The Irish kitchen: Still the heart of the home

by Louise Higgins
Words Louise Higgins

How to create a more traditional Irish atmosphere, and add character and charm while maintaining modern functionality in the kitchen.

Traditionally, the kitchen has always been and continues to be the true heart of the Irish home. It’s the place where family, friends and neighbours congregate to share stories, laughter and solve all the world’s problems over a nice cuppa.

This past year has seen us become reacquainted with our kitchens − making, baking, working, schooling and enjoying time with our families. More time now spent at home offers an ideal opportunity to plan a kitchen upgrade or renovation. So, let’s have a look at what can be done to create a more traditional Irish atmosphere, and add character and charm while maintaining modern functionality.

Traditional Touches

Shaker-style cabinets are timeless in design; they can work well in both traditional and modern-style kitchens. Solid wood works best as it can be left natural with a wax or varnish finish, or painted with a heritage paint colour.

A large farmhouse-style table with bench seating will provide a touch of nostalgia. It will also maximise seating in a much-in-demand space that now may have to function as a home office, a study room, mini-cinema or virtual conference room.

Other items to add a traditional look include an AGA oven, Belfast sink and wicker baskets built into the island or kitchen units. A dresser will instantly add charm and extra storage and is also perfect for displaying dainty vintage china.

Vintage-Inspired Accessories

Add accessories to enhance a traditional kitchen or simply add some rustic charm to a modern kitchen, such as unique antique or reclaimed pieces like a statement ceiling pendant. In a traditional kitchen, it is usual to hang favourite pots, pans and utensils in full view – making them stand out as part of the kitchen décor.

Other homely accessories to consider are retro glass, tin or ceramic canisters and bread bins, hanging dish drying racks or traditional heavy glazed stoneware mixing bowls. Lots of appliance manufacturers are now producing vintage-inspired kitchen gadgets such as kettles, toasters and food mixers, based on the classics that we all know and love, and these are just perfect for a kitschy retro revival kitchen.

Irish Furniture Makers

We have some fabulously talented furniture makers in Ireland, so why not consider adding a real Irish touch while also supporting local craftspeople with pieces such as a súgán chair, rocking chair or wooden stools?

Once a familiar sight in kitchens all over Ireland, the súgán chair is crafted without nails and is joined with mortise and tenon joints to hold it together with a sturdy woven seat of ‘súgán’, the Irish word for hemp rope, although today twine is more commonly used. Traditionally they were considered an heirloom to be handed down to the next generation – no wonder, as they do last a lifetime!

A Retro Vibe

Create a throwback in time with some funky accessories to give your kitchen that old-school vibe. A retro refrigerator can be both charming and stylish, and a vintage radio or rotary dial phone can be fun and functional accents.

A classic black and white checkerboard floor works well even in a very modern kitchen, as will a gingham tablecloth and napkins. For a paint colour-palette, there are plenty of options from vibrant primary colours to a dusty rose or yellow reminiscent of a sun-faded Polaroid.

Country Chic

A country-style kitchen has an enduring appeal and can work whether your home is surrounded by open fields or in the centre of the city. Combine pantry cupboards with modern kitchen appliances and elegant lighting for a chic country kitchen. Never be afraid to mix styles and add contemporary elements to give a sophisticated but homely ambience.

Welcome natural elements such as wooden beams, floorboards and window frames, as well as accessories such as chunky chopping boards, turned wooden bowls and carved spoons.

Eclectic Mood

Adding eclectic touches to the kitchen is a fantastic way to showcase individual creativity. World trav-ellers, collectors of fine objects and colour enthusiasts can showcase all the unique items they have curated over the years, adding and removing elements, blending styles and hues, textures and periods.

Some homeowners are now moving away from the clean-cut kitchen and embracing a more layered and colourful approach that expresses individual personality and tastes. Mixing contemporary fitted kitchen units with free-standing furniture, floating shelves and colourful dishware can all work to make a unique and magical kitchen.

Kitchen Aromas

There are many aromas that we associate with an Irish kitchen such as the smell of freshly baked bread, Sunday roasts, turf burning in the stove, a vase of garden flowers and freshly baked apple tart. These aromas were once guaranteed to attract all the family without the need to holler or text!

With the popularity of home-baking and cooking most definitely on the rise, we have rediscovered the value of gathering around the kitchen table for a family meal. Times will change as will our daily routines. The kitchen, however, will always remain the heart of the Irish home.

An Irish kitchen

Louise Higgins, founder of Aspire Design, is an award-winning designer and a graduate of the Interior Design Academy of Ireland. Louise is a full member of the Interiors Association and is also a member of the Crafts Council of Ireland. For further advice, contact Louise at 045-982265 or visit

  • ‘The Irish kitchen: Still the heart of the home’ is published in Anthology Volume 15. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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