Visit our parent company, Plain English for bespoke kitchen design and fitting
Plain English, the joinery company started by Katie Fontana and Tony Niblock in 1992, celebrates its 20th birthday in 2012. Its roots lay in the Suffolk longhouse Katie and Tony built together and for which Katie designed the kitchen cupboards. Simple in style and construction, based on early Georgian ‘below stairs’ designs and quite different to anything you could buy on the high street at the time, the cupboards were an instant success when they appeared in Homes & Gardens. The couple was inundated with phone calls from readers wanting to know where they could buy the kitchen so they did what anyone would do under the circumstances: they turned their kitchen into a showroom and started selling cupboards.
Today Plain English is one of the most highly regarded kitchen companies in the UK, valued for its understated elegance, its design integrity and the quality of its handmade cupboards. However, with an average price tag of £50,000- 60,000 for a kitchen, it’s left its humble beginnings far behind, until March 2011, when an idea came from an unexpected source and an impending anniversary provided an excuse to reconnect with the past.
In 2010, Plain English was invited by The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment to collaborate on its Natural House project – a building template for housing developers to show that mid-priced houses could be made from UK-sourced, environmentally sustainable materials and designed in a simple, classical style. The Foundation wanted to put a Plain English kitchen in the house because the quality and simplicity of the cupboards future-proofed it. They knew the joinery was of a quality that would ensure the kitchen lasted as long as the house and the painted cupboards could be updated with a lick of paint and different ironmongery. In effect, you could have a new kitchen without harming the environment or the bank balance.
When Prince Charles opened The Natural House at The Ideal Home Show in 2011 he noted the quality of the kitchen and asked Katie “How can we get this to the people?” Bearing in mind the cost of a Plain English kitchen nowadays, it seemed the only answer was “We can’t.” But his comment struck a chord with Katie and Tony who had started Plain English designing and making standard-sized cupboards that were fitted by the clients themselves. Here was a challenge they felt ready to take on.
Katie responded to this call-to-action by designing a ‘no frills’ collection of off-the-shelf cupboards, in just the same way she had done for her own longhouse kitchen back in 1992 only this time they could be bought online with no design, delivery or fitting service. By doing away with the extras that give Plain English its bespoke edge, British Standard can sell cupboards that are of equal quality but at a much reduced price.
“We wanted to celebrate 20 years of Plain English by taking a lead from His Royal Highness, Prince Charles: going back to basics and making cupboards that ordinary people can afford - ‘sensible cupboards at sensible prices’. We are also paying tribute to the British craftsmen of the past whose honest, unfussy but eminently practical designs provided the original inspiration for Plain English all those years ago.”
Katie Fontana, Creative Director
Plain English & British Standard by Plain English