How to create the perfect party kitchen in a historic home

For owners of historically important houses, creating a kitchen in tune with 21st-century living can be a headache. Wood Hall is an example of just how well they can turn out - Freya Hardman found out how.

Brian and Annabel Charlesworth have lived in Wood Hall, near Downham Market, since 1974, but it wasn’t until 2009 that they decided to redesign the kitchen. Their aim was clear from the outset: to create a timeless look, repurposing as many items from around the house and grounds as possible, and to design the scheme in-house with the help of local Norfolk craftsmen.

Finalists in the Historic Houses Kitchen Award 2019. The kitchen at Wood Hall, Norfolk – the home of Brian and Annabel Charlesworth.

The project began with three painted Victorian pine cupboards found in a potting shed. Left unpainted and in their original condition – complete, in one case, with gardener’s notes down one side—they have been repurposed as china cupboards. Slate slabs discovered in an old larder were re-employed as work surfaces and new wooden plinths were made for a table top that was sitting in an outbuilding.

‘It’s now known as a ‘drawing room’ for the couple’s pugs, Augustus and Black Jack’

The room, which measures nearly 30ft by 30ft, is ideal for hosting parties. As a result, a central island was dismissed in favour of a butcher’s block on wheels and a table found in an antiques market. ‘We wanted to ensure that the configuration of the room could be rearranged at any time, for example, if we want to have more tables for a large dinner party,’ explains Mr Charlesworth.

Finalists in the Historic Houses Kitchen Award 2019. The kitchen at Wood Hall, Norfolk – the home of Brian and Annabel Charlesworth. Photograph: Simon Brown/Country Life

Further decorative details were sourced locally, including the pictures, which are mainly by East Anglian artists. A blacksmith was commissioned to make hooks and racks; these are now home to antique kitchenalia, such as copper pans and wooden salad bowls, collected over the years by Mrs Charlesworth. The old fireplace was opened up and the reveal decorated with pictures of dogs. It’s now known as a ‘drawing room’ for the couple’s pugs, Augustus and Black Jack.