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A retired couple talk to JANE SLADE about how they ripped out their family kitchen and transformed it into an elegant dining area for the next phase of their lives

“We are spending the kids inheritance,” trills Teresa Scibor-Kaminski, dancing around her new kitchen which she and her husband have transformed into a modern, light sophisticated space.

Their new light, modern kitchen designed to take them into old age

Their new light, modern kitchen designed to take them into old age

The couple, in their early sixties, have lived in their beautiful four-storey Victorian home in South London since 1994. They paid just £239,000 for the five-bed property and brought up their three children there. But now their youngsters have flown the nest and instead of downsizing Teresa and Jurek are preparing their home for a new phase in their lives. They are sinking their savings into creating a home for themselves; for entertaining friends, accommodating guests and, if they need to, rent out one of the spare bedrooms.

“We thought about moving but couldn’t find anything,” says Jurek 64, a semi-retired businessman. “We also wanted to stay in the area as we have lots of friends here. We love the location as we are on a quiet street close to restaurants and shops.”

Their house, now worth in excess of £1 million, is also near the Couleur Café where they host weekly cocktail parties on Monday evenings. Here over a glass of wine locals gather to speak French for an hour to improve their language skills and indulge in a spot of networking.

Teresa is something of a local celebrity. She has for the past 30 years run le Club Tricolore, the longest-running children’s French club in the UK. She has taught the children of such luminaries as Lady Helen Windsor, Cherie Lunghi, James Naughtie, Jack Dee and Frank Lampard and continues to run classes and holiday courses for children and parents of all ages.

But now she and Jurek are free from the burden of paying school fees for their own children they are ripping out the kitch and given their dated pine family kitchen a makeover; “I have ditched all my old saucepans, chipped crockery and uncomfortable chairs and old table,” adds Teresa, 61. “Now I walk into a light uncluttered room with no finger marks on the walls; no dirty cups in the sink and my favourite food still in the fridge.”

The key elements to the couple’s new-phase kitchen was that it had to be high quality, affordable and easy to maintain. The Shaker Style Eden kitchen units Teresa chose from Benchmarx (a subsidiary of Travis Perkins) cost £14,000 yet is solid oak, with lots of space-saving drawers and cupboards on quality runners 

“We did have one or two quality control issues,” Teresa admits, “But fortunately my wonderful Polish builders were able to solve most of them. I am delighted with the overall effect and particularly that the painted doors and cupboards can be wiped clean with a damp cloth. If after a few years we want a change we can simply repaint them.

They chose large drawers to stow their saucepans and serving dishes, to save kneeling down to access the contents at the back of the cupboard; and stylish rounded corner cabinets. “We looked at so many kitchen company but could not find one to beat the quality and price of Benchmarx,” she said.

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She is similarly delighted with her Amtico Floor which cost £2,000; and, perhaps surprisingly, she chose over the more fashionable solid wood. “Our last Amtico floor still looked great after 20 years, so I didn’t hesitate to choose another,” she said. “It never needed polishing or scrubbing and looked as good as the day we bought it 20 years ago; I bought a lighter shade, American oak which looked better with our different layout.

“Everything has to be labour saving now,” adds Teresa. “I don’t want to be spending my old age polishing, scrubbing and cleaning or worrying about things breaking down or getting marked.”

Like their Miele washing machine which also lasted 20 years, Teresa has chosen the same makes for all her new appliances.

“This kitchen has to see us out,” she explains. “I don’t want to be replacing the dishwasher or washing machine in five years time. My previous machines were used very heavily and lasted well so I think it will be a good investment to have replaced them with the same brand.”

Jurek is particularly delighted that he won’t be shoved out into the garden to smoke his cigars anymore; due to their new extractor fan which uses external ventilation rather than recycled air. This is installed over their new easy-to-clean and energy-efficient Induction Hob. “We chose an induction hob because Jurek kept leaving the frying pan on our previous gas hob and going to watch the football on TV,” Teresa discloses.

For extra warmth they have installed piped underfloor heating and insulated the outside walls. “We don’t want to be cold in our old age,” she adds. “Because our kitchen extends to two outside walls we used to freeze in winter.”

They have also replaced their low-back, rickety raffia kitchen chairs with high-backed cream leather ones from John Lewis. “Comfort is so important particularly if our backs go,” Teresa laughs. “But I am going to Scotch Guard them so they are grandchildren proof.”

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Because the kitchen is open plan the couple also wanted items displayed on their top-of-the-range Silestone worktop, which has a speckled design so it won’t show the crumbs. Their chic food processor, kettle, toaster and saucepans from Cuisinart are all in chrome as is the latest Nespresso coffee machine from John Lewis. “This kitchen has to be timeless – I don’t want things that are going to go out of fashion, or make the kitchen look dated so I haven’t chosen any brightly-coloured gadgets,” Teresa adds.

The couple have also invested in quality lighting. They have threaded soft LED light under the units and on the top of cupboards, to give a warm glow; and ceiling spots on dimmers to create the right mood.

“We also had to consider energy costs; which is why we chose these wonderful low-energy LED lights which can transform the kitchen from a lovely bright light space in the mornings to a softer sophisticated setting in the evening.”

New curtains frame the French windows which lead from the dining area onto their garden and for a splash of colour they have replaced the cork notice-board of faded holiday postcards with two beautiful paintings from the award-winning artist Annabel Fairfax. They have also added a retro look with a GPO Carrington telephone (£32) and Steepletone Brighton Radio (£64.50), from QVC

“We wanted to make the dining area look elegant and separate from the kitchen,” Teresa adds, “Our friends are so impressed they are thinking of doing the same.”

FACTFILE