With warm weather and the wedding season upon us, there is no better time for celebrating with loved ones than in the height of summer. It just so happens that National Afternoon Tea Week is about to arrive, a tradition that Elaine Lemm, an expert on both traditional and modern British cuisine, calls “the quaintest of English dining customs – one that we should make time for and enjoy together”. At Christopher Peters, our designs are not only built with beautiful aesthetics in mind, but functionality too. Listed below are just a few ways you can transform your dining kitchen space into the ultimate dining and entertaining area.
Afternoon tea was introduced to Britain in the early 1840s after Anna Maria Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, had dinner served fashionably late, at 8 o’clock. In order to curb her hunger, she asked for a tray of tea, bread with butter and cake to be brought to her room during the late afternoon. This afternoon delight became a habit of hers, and she began inviting friends to join her, with social hostesses quickly picking up on the idea. Afternoon tea soon became respectable enough to be brought into the drawing room.
High tea, although synonymous with this afternoon speciality, originated in the lower classes of England. Most factory working class individuals would not arrive home until 6pm, and so they developed their own earlier evening meal, called ‘high tea’. This meal usually involved tea, bread, vegetables and other savoury items. Whilst afternoon tea was usually a social event of indulgence for the upper class, high tea was a necessity for industrial workers, the ‘high’ referencing the high dining table this meal was eaten on, as opposed to the lower, comfortable dining arrangement of afternoon tea.
Use seating to set the scene
Today, your kitchen and dining area is perfect for the more generalised, modern version of afternoon tea. As the terms are widely interchangeable nowadays, why not fill your stands with sweet and savoury snacks alike and make use of the varied seating levels in your kitchen? Island counters allow your guests to sit within the heart of the house with a large open space in which to arrange and enjoy delicacies. Or you could opt for a cosier affair with benches or upholstered chairs situated around a large dining table.
Tidy up the everyday
Practically, built-in storage units and hidden cupboards under seating areas can store messy kitchen appliances if you are looking for a touch of luxury in your kitchen – tidying away everyday items can make the space feel much more ready for a celebration! Alternatively, choose to display heirlooms or unique pieces on shelves to create a focal point in the room, helping you to evoke the atmosphere you wish to create during your dining experience. The antique larder has also come back to the forefront of kitchen design and has been updated with different finishes, colours and shapes. Like afternoon tea, it is a staple that should be celebrated!
Don’t rely on the summer sun
Lighting is essential, and it is important to make good use of it, even in the height of summer! Although there are no set rules, traditionally afternoon tea is served at around 4pm, which is perfect for a sunny event; however, the English weather is always a little unpredictable. If the weather is not quite how you had hoped it would be, turn your tea party into a cosy affair with specialist lighting. Harsh lighting is usually best avoided, but a layered lighting scheme gives you the flexibility to choose the mood for your afternoon tea. Cabinet lighting creates a ‘lit from within’ look and illuminates your kitchen, whereas surface lighting such as candles creates ambient lighting. Play around with different layers of lighting to find the right balance for you.
The finishing touches
Aesthetic choices can completely transform your kitchen dining space. Whether you wish to embrace a traditional yet contemporary kitchen, or one that alludes to the time this delectable ritual was created, each can be used to celebrate National Afternoon Tea Week. Celebrate previous eras with natural woods, lace fabrics and traditional décor, or bring the tradition into the present day using clean, crisp fabrics and brighter hues in the kitchen. For your tablescape, tie in tones from your kitchen. Have a green, blue or neutral kitchen? Continue this minimalist approach into your tableware with neutral tablecloths and cushions, white crockery and natural wooden surfaces to be at one with nature, echoing the leafy landscape of Hyde Park, where the upper class would promenade after afternoon tea was served. Alternatively, why not bring out the fun of the occasion by adding pops of colour? If your kitchen is already bright and beautiful, choose napkins, coasters or a table runner in the same hue to create a harmonious and homely space. Draped fabrics, flowers and even bunting can completely transform your space – after all, this is a celebration of all things British!
Hosting afternoon tea does not always have to be a regal affair. With clever introductions to your kitchen, you can transform any space into one fit for the upper class! Experiment with storage solutions, lighting and texture to create the ambience of your perfect celebration, and enjoy a quintessentially British afternoon your own way.
To book a free consultation with our expert design team, call us on 01926 832511.