Designer Minnie Kemp explains how to design a personality-filled kitchen, even in a small space

Livingetc's design columnist Minnie Kemp has all the perfect ingredients to help you cook up the best kitchen decor

Kitchen designed by deVOL in the Fisherman's Cottage in St Ives
(Image credit: deVOL)

Lee Miller is one of my heroes. If you are ever in Sussex you must visit Farleys House where she and surrealist artist Roland Penrose lived from 1949.  Among many other talents, Lee was a fantastic cook and often held incredible surrealist dinner parties with guests including Man Ray, Max Ernst and Joan Miro.  Behind the simple white Aga in the kitchen is a tiled backsplash with a smiling face embedded within  – a piece of work by Picasso himself! Installed off-centre, its magic lies in the surprise – it is unexpected, utterly charming and, of course, unique. Exactly what you want from a kitchen backsplash idea

Dark green kitchen island in large country kitchen

Kitchen design by Neptune

(Image credit: Neptune)

The same unassuming magic can be created easily in your own kitchen, even if you don’t have access to your own Picasso. Both deVOL and Neptune kitchens are full of character, providing a rich layering of detail and personality.  Simply add funky mid-century teapots found on 1stDibs, colourful tea towels or interesting cupboard handles to your kitchen cabinet ideas. Don’t go for fads, instead buy items that you will treasure forever. Have a look at Dinosaur Designs’ handmade resin homewares.  I love the leafy green salad bowls that look like mini sculptures when stacked on contrasting swirled plates. 

It can look really interesting to play with shades of green, darker in the centre and lighter round the edges, to add depth to your space

Minnie Kemp

If you are looking to renovate but small kitchen ideas are your speed then go for a distressed antique mirror backsplash and Shaker-style painted cupboards. Arebescato tops are so chic and it’s a very resilient marble. Wooden surfaces are always attractive because of the price but honestly they just get damaged so quickly – if you can possibly afford it then go for a honed concrete or granite countertop. Over time, you won’t regret the decision, I promise. 

Green kitchen with parquet flooring

(Image credit: Mark C. O'Flaherty)

For big statement kitchen inspiration let me take you to Liguria in north-west Italy. Here you will find the quirkiest kitchen of all designed by Ugo Nespolo in 1987.  The focal point is a black oversized extractor fan covered in colourful,  sculptural fruits: a giant yellow pear sits next to a lilac bunch of grapes, it’s truly fabulous!  Colourblocking is an easy way to funk up your kitchen space.  

Nespolo has added cobalt blue accents to an otherwise ivory cupboard situation.  If you are going for Shaker-style cupboards, it can look really interesting to play with green kitchen ideas, going darker in the centre and lighter round the edges, to add depth to your space. Two wooden glass cabinets sit above the simple sink set up and, ingeniously, Nespolo has either frosted or sandblasted the glass with a fruit pattern design mimicking the extractor fan but playing with scale. So simple yet brilliant – the perfect recipe for kitchen design.

Minnie Kemp is an interior designer, part of the team of design experts at the Firmdale Hotel Group. She has worked on the interiors of international hotels such as The Whitby Hotel and the Crosby Street Hotel in New York, and Ham Yard and Charlotte Street Hotel in London. She has also been involved in designing various residential projects in both the Unite States of America and the United Kingdom. She is the interiors columnist for Livingetc, reporting on trends and offering advice on home design and decor, and she was a judge on the first Livingetc Style Awards in 2021.