/utility and letting us at least enjoy the new extension.
Now I am hugely grateful that we ordered the AGA ahead of schedule because it kept us warm and cosy throughout winter (the central heating being awol during renovations), and I’ve had plenty of time to get my head around the AGA way of cooking. I was determined to be brave with my AGA, and not chicken out and skulk back to the old electric oven when the going got tough. By which I mean cooking without being able to see if cakes are rising and without access to a precise, real-time temperature display. By far my biggest help with this mission has been the cookbook, by Mary Berry of course, that came with our AGA. Every recipe lists which shelf to use, and when to insert the cooling shelf to stop things over-browning. Followed to the letter, and keeping the faith, so far I have had 100% success. I’ve also been excited (possibly too excited) about some of the new things I’ve discovered my AGA can do. Like cook perfect stone-baked pizzas in 10 minutes or less (directly on the base of the oven). And cook fry-ups for 10 people without having to juggle endless pans (by using the top shelf of the oven as a grill and frying eggs directly on the hotplate.
I am Mary Berry-grade obsessed with baking (but with far fewer skills) so it turns out my AGA and I were made for one another. We’ve made quite a few mistakes during our renovation project, some more spectacular than others, but investing in an AGA has definitely proved one of our better decisions. It already feels like a member of the family, something I probably shouldn’t admit ‘out loud’, and now all I need is a kitchen that is worthy…
Linda Clayton is an interiors journalist specialising in kitchens and bathrooms for the past 20 years. Working from her home in a small village on the edge of Dartmoor, she writes for Homes & Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors, Livingetc and many more. You can follow her kitchen extension progress in her column for Real Homes magazine and on Instagram @lindaclaytonwrites