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John and Emma Sims-Hilditch’s Chichester kitchen through the decades

John and Emma Sims-Hilditch’s Chichester kitchen through the decades

Thirty-odd years ago, John and Emma Sims-Hilditch bought a rundown cottage, formerly a school house, in the Wiltshire countryside. With three young children and fledgling businesses to run (Emma heads up interior design practice Sims Hilditch), they needed to settle in quickly and chose an off-the-peg kitchen to suit their stretched budget. ‘I soon realised the limitations of the kitchen we’d bought,’ recalls John, ‘not least the bits you couldn’t see. They were flimsy and badly made, and so, when we launched Neptune and started making furniture, it was an obvious progression to experiment with freestanding kitchen pieces such as an island and chopping block, and eventually freestanding kitchen cabinets.’

Those prototype cabinets went on to become Neptune’s Chichester kitchen, tried and tested in John and Emma’s first family kitchen, then moved – lock, stock and barrel – during a major renovation, and finally, re-coloured and restored to their present day glory.

Here’s the story of one kitchen that has most definitely stood the test of time.

Creating a kitchen

John and Emma’s first kitchen occupied a fair five metre by four metre room and needed to work hard for the busy family of five. ‘Emma and I had always admired the beauty of bespoke kitchens,’ said John, ‘but we didn’t have the budget for one. So that was my challenge – to create a kitchen that felt bespoke but which was also accessible price-wise.’ The solution was to create standalone cabinets – pieces of furniture in their own rights – which, when pushed together, created a fully optimised kitchen. ‘One of the best ideas was to make each cabinet dissimilar in size,’ adds John. ‘Not being regular gave a subtle, bespoke look when the cabinets were fitted.’ An AGA was ‘parked’ in the corner with cabinets either side, while a sink and potboard sat to one side of the room. On the other, the family liked the idea of a dresser but needed efficient storage, so John designed a run of cabinets with a central break-out profile to look like a dresser. The final addition was a classic farmhouse oak table which still takes pride of place in the kitchen to this day.

Moving a kitchen

The family loved living in the school house but, when a plan to renovate the out-buildings was hatched, Emma was quick to request that the kitchen be relocated to the old pony barn. John was happy to acquiesce but felt it was wasteful not to move the existing kitchen into the new space. As the cabinets had all been made as individual pieces, this wasn’t such a far-fetched idea. ‘We disassembled the kitchen, refurbished and repainted it, then reassembled it in the barn,’ recalls John. The layout was reversed so the dresser now ran from left to right and a larder cabinet, which had been added to the collection in the intervening years, was incorporated into the new design. ‘Proof of just how versatile the cabinets are,’ notes John. The larger floorspace also allowed for a new arrangement of the cabinets. ‘The AGA sits centrally and cabinets are balanced on either side, but we have the larder and fridge on one side and on the other is the doorway,’ he explains, ‘it has satisfying balance but not symmetry.’

Re-colouring a kitchen

In 2021, John and Emma were keen to update their kitchen once again, this time with colour. ‘The Chichester kitchen has a timeless, historical feel to it, fitting into any space,’ says John. ‘Its style is established by the colours, layout and details like handle choices.’ The Sims-Hilditch kitchen had started life in a pale, neutral Limestone shade; when it was relocated, it was repainted in a classic combination of greys from our Pebble collection. In its latest guise, the island has been painted in the striking Olive shade. ‘The joy of our paint collection is that we’ve worked so hard to make the shades harmonious that, no matter what combination of colours you chose, they will pretty much work well together,’ adds John. The simple paintwork project has breathed new life into this Chichester kitchen, as the family have noticed. ‘Repainting cabinets brings a freshness to something that is familiar,’ he continues. ‘It doesn’t feel out of place but it does feel special.’

You can find out more about our kitchen collections online or in your local Neptune store.