We may earn revenue from the products available on this page and participate in affiliate programs.

Most people who remodel want to bring their home into the present, not take it back to the past. But creative couple Jolene Ellis and Chris Graves aren’t your average renovators. When the cofounders and principals of London-based interior design studio Clarence & Graves bought a pair of adjacent apartments in Somerset, England, the first thing they did was turn back the clock. The kitchen was clearly stuck in the 1980s (the walls had spots, there was no sink, and the ceiling was too low for comfort), and they sought to infuse it with some 1800s charm. “It felt emotionally and physically distant, whereas it needed to be the heartbeat of a majestic manor apartment,” says Graves. 

The couple was fiercely against anything shiny and new. No waterfall island. No sleek hardware. No fancy, Bluetooth-compatible appliances. Anything they brought in had to be warm and tactile and have the ability to get better with age. “There’s something about boiling a kettle on the Aga range, while also having modern conveniences at arm’s length. It’s a joyful room,” says Ellis. For the cabinetry, they collaborated with British kitchen design brand DeVol, whose team of designers they tasked to bring their vision to life. Here are some moments that help keep the historic spirit of the kitchen alive.

The Bold and the Beautiful 

The kitchen, before.

No color was off the table…or walls or cabinets. Ellis and Graves borrowed equal inspiration from India and Georgian-era England, enlivening the walls and ceiling in turmeric and the DeVol millwork in dark green. “We wanted to respect the integrity and bones of the building while introducing a twist,” says Graves.

Likewise, they went terracotta supernova in the nearby utility room, brightening it with Farrow & Ball’s Book Room Red and a floral wallpaper by House of Hackney, and crowning the built-in storage with polished Sapele wood to make it look like a piece of furniture. (You’d never know there is a washer and dryer hidden underneath.)

“Sink” Outside the Box

An easy thing to do would have been to put the sink under the window, but Ellis and Graves didn’t want to rob guests of the view outside. Instead they chose to flip the script by installing the basin on the opposite wall, along with a 20-foot stretch of cabinetry. Above it, the couple added open shelves for wine, books, and curios, and in the alcove they popped in a red-and-white-stripped Ralph Lauren wallpaper (a cheaper alternative to antique tile), although they don’t plan on keeping it forever. “We tested it for durability with a cheerful thrashing of tea bags, but we intend to refresh it every year,” says Ellis.

Flooring Reincarnated

The kitchen, before.

While the old carpeting in the kitchen was too warm (and impractical), the designers also didn’t want to replace the flooring with cold tile. They preferred something in between and with a history. They found their answer in the Georgian floorboards that now grace the room, salvaged from a townhouse in London’s Chelsea neighborhood. “We were forensic with the patina and laid out the entire floor on grass, rejecting any boards that didn’t blend,” muses Graves, admitting that the wood was a splurge but “they make you feel like you’re living in a beautifully lit painting, so they were definitely worth every penny!” The tile on the floor in front of the Aga range is equally special: The couple sourced the pieces from an old 1920s hacienda in Seville, managing to get their hands on 10 square feet of product. 

Vintage Novelties 

Sticking to their original plan of no new furniture, the chestnut dining table carries nicks and chips from 1910, while the prep counter behind it is a vintage find from a long-gone shop. There’s also a bench to the side, which once graced a French railway platform, and the Aga range, which the couple inherited from the previous owners. The only actually new thing is the DeVol pendant lamp, but they love it because it looks like it’s been there for ages. “It creates an almost filmic dining experience,” says Ellis. 

Even though the kitchen is sort of like a time machine, the room still meets their everyday needs. “It’s the perfect spillover spot for when supper gets busy or the kids turn up with half a class of hungry teens,” says Graves with a laugh.