Moveable feast: eco friendly freestanding kitchen furniture.

Moveable feast: eco friendly freestanding kitchen furniture

It makes sense to have some kitchen furniture you can take with you when you move, such as island units, dressers and butcher's blocks. And if you want a more individual, eclectic kitchen, freestanding is the way to go

By Kay Hill
Homebarn Shaker style oak unit

If you commission a joinery firm to make you a kitchen, ask for some pieces that are dismantleable, so they can move house with you. Pictured above: freestanding Shaker style kitchen larder/dresser unit by Bucks-based Homebarn£1,695. It's made in Buckinghamshire from solid oak with plywood doors and has a paint finish.

Check out kitchens from IT Woodwork, DeVol, Sealey Furniture, Eastburn Country FurnitureMartin Moore & Company and Hutchinson Furniture. And you can find good inexpensive freestanding pieces at Ikea and M&S, big brands with strong eco credentials.

Most us don't expect to buy a new bed or sofa just when we move house – but we are led to believe that the first thing you do when you move in is order a new kitchen, regardless of whether the existing one has years of life still in it. It’s a destructive cycle of consumption which may be good for the kitchen industry but certainly isn’t good for the environment.
However, there's a glimmer of hope in the shape of a resurgence in popularity of freestanding kitchens. When grandma was a girl, of course, all kitchens were essentially freestanding, but everything changed in 1950 when Poggenpohl unveiled its Form 1000 range, widely regarded as the world’s first fitted kitchen. In a generation the whole market was transformed, and dressers and pantries were swept away in favour of broad sweeps of fitted base and wall units and uninterrupted worktops.
A fitted kitchen is still the choice of around 85 per cent of kitchen buyers. However the more eco-conscious are increasingly cottoning on to the fact that a freestanding kitchen can almost be a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. 
Sam Shaw, managing director at Bristol-based It Woodwork believes freestanding kitchens are an inherently more eco option because they're unlikely to be discarded:  'We try to push our clients towards freestanding pieces also because I feel they're more interesting and timeless. Most of our work is for people who are moving into a new house and when people move they realise a kitchen is a very personal thing - so they aren’t necessarily going to be happy with an inherited kitchen.'
Increation's island unit in this kitchen was made castors so it can be moved around. D900xL1800mm, American cherry veneer with mahogany stain. Caesarstone worktop. £2,500.
Fired Earth only uses wood from European or North American PEFC or FSC-certified, sustainably managed forests. This is the Vermont freestanding kitchen, in oak. Complete kitchens from £10,000.
Marks & Spencer’s Sonoma Light kitchen is made from solid oak and oak veneer, all from FSC sources, base units from £439.
Churchwood Design offers moveable furniture made from local UK timber and from recycled wood, uses Little Greene paints and heats its workshop with waste offcuts. Sink unit in painted pine from £3,500.
Freestanding oak dresser and window seat from Martin Moore & Co. Kitchens from £35,000.
freestanding wooden Shaker-style kitchen base unit with reclaimed pine top by Homebarn, made in Bucks, £795
Reclaimed antique apple crate island unit from Eastburn Country Furniture, from £1,150.
Perfect for tiny kitchens, the Ope Storage Cart by Valentina Carretta for Miniforms. Birch wood. Around £830.
Island unit with a breakfast bar from Woodstock Furniture, which usesFSC certified timber and heats its premises with briquettes made from its sawdust and waste wood. Kitchens from £30,000.
Butcher Boy reclaimed elm chopping block from Loaf, made in China, £645.
And Tim Newsome at design and build company Increation says freestanding pieces are useful because they make for more flexible living. He cites a kitchen they built for a client in east London, where the kitchen was fitted but the island unit was made on castors because the owner wanted to be able to move it out when guests came round and they needed to bring in a dining table. (And yes, Increation made the table so it comes apart and can be stored in a cupboard when not needed.) 
At Derbyshire-based Churchwood Design, which makes both fitted kitchens and freestanding pieces such as dressers and butchers blocks, designer Charlotte Ambler says freestanding pieces are a great way to supplement an existing kitchen 'or enable you to build on your freestanding kitchen gradually as budgets allow, giving you the opportunity to create a wonderful eclectic mix of colours and finishes.'
Choose wood
Of course, if a freestanding kitchen is going to be good enough to survive growing families and house moves it needs to be made sturdily – and eco-conscious buyers will also want raw materials that stand up to green scrutiny. With wood being the most common raw material, the first question always has to be about sustainability of timber.


DeVol’s freestanding Air Kitchen with its classic retro design is made from recyclable aluminium and long-lasting Corian, a solid surface material. From £20,000.
If you have the space and the budget, Roundhouse makes this splendid and extremely capacious larder/vestibule  unit. Freestanding FSC-cert wood pieces from £4,000.
Large moveable island unit great for food prep and informal dining by William Garvey, which aims to ensure its timber is sustainable for its bespoke kitchen furniture, like this large kitchen island. POA.
Hutchinson Furniture uses local British wood
IT Woodwork of Bristol says freestanding kitchen furniture probably won't ever be thrown out.
Churchwood Design offers freestanding furniture made from local UK timber and from recycled wood. Kitchen furniture can be made to come apart so it can move house.
Wood grown commercially in the UK is subject to the UK Forestry Standard which protects biodiversity, the environment and historic woodlands, and of course Britain doesn’t have issues of illegal logging damaging rainforests, pushing rare species of tree to extinction or interfering with the rights of indigenous peoples. Add to that the fact that it will have limited carbon use in its transportation and UK timber is always going to be a top choice. 
Charlotte Ambler is proud that all wood used by Churchwood Designs is from sustainable, managed sources close to their Derbyshire base to minimise travel and the timber’s carbon footprint.
And Mark Hutchinson at Hutchinson Furniture, based in Warwickshire, says 'local farmers & landowners know we will have trees that are being felled as part of good management. Everything is hand-made using timber from the woods close to our workshops.'
When wood comes from oversea an international accreditation such as FSC or PEFC can give peace of mind. The Forest Stewardship Council has been certifying timber since the 1993, the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification was founded in 1999. Both claim to prevent illegal and damaging logging, though it’s fair to say both schemes have their critics who say standards are neither high enough nor monitored with sufficient rigour. Nonetheless, a commitment to using only accredited wood does demonstrate that a company takes green issues seriously.
Jamie Telford, director of bespoke kitchen company Roundhouse likes to go a step beyond in terms of protecting trees: 'We use only those woods and veneers that meet the highest standards of FSC accreditation and we have a tree planting scheme in place. Roundhouse has been a corporate supporter of the Woodland Trust since 2011 and as part of this sponsors an area of Blackbush and Twenty Acre Shaw woods in the Downe Valley.' 
And he’s not alone; Sam Shaw at It Woodwork plants a new tree in a woodland scheme near Coventry every time he sells a kitchen - and the new owner gets a tree dedication certificate to prove it.


Eddingtons produces a range of kitchen trolleys made in Europe from FSC-certified solid beech. Shown here is the Lambourn 4-drawer trolley, with lockable castors, £895 at John Lewis
You can easily make a kitchen using inexpensive units such as this Varde birch wood base unit from Ikea, £300,L176cmxD90,
Possibly one for Russian oligarchs, handsome and very expensive steel kitchen from Florence-based Officine Gullo. The metal is recyclable.
Martin Moore & Co make high quality wooden kitchens with freestanding pieces such as cook's tables/islands
Black American walnut wine cabinet by Sealey Furniture.
Sam Shaw at IT Woodwork plants a new tree for every kitchen sold.
Perfect for flats, the compact Studio kitchen is made from recyclable materials including aluminium.
It’s not just any larder, it’s an M&S Padstow large two-door larder, £1,279. Marks & Spencer’s Plan A environmental pledge promises to only use FSC or similarly accredited timber.
Reclaimed wood
Another highly sustainable option is to use recycled or reclaimed timber. At its simplest that might mean buying freestanding kitchen units from a reclamation yard, or choosing new products made from preloved timber. Loaf, for example, makes its new Butcher’s Boy island in China, but from elm wood reclaimed from old buildings. Sam Shaw also uses reclaimed timber – a recent project turned old teak doors from a chemistry lab into unique kitchen cabinets.
Eastburn Country Furniture in Yorkshire specialises in bespoke kitchen furniture using a high proportion of recycled/reclaimed timber. With some pieces you would never know that the wood isn’t new, with others - such as the Apple Crate island - the wood’s historic antecedents only add to its charm. And you may be surprised to find the ultra-modern Chop&Change kitchen workbench from Mette is also made from recycled wood.
Freestanding products, by their very nature, are likely to last a long time, but materials that can be recycled easily always score higher eco-points.
For this reason you might also consider freestanding metal kitchens ranging from the ultra top-end Officine Gullo to the more modest but very stylish Studio kitchens from Gallery Kitchen Design as having good eco-properties; while DeVol’s fabulous and freestanding Air Kitchen mixes recyclable aluminium and wood with and long-lasting solid surface material Corian in its construction.
Metal worktops are recyclable and can contain recycled materials, while sustainable wood is always a good choice for worktops. 'Wood is the most popular and it's the most sustainable choice,' says Sam Shaw. 'Natural stones are also popular but we don’t use them in our most sustainable kitchens as stone is a limited resource that is dug out of the ground. Instead we try to push people towards polished concrete. The concrete is moulded around a core of reclaimed foam so it is lighter and uses less raw material. It uses local sand and cement and is made locally too.'
Another important point in kitchen manufacture is the finishes – paints, varnishes and glues that can be liable to off-gassing, but may be overlooked. Selecting a product with traditional tenon joints will avoid a lot of glue, while ensuring that your cabinets are finished with natural vegetable oils or minimal-VOC paint will go a long way towards ensuring healthy interior air quality.
Good companies use their waste
Some kitchen firms are trying hard to reduce the amount of waste they generate and to re-use it. It’s not unusual to find companies that heat their premises with their own waste – Churchwood Designs, Sealey Furniture, Roundhouse, Woodstock Furniture and It Woodwork all use their  wood offcuts to fuel their heating systems.
'The latest initiative at the our factory in Malvern,' says Roundhouse director Jamie Telford, 'takes it very close to carbon neutrality. All wood waste is now burned to heat the factory in a brand new biomass boiler which handles eight to 10 tonnes of wood waste per week, all of which previously went to landfill by road in skips.  Now it is all burned on site it doesn’t just heat the factory - the heat is used for other industrial processes such as lacquer curing.'
Recycling is a priority at It Woodworks. 'We take out hundreds of kitchens and we recycle almost every scrap of them,' says Sam Shaw. 'We stop our clients from just hiring a skip, instead we split up all the cabinetry and itemise it on Freecycle. The old appliances go too, and usually even the most obscure bits and pieces find a home with keen DIYers who are refurbishing their own kitchens, so rarely does anything go to waste.'
We all like to be green, but the bottom line is that we also want our homes to look lovely. In this case, says Lisa Elbourn at Fired Earth, there is no need to compromise: 'Freestanding kitchens have a relaxed and eclectic feel, with pieces being put together over time - so if things get that lived-in look this will be very much part of their appeal. This timeless charm ensures your kitchen won't date, so rather than feeling the need to completely overhaul it every few years – with all the waste that entails – you're likely to love your kitchen even more as time goes by.'
* If you are thinking about a freestanding kitchen that will need to move house with you, do let your joiner know so they can factor dismantle-ability into their designs. Obviously units with heavy stone work surfaces weigh a lot, so consider a lighter weight material if you're not going to be staying put in a property for decades.

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See our piece on worktops