Kitchens the Way they Used to Be
British Standard in Hoxton aims to bring the best of English cabinet making to a wider audience
Article by Rupert Watkins
The firm’s parent company, Plain English, was launched in 1984 as a high-end bespoke kitchen manufacturers. Having been based in Hoxton since its inception, in 2011 the firm was approached by the Prince’s Trust though the Trust’s stipulation was that Plain English create a more accessible line – so British Standard was born specialising in very high grade off the shelf kitchen fittings.
Chatting with British Standard’s Managing Director Euan Goodman, the cupboards are built in very small batches, barely a dozen, a range of sizes is available to allow the customer to build their ideal kitchen – rather like a Lego brick concept. The customers take the lead throughout the creative process, in the design, delivery and decorating. The units are finished with a high quality undercoat but it is up to the customers to construct and finish the various cabinet in situ. Due to this factor, many new customers are savvy, internet aware young professionals (usually early 40s) – able and happy to complete the physical work required.
British Standard’s units are solid wood, the panels constructed from marine grade birch plywood whilst the remainder of each cupboard is fashioned from tulip – a type of poplar. Draws are of full four sided construction with proper dovetailing for the draw front. The huge advantage of this is that the pieces can be re-finished, repaired and re-painted as the customer and owner desires, either to refresh over time what is a very personal family working space or undo the damage of young children, pets and untoward cooking experiments.
Compared to the full bespoke offerings of Plain English which start at £45,000, British Standard’s average order currently sits at a more modest £6,500. However, the full bespoke options are, as one would expect, created and refined to the nearest millimetre. Euan commented that the firm has heard unsubstantiated reports that within the M25 a full bespoke Plain English kitchen substantially adds to the value of a property.
Euan himself came to British Standard two years ago. Possibly somewhat unconventionally in the craft and design arena, Euan came from a background as a British Army Officer and then working in private security. He subsequently studied at the Chippendale School of Furniture in Scotland for a year and a half. Following a short spell for a furniture maker in Norfolk, he was appointed Managing Director at British Standard.
The past couple of years have seen constant growth for British Standard. Indeed, this past month has been a record breaking one for the company. Both developers and A List celebrities have beaten a path to Hoxton Square (Euan though is coyly tight lipped about who..). So far over 2015, Euan has seen the breakdown of private buyers against commercial developers sitting at 70 to 30 per cent – a substantial rise in commercial sales on previous years. Developers are becoming ever more aware of British Standard as a high grade made in Britain option – an arena of growth Euan is happy to see develop.
Existing in a very competitive sphere, British Standard’s opposition comes from firms such as Neptune and deVOL. Domestic custom is critical as the overseas market is currently negligible. Given recent success, British Standard is looking to re-invest in its factory and upgrade a number of its production processes. Despite these upgrades, the heart of the business beats in its craftsmen. Retention has always been excellent – many of the cabinet makers have been with the business since the parent company Plain English started in 1984. In consultation with the Prince’s Trust, a range of apprenticeship courses are being worked on to ensure the skills and care lavished by the company on its wares continues in the future.
To complete the outfitting of a kitchen, British Standard has trade agreements with Bosch for the appliances and Villeroy & Boch for the sinks. Euan also commented that many customers scour reclaim firms and websites for original fittings or to source a more quirky Victorian/ Edwardian vintage item.
British Standard’s Hoxton Square showroom is utilised to show the range of colour possibilities that can be used with their kitchens. Their ground floor salesroom uses a brighter palette to show how hallway paints can be used in kitchens and the interior decoration blended from the front of the house through to the back. Downstairs, it is more traditional, subdued kitchen colours.
A new website is under development which Euan hopes will be launched towards the end of the year. This will include an online design tool which will allow customers to choose the types of fittings and input the necessary detail for the craftsmen to begin construction of the required cabinets. British Standard staff will still double-check the details for the client and cross check potential problems. Currently eight out of ten customers visit the shop for a face to face consultation; but Euan believes the design portal may see this drop to a 50:50 split to online orders against face to face ones – also allowing those unable to get to London to access the skills and quality of British Standard.
There is a plan the new site will also include a Youtube “how to” channel to aid customers finishing off installation. Euan hopes this blend of traditional English craftsmanship and technology found in Hoxton Square will, “drag joinery into 2015”.