Celebrating its tenth anniversary at Allen Mill this year, the delightful Red Onion Kitchens design studio has also undergone a change of leadership, as a few years ago owner Chris Charlton passed responsibility for the business on to his daughter Katherine Armstrong, who has twenty years experience in the design and construction trades. She was out and about on a variety of sites this month (she says that December is always the busiest month for the business) so I was lucky to be able to chat with Chris about the past decade.
The family-run business has been very successful, Chris says, because as an independent design studio it can use components from a variety of manufacturers to create the ideal project for their clients. The studio offers a personal, bespoke service that’s tailored to the needs and desiderata of their customers, whatever their budget. The finished kitchens on the firm’s website are stunningly beautiful, and other examples can be seen for real in the studio.
Red Onion Kitchens use only a dedicated team of first class installers, and each project is personally overseen by Katherine herself, after consultation with the clients about their lifestyle. Everyone, I’m sure, has a different approach to how they work, live and play in their kitchen, so the first consultation is very important in the whole design process. The business takes the design and installation teams all throughout Northumberland, Co Durham and Weardale, and indeed across the whole of the North Pennines.
Chris was delighted to note that Katherine has been involved in the CAD (Computer Assisted Design) work from the beginning, translating his pen and ink drawings into computer design representations that help to show the new design’s features accessibly to the clients. So it was a natural progression for her to take over the business in July of 2016. Nowadays though, Katherine does the design work straight onto the computer, without needing a hand-drawn interface.
I asked Chris how the business finds its customers. Although there are Red Onion Kitchens advertisements in colour magazines like the quarterly Tyne Valley Living magazine (a supplement to the weekly Hexham Courant), most of the current clients come to the design studios by recommendation, word-of-mouth from satisfied customers, he says.
People are becoming more conscious these days, `Chris noted, of energy efficiency, as well as the functional and aesthetic parameters of the new kitchen. So LED lighting, remote control of appliances, and the energy ratings of things like dishwashers (which, in any event, are said to be more energy-efficient than the old fashioned washing-up in the kitchen sink). It takes a bit of ‘getting to know’ the clients and their lifestyle too, in the design process: do they expect to entertain around a central island, for example, as a sort of social focus? Is the kitchen a live-in space, or more of a functional workplace dedicated to the chef/cook? All of these things contribute to the design, which owes a great deal to the sensitivities of the designer who always seeks to ensure that the space is a wonderful fit to the brief supplied by the clients.
Chris mentioned that the display rooms at the studio in Allen Mill are constantly updated; new items like wine chillers or other appliances, new colours and materials are today’s representations of clients’ contemporary desiderata.
A particularly important part of the Red Onion Kitchens business model is the professionalism and dedication of the installation team. Eric and Adam Bates have been with the firm since the outset in 2009, and they do all of the installation work according to the design agreed with the client. So it’s a careful, efficient and robust process with trusted workers and a kind designer cooperating to provide the very best service and a new kitchen at the end of it.
It really is a dedicated team, with the capacity to provide just the sort of attention to craft and detail that anyone would love to have in developing their new kitchen! And today brings news of a new award to this energetic family business, one of the Top 10 best kitchen designs in the country as awarded by KitchenStori. Congratulations Katherine!