What would you expect to find in Peter Gordon's kitchen? Acres of stainless steel surfaces? Banks of soft-closing drawers? An island the size of Waiheke? An oven big enough to roast an ox? Should you discover any of these you'd be in the wrong house.
Assuming Peter's little old stove manages to hold itself together for the duration of the cooking process it might successfully roast an ox's tail. The door is forever falling off, one element is broken and he lights the gas on his hands and knees. Yes, we're talking about Peter Gordon the chef/writer/restaurateur (see page 124 for recipes from his new cookbook). Is there another one?
Gingham curtains screen the bits and bobs beneath the kitchen sink; utilitarian and decorative objects without a cupboard to call "home" crowd the benches; the red linoleum is cracked. He describes the ambience as "craft cottage meets ramshackle global". He doesn't have a dishwasher.
He's not bothered. Sometimes - post-Christmas dinner, for instance, or a lunch party for 10 - he'd love to shove plates and pans in a dishwasher and go out or go to bed. But on his own he doesn't need one, and not because he doesn't eat. His only kitchen innovation, a lovely new Fisher & Paykel fridge, is stocked with coffee, smoked salmon, cakes, samosas, bread, fruit and whatever else takes his fancy during ritual Saturday morning forages in nearby Broadway Market. He's very keen on toast, especially with salmon, and should he crave something more elaborate he has two highly regarded London restaurants at his disposal.
Besides, the kitchen's in for a do-up. The rest of Peter's two-storey, two-bedroom Victorian terrace house underwent extensive and expensive renovations before he moved in last October. But, as the heart of the home was still beating, albeit somewhat feebly, he deferred surgery on the kitchen until a) his bank balance had sufficiently recovered to pay for it and b) experience had shown him the way to make it work.
It will be equipped with F&P appliances - "Their gear is world-class and I'm quite patriotic!" - proper lighting, an oven with a functioning door and an island with functioning hobs. But it will still have wooden benchtops, it will still have a red floor and it will still suggest a cosy farmhouse kitchen rather than a gastronomic morgue.
The last time NZ House & Garden readers saw Peter in his natural habitat (April 2005) he was domiciled in West Hampstead with former partner Michael McGrath, still his business partner and close friend.
Things change. By the time Peter was ready to buy again he was also ready for a change of scene and good mates in the East End encouraged him to join them there. (Peter has more friends than AA Milne's Rabbit and the many charms of his house include the numerous treasures they have bestowed upon him.)
He doesn't have a car so they bundled him into theirs and thoroughly reconnoitred the neck of the woods into which he proposed to extend his own. On a brilliantly fine April 15, 2011, his birthday, he presented himself at number 32 in a street that immediately impressed him as ugly, even brutal.
Visible plant life was confined to a macho species of grass on the overhead railway bridge and, after seven years in a mansion block, he had nurtured hopes of a garden. The houses opened directly onto the footpath and their facades, recalling Coronation Street circa Ena Sharples, held the gloomy promise of small, dark rooms within.
In fact, the street is a jewel; externally, at least, one of the East End's few intact examples of 1890s residential terraces. A much-used location for film and television, it owes its preservation to artists who occupied the houses during the 1970s and 80s, then successfully battled council plans to demolish and replace them.
Inside number 32 Peter discovered sunshine, light, a blinding colour palette and the vendor, artist Mikey Cuddihy.
The gaudy walls weren't to his taste but the kitchen's red lino "really grabbed me" and he loved the patina of paint on the floor of Mikey's studio, now his sitting room. "The building contractors couldn't believe I didn't want to cover or replace it." It was absurdly close to vibrant markets, second-hand shops, Vietnamese, Caribbean and Turkish restaurants, and 45 minutes to an hour by public transport from his own restaurants, The Providores and Tapa Room and Kopapa. He bought it that month.
Peter replaced all ceilings, most floors and all remaining walls. Changing natural light subtly alters the gentle Farrow & Ball colours; a mass of recessed lights do the business at night and, although the blocked-off fireplaces can't provide dancing firelight, they have new careers as display cases for the richly textured, eccentric artworks, gifts, African and Maori artefacts and Pasifika that give Peter's home its very personal character and warmth.
A year ago the little back garden was a bedlam of ivy. Kiwi friend Maria Dallow, a London-based garden designer and homeopath, took one look and said, "Oh my darling, you have to rip it all out". Her design uses bricks from two internal walls, feijoa and quince trees, clematis, lancewoods, muehlenbeckia and herbs, all of which are as happy in Hackney as Peter.
He knows virtually everyone in his street and has made new pals among the local stallholders, shopkeepers and food artisans. "This is the friendliest street I have ever lived in anywhere, including Australia and New Zealand."
Hmm. It's not necessarily what we want to hear, but nor is it surprising. Who wouldn't want to be Peter Gordon's friend?For more images including web-exclusive images click on the "photo gallery" link above.