One thing that's very noticable when going through the design of your dream Huf Haus is that the Huf people don't include a "standard" kitchen as part of the "standard" house.
Compare that with the bathroom situation where a decent standard comes as, erm, standard, and then a set of options can be applied to upgrade it right up to posh hotel levels of luxury. And if that's not enough for yer, then they have their StilART people waiting in the wings who can design you a bespoke solution, at a cost mind, which would make the Onassis family jealous. But I'd say that 99 times out of 100, there's still plenty of the standard bathroom somewhere underneath even the wildest StilART creation.
So why don't they offer a similar approach for kitchens?
Well, it's because kitchens are too personal, too emotional, too non-standard by their very nature. 99 times out of a 100, the Huf owner wants something different; something completely different, as the Monty Python people would say. So the Huf people pragmatically offers us a 'kitchen base' as part of the package, and that base includes the following:
Lemme see, I'll carefully review that list to see if I've forgotten anything. Da di da di dah. Nope, it's all there.
Now most people would consider that to be a bit too minimalist, although I have a mate who wouldn't notice as long as he has somewhere to plug in a kettle. But for the rest of us the concept leads yer to two possible solutions: Call in the StilART people, who will suck on their pencils and work with you to design your wet-dream of a kitchen; or to call in some non-Huf related kitchen people to do likewise.
What's important to remember is that the water and electrical channels are built into the very guts of the Huf Haus, so whatever kitchen layout you end up going with needs to be with the Huf people before they start to manufacture yer house in their Hartenfels factory. They'll make a few clicks on their CAD-CAM design software and lo and behold yer electrics and water'll be in the right places when your kitchen people turn up months later to do their work. As we found out, they have some limited flexibility to move a few water pipes and electric cables about once the house is up and standing, but they can't make any radical changes without open heart surgery - and that comes at a serious cost.
So yer want to have a kitchen layout figured out before the build, or you're sunk.
The second thing to remember is that no pesky kitchen installer is allowed anywhere near yer Huf Haus until after the formal handover. This might seem like a case of over-formality, but there're a myriad reasons that make this a necessity: site insurance is an obvious one; workers tripping over each other, is another; water and electricity flowing as needed - or not flowing, as needed; floor tiles in place; etc etc etc.
So, here's a recap of the research that Claudia and I went through before landing on our own kitchen.
During our trip to Hartenfels, we had an afternoon with the StilART people; mostly on the bathroom 'cos we wanted a fancier double sink unit than comes as standard. Anyways, we also discussed the kitchen 'cos the setup in the showhouse really did look good. We left them with an outline of what we had in mind, and then waited to see what their offer would cost out as.
In parallel, we looked at some of the fancier kitchen suppliers that we're up to our necks in around Zürich.
First stop was Poggenpohl, a German manufacturer.
Now you should understand that out here in Switzerland there are people who would rather cook on an open fire built into a refugee camp gutter than to choose anything other than Poggenpohl. It's posh, it's stylish, it's tasteful, it's the tip of the top. We walked into a veritable Aladdin's cave of cool kitchens, drooling as we looked left and right.
Unfortunately, Poggenpohl's also bloody expensive.
The 'representative' took one look at my shoes and clothes, and then rushed us through a design to see how the costs might look. That quick estimate told us that the bare units without the electronics yer might need for cooking, indeed without the doors yer need to hide them pots and pans and cutlery, would be significantly outside our price range. Like 50% more than we had in our budget for the lot. I'm serious. We exited stage left feeling like tramps that had accidentally walked into Claridges instead of the soup kitchen next door.
I have to stress that the Poggenpohl bloke was really very tactful with us, and very likely saved us all a lot of time and bother.
What would I recommend to you? Well, in theory yer Huf Haus is the Bentley of "factory-made component houses", so it deserves the Bentley of the kitchen world. Is that Poggenpohl then? Well, very likely. They're both German nowadays anyway. Maybe Claudia and I were in the wrong movie, as they say, and massively unbudgeted for what should be a significant cost in our Huf Haus project? Maybe we really are skinflints, and we should have devoted about 10% of the entire project budget to the bloody kitchen. But we didn't, so there.
Go and see for yourself, and if yer appetite and budget stretches to Poggenpohl, then go for it. What they have is beautiful, truly beautiful.
Next stop was with a local supplier who handles the SieMatic brand, also from Germany.
The first thing we did was to establish whether we could afford the bloody prices. This rather upset the salesman who's more used to discussing such indelicacies as dosh somewhere towards the end of the sale process. Preferably while you're reading the final invoice placed upon the worktop of your new kitchen that'd been installed some weeks previously.
Slimey salesman git.
Still, this was our first opportunity to do some real research. And here's what we found: The better of yer modern kitchens have doors and drawers that don't make scraping and banging noises when you shut 'em. Oh no. They slide almost shut in a single silky motion, and then, by virtue of their built-in dampers, slowly but surely close the last bit all by themselves. The drawers themselves should be made of wood laminate or metal, and abso-bloody-lutely not be made of plastic. As goes the cupboard and drawer handles; if they have 'em, 'cos the fashion these days is to have door-width slots to break yer finger nails in. And yer can stand in them drawers, and in fact when you open the bottom drawer in the kitchen showroom, look for footprints. If there aren't any, flag a passing pimp, erm, I mean helpful kitchen salesman, and dare him to do it. The door surfaces should be as hard as nails, nay harder than nails - as hard as a decent kitchen surface which is very very hard indeed. The designs themselves are too subjective for me to discuss here, but for sure the kitchen range should include something that'll make yer dreams come true.
And SieMatics of Deutschland offers you all of the above.
Indeed, as we found out a little later, it may be the cheapest entry to that level of quality that's available here in Switzerland. Your experiences in the UK or elsewhere might differ, but have a butchers at those details just in case.
Well, the pimp salesman did for us, so we moved on... and up up up to Bulthaup.
How best to describe Bulthaup? Well, Swiss designer stylish. Ever seen that Wallpaper* magazine? It's one of the few English language magazines available in a foreign airport newsagents without a photo of Keira bloody Knightly on the cover. If you know it, then you know it. Well, Bulthaup supply designer kitchens that even the snottiest and most elitist design snob couldn't sniff at; the kind of kitchens that yer see in Wallpaper*.
There're a couple of Bulthaup showrooms in Zürich, but the one we went into had easily the coolest kitchen salesman that ever existed. He was really a great guy, and we had hours of fun going through the Bulthaup range. When we'd found our look and feel, he waved his magic wand and created... art. That's what he was: an artist in the medium of kitchen sculpture. We discussed the philosophy behind the design, the original designer himself (twas some French bloke, I think). We discussed surfaces and textures and tones and shades and and and, and we discussed space and proportion.
Stainless steel worktops? But they'll scratch to buggery? Oh yes they will, but after a good few years scratching they'll look as scratched as a restaurant kitchen: i.e. they won't look scratched, they'll look glorious. Er wot? Downstairs for a look see into their training and cooking club centre, where the worktops get a serious hammering. Stainless steel worktops after a few years look... bloody glorious. We'll be having 'em.
I felt like a designer myself at the end of it all. Or as close as some git from Manchester gets.
But, and there was a BIG BUT, we couldn't afford the end result. No way. All concerned looked pained that the lack of readies had doomed all of this glorious creativity, but twas so. He choked with his pain. Claudia sighed wistfully. I clutched my wallet, and sighed with relief.
Still, there was a good outcome to all this wanky designer stuff. Up to the point we walked into Bulthaup, we were hellbent on fire-engine red cupboards and dark grey marble surfaces and a sort of barrier-reef row of tall kitchen cupboards. In between sobs into his handkerchief, our Bulthaup designer made us promise that we'd commit to the white cupboards, stainless-steel worktop and general layout of the pinnacle of kitchen beauty that he'd created for us. We promised, and exited to the sound of his heart-rending sobs.
Oh the horror of surviving alone in this world as an artist.
Next stop was Leicht, so back to the Germans. No more crying then. We walked into a major Swiss electronic chain (Fust, a sort of Comet equivalent) that supplies Leicht kitchens on some sort of strategic corporate deal, whatever that means.
By now we were kitchen veterans, and swooped in on the salesman fully prepared for battle. Poor sod never stood a chance.
We'll be having that design, with, erm, those cupboards and this layout. Nope, we said this layout. Yep. And a stainless-steel worktop, thanks muchly. Yes, we know it'll scratch. Yes. Yes. Look, we're having the bloody stainless-steel, alright? Alright. Cupboard doors in white. Yes we said white. Look, what part of white don't you understand? Right, so white it is. Oh, and those handles over there. No, the other sort breaks yer finger nails.
Oh, and open that bottom drawer and stand in it.
Now jump up and down.
Can yer sing?
No, yer can't sing can you.
Total cost in the post? Ta muchly. Bye.
He tried it on a bit, in a similar fashion to the SieMatics pimp, but to be honest we left him with no area to play his salesman games in.
But! But! But!
But the story continues just a little longer. The offer we received a week or so later contained a little cost time-bomb (on the electronics) that I wasn't going to put up with. So, Claudia and I walked into a small kitchen supplier in a nearby town called Baar. We'd noticed that it had a Liecht logo in the window, so worth a shot. We handed over the spec to the blokey (imagine a big cheery bloke with a red farmer's face and a vicelike handshake) and an hour or two later walked out with the deal done. He'd even spotted an implication that'd slipped past quite a few expert noses; a minor detail not worth noting here. Not telling. No.
Is there a moral or six in this story?
Probably a few: We had under budgeted on the kitchen. Which is equivalent to me confessing that we've blown our kitchen budget by 50%. Take yer pick. Oh, and using the 'all fur coat and no knickers' line of reasoning, what's the point of spending a bloody fortune on a Huf Haus build if yer gonna slap in some cheapo kitchen? Well, actually there is a point, and a family we visited a couple of years ago had done just that (Ikea) to get 'em through the first few years before they could afford their dream kitchen (a bloody Poggenpohl, of course). But the most important point to all this is not one of design or cost or whatnot. It's all about service and people and trust.
Look, I've really ripped the pee out of the Bulthaup designer, but the reality was that here was a salesman bloke who really cared a damn about what he was doing, and who he was doing it for. He's the star of this story, followed by the farmer who finally sold us the Leicht. One did the design, the other provided the good service. A bit rough on the designer and his sales figures, I must admit. The other salesmen were, to be honest, the kind of salesmen that we've all learned to fend off over the years.
A week or two later, the StilART offer came through the door: someone had been on holiday or sick or something. And the cost? Way way up there with Poggenpohl.
Some time later I'll go through the electronics story, but that'll have to do for now.