The kitchen often is the most expensive room in the house. It forms the heart of the house and with kitchen-diners can be the most occupied room whilst awake. It is therefore, very important to have the kitchen professionally installed.
Today most kitchens are built on a modular system. That is they make standard cabinets and fascias with which they build up a kitchen. The first part of designing a new kitchen in this system is to get a kitchen planner around to discuss your requirements and to get ideas.
I would recommend to get at least three. Treat each designer separately and never introduce what another has come up with. The purpose is to get some new ideas. A good designer does not just work with basic blocks, but will understand what you can do with those blocks to create features and overcome obstacles in the room.
Unfortunately, regulations and the shape of the room often dictate what goes where. Don’t be afraid to ask a planner what is limiting the design. Often moving a doorway a few inches can make a huge difference. A good planner will know this and it may not be as costly as you think to get what you want.
Having got the layout go back to get competetive quotes for the basic design. You will need to compromise a little depending on the cabinets and doors avalaible in the range. Don’t fall for the buy-it-now deals either. You must speak to an installer first. Also waiting to the end of the month when a store is short of their target, the price miraculously drops.
Once you have the design, obtain a dimensioned plan and speak to an installer before purchasing. Ask for any notes regarding custom carpentry incorporated in the plan. The installer will tell you if the design can be fitted and if all regulations are met.
Flatpack versus assembled cabinets is an on-going argument. Given that the two are made from the same grade of materials, flatpacks are usually more rigid if well assembled. Many installers moan about flat-packs. This is because they don’t like the repetetive nature of assembling them.
The thickness of the material the cabinet is made of is often a selling point. It really is not that much of a deal. Shelves should be 18mm as they take the weight, but the sides can be less. They do not take the force to cause them to bow and they will be bolted to another cabinet or end-panel anyway. The back-panel can be solid or hard-board. Solid ones are better as this adds t the rigidity of the cabinet.
Finishing of the edges is very important. Chipboard reacts badly to water and exposed back edges will be where they fail. There are different types of finish. Melamine is found on cheaper cabinets and ABS on better ones. Cut edges should be sealed or re-edged by the installer.
Fascias or doors can be made from a number of processes and materials. Here is a brief overview of the main types and how to spot them.
- Solid Wood – as it says on the tin. A good natural material and should be sealed to withstand being wiped down and suitable for kitchen use. Some paint finished will flake in time. Often constructed from a jointed frame which is glued with an internal panel and routed to the final shape.
Wood being a natural material will have many different shades when installed and these will change often darkening with age. Some doors can warp in time, but this is fairly rare these days.
- Painted doors – These are often the high gloss doors. Constructed on an MDF or chipboard base the paint finish is sprayed on followed by layers of lacquer to give a harder finish. This gives a deep shine. The paint finish will be all around the panel and edges.
The panels will evelop hairline scratches fairly quickly which detracts from the look. They do show up finger-marks in the real world. The major downside is that the trims such as cornices and pelmets are not painted and do not match well.
- PVC Wrap – These are cheap doors and are made from a MDF or chipboard panel. The front is routed to form the door shape and then PVC sheet is pressed and glued so that the PVC takes up the shape of the panel. The front and edges of the panel are usually the same material and it will have a melamine back.
These are tough doors and will last well. Their major weakness is steam which will cause the PVC to lift from the panel.
- Film Wrap – is a process where a thin finishing film is attached all around a substrate material such as MDF. This process is used for the shaker style doors, and contemporary panel doors. These doors are easy to spot as the wrap goes around front and back and two sides. The other edges are finished differently such as with ABS. Often you can find the join where the wrap starts and finishes, but these are often well hidden these days. The main weakness is the edges of these doors. A big plus over painted contemporary doors is that the trims match and they are much cheaper. Put one of these doors next to a painted door and they do not look as good, but in the home on their own you often cannot tell at a distance.
A variety of finishes are available. Here is a brief overview of the most common:
- Wood – A lovely natural material. Usually made from blocks glued together. They have the advantage that they can be rubbed down and re-finished if they get surface damage. However, most of the woods are soft and do mark easily. Wood tops are not as resistant to heat as other surfaces. Wood needs to be maintained regularly to keep the surface water resistant particularly around the sink. Undermount and butler sinks expose the wood end-grain to water and it is here and around the base of the tap that they usually start to rot if not well cared for.
- Granite/stone – Requires specialist fitting and templating although some cut-on-site systems exist. Very hard wearing and the surface is cool, so very good for pastry, etc. Natural stones are porous and will stain if not sealed. Once stained that is it. Unless the kitchen is cut from a specific block, colour variations can look extremely odd. Good with undermount and butler sinks. The surfaces are not as heat resistant as people think. Particularly the systems that have thin layers over a backing material were cracking can occur.
- Engineered Stone – Feels like stone and behaves like stone. These surfaces are made from particles bound in a resin. The colour is consistent in colour and some strong colours and effects are available. The surface is not pourous so a very good choice. Again templating is best and some cut on-site options available.
- Acrylic – The most well known system is Corian. A smooth continuous surface that can be fitted with almost invisible joins. Moulded sinks and upstands can all be incorporated. Like most surfaces will withstand temperatures up to about 140C. The surface can be stained with liquid if left to lie on it. The good news is that damaged areas can be repaired. Knife cuts and scratches can be polished out. A very good all-round surface. Be aware of some cheaper ones as the jointing compound may not be a good colour match particularly on light coloured surfaces. Some systems that are thin and use a backing material can crack where moulded sinks are fitted. This is not an issue with the solid systems.
- Laminates – which are a laminate sheet bonded to a chipboard substrate material. Cheap and extemely tough. Modern surfaces have a post-formed edge (rounded) these are much better than the ABS edged ones as the edge joint is the weak point. Available in all sorts of colours and effects they are the most practical surface in the house. If you want the kitchen to last, avoid gloss surfaces as they will get micro-scratches in use that will make it look tired in a couple of years. The downside is that they cannot be repaired and water will cause damage if it can get in the edges or joints.
- Others – include stainless steel which is often found in commercial kitchens. Glass, polished concrete are among the other less common options. Tiled surfaces generally have fallen out of fashion as they are not smooth due to the grout lines and can be difficult to keep clean.
In general they are expensive gimmicks. There are some good ones but most of the pull-out storage systems waste more space than they save. Also they move with added weight causing the lovely lines of the kitchen fascias to be spoilt.
Over counter lighting looks good and can be very practical. Strip lighting is best for working and individual lights are better for effect. Halogen is a warmer light than other types such as LED or flourescent.
In cabinet lighting behind glass often looks great in the showroom. They can look good with glasses and displayed items. However, shadows of bean cans do not look so good. Mounting the lights forward help to reduce shadowing on frosted glass doors.
Plinth lights again look a good effect in a showroom. In some kitchens they work very well and create a stunning effect. Avoid at all costs in a galley kitchen unless you want the effect of a runway.
A Good Installer
Recommendation is the best course, but often this is not possible. Installers from the big companies are generally sub-contractors, there is no guarantee of better workmanship. The plus side is that if something is wrong the big company will be there to put it right. The downside is that you will pay about 50% extra for this.
Price is not always a sign of quality workmanship. When getting a quote, if the installer moans about the supplier, they probably will do so about the quality of everything to justify poor work.
Also ask about finishing. If the worktops are not being jointed and joining strips used the person is not a kitchen fitter. The normal shortcuts are not enclosing blind corner cabinets. Not fitting plinth returns. Not sealing cut cabinets. etc.
A good installer will check your listing to make sure sufficient plinth, cornice, pelmet, end panels and handles are supplied. He will also check the design against regulations and see design errors at this point. These checks ensure the installation will be smooth and completed in a timely manner.
Paul Jackman has been trained by 20-20 in kitchen design. 20-20 is the software package that most companies to design kitchens. Also having fitted many kitchen Paul worked as a surveyor and work-site manager for one of the big kitchen installation companies. Handling up to 40 installations each week. The advice given above is from personal experience and working with suppliers.