Choosing a kitchen can be an absolute nightmare or a delight, depending on your outlook. The issue is there is so much choice, so how do you filter out what you don’t want and find the perfect kitchen for you?
Here are some of the questions we get asked at DIY Doctor.
- How do I tell a good, reliable supplier of kitchen units?
- How do I know if the kitchen I want is competitively priced?
- How do I tell a great quality kitchen from any old junk?
- What tools do I need to fit a kitchen
- How do you hang kitchen wall cabinets
- How do I choose a kitchen from the overwhelming range of options?
Let’s take that last one first – How to choose the best kitchen.
Choosing a kitchen to suit you
A new kitchen is an expensive purchase and it takes most people up to a year to plan and order a new kitchen. Let’s face it, this is a big investment that can really improve your day-to-day use of a key room in your home, and it can also add value to your property – so you want to get it right.
Gather inspiration and information for a great kitchen design
If you love to browse showrooms you can wander around any of the DIY sheds, kitchen outlets or large furniture stores (such as that big blue and yellow Swedish one) and just get some inspiration.
If you would rather sit at home you can do your browsing on the internet or by picking up design magazines to check out the latest trends. Websites like Pintrest are a good place to start for aspirational ideas – and it will also help you identify things that you don’t like.
Talk to friends and relatives about what they chose, why they chose it and – most importantly – what they would do differently. We all learn by making mistakes so learn from others’ and you can save yourself time and money!
Take a cue from the style of property you live in to get the right kitchen
Find a look that suits your property. Unless you have real design flair it makes sense to match the style of kitchen with the age and style of your property. i.e. traditional or cottage styles in a period property, sleek and modern ones in a new-build. Of course you can marry ultra-modern styles with period properties but it does take some confidence to pull off.
Choose a kitchen that is right for you
Make sure your kitchen suits you and your lifestyle – don’t pick high maintenance materials or fancy flourishes if you hate cleaning, make sure you have loads of workspace if you like to get everything out of the cupboard when you cook, and choose colours that you enjoy or pick neutrals for the big items and add pops of colours with accessories or by painting the walls.
Top Tips on planning a kitchen
Do I swap like-for-like?
Go back to basics and decide whether you want to use the existing space as a kitchen or whether you might take this opportunity to relocate or expand your current kitchen. Just because the current configuration of you house is how it was designed does not mean you have to continue to use it that way. See below for advice on what to think about when making these decisions.
What can I afford?
Work out your budget for the project – whether you are borrowing money or funding it from savings you need to set a budget, and this will govern your choices.
You can set phases for your refurbishment by fitting units now and buying second hand appliances, then upgrading over time – just leave space in your plans for your dream fridge freezer, or range cooker.
You could also choose to lay cheaper vinyl flooring in phase one and then upgrade to engineered wooden floors when you have the money.
You could have cheaper light fittings and painted walls now and later that designer light fitting and hand-printed wallpaper as phase two. Just bear in mind that some jobs are better done at the first stages such as plumbing, electrics and any remodelling of the room.
What choice do I have?
Look at where services are currently located in your kitchen. Keeping them in the same place will reduce costs, but if they don’t work for you where they are then get quotes for moving them to where you really want them to be, and if budgets are tight changes like this could form part of your wish list.
For example you might choose to have cheaper units to get the functionality you want. Consider the following features of the room before you decide what to put in it:
- Plumbing and waste for the sink
- Plumbing and waste for a dishwasher and/or washing machine
- Gas or electric supply for a cooker
- Placement and number of sockets
- Placement of lighting (including lights under units etc)
- Windows for natural light and whether there are enough or even too many – are skylights a possibility?
- Access to the outdoors e.g. changing a window for an external door or a door for French windows
- Do you need doors to other rooms or would re-siting or closing them up give you better wall space for units
- Separating part of a large room to form a utility room
- Splitting a large room into zones for storage, preparation, cooking and eating
- Extending a small space
- Moving the kitchen to another room in the house if practical
All the above can be altered, moved, added to or installed but bear in mind that the location of the drains will be something that imposes the most obstacles to change (and therefore the most cost). If you can keep drainage in their current locations it will save you money and time.
What do I need?
Consider what it is that you really want to get into the room and make a list with different headings such as:
- Kitchen things I need to have
- Kitchen things I would like to have
- Kitchen things I don’t want
So, for instance these lists could look like this:
- Number 1 could be: sink with left hand drainer, large drawers for pans, electric oven, freestanding fridge/freezer, plumbing for dishwasher, hardwearing worktop
- Number 2 might be a range cooker, 2 corner units with carousels, marble worktops, boiling water tap
- Number 3 might be: appliances out on the worktop, fiddly mouldings which trap dirt, a long walk between fridge and sink
Then consider the available space and see how much you can tick off all the lists. If you are letting someone else design the space for you then sharing these lists and some design ideas will ensure you get the kitchen you want.
Check and check again
Make sure you measure everything accurately – most rooms are not square and you need to be sure you have allowed enough space to get everything in.
Even if you have a design service it is worth checking their measurements – we have come across mistakes made by professional designers which are 10mm out – not a lot but enough to make a unit not fit in the available space, and anyone can make a mistake after all.
Order your kitchen in plenty of time – lead times for delivery can be long, and it is a good idea to make sure you have a margin of error to ensure that everything is with you well before you actually need it – especially if you are sourcing different elements from different suppliers. Ideally clear space in a garage or another room to have everything arrived and checked before the fitters arrive.
Check the delivery. Kitchens have so many components – carcases, doors, handles, hinges, fixings. Legs plinths end panels etc. etc it is so easy to miss something which only comes to light when the kitchen is half fitted. With long lead times for some manufacturers you do not want to be waiting weeks for replacement or missing parts, so do check you have everything you were expecting before work starts.
What is your kitchen used for?
Sounds a silly question but a budding Masterchef or Great British Baker will have much more demands on their kitchen than a microwave chef or takeaway king.
Love to entertain?
If your preferred use of your home to entertain is a formal dinner party then you probably want all your kitchen space to cook in, and a separate space to eat. Having a dining room separate from the kitchen means you can shut the door on any mess and washing up while you enjoy the company of your guests. Alternatively you might plan a kitchen diner but have a utility room to stash the dishes if space allows.
If you would rather have friends round for relaxed eating then a kitchen table or breakfast bar would be best – this enables you to rustle up delicious meals while being surrounded by your guests, that way you don’t miss out while you are preparing in the kitchen.
Style over substance
There is more than one way to get pleasure out of a new kitchen. If you want a show home kitchen with sparkling surfaces and the latest sleek appliances but you don’t actually cook then you can still indulge your flair for style in the knowledge that this sort of kitchen is putting value on your home.
Of course if you want this sort of kitchen and you do like to cook (and you budget allows for it) then you can really go to town with all the latest on offer, just be sure that what you are choosing will really deliver what you want it to as well as looking good.
A means to an end
If for you the kitchen is just a place to store food, clean things and walk through on your way to the rest of the house, then you really just want utilitarian hardwearing items that do the job they are meant to do. Consider getting in as much storage as possible and keep it simple by buying your whole kitchen, including appliances, flooring and décor from one place.
You probably also want everything to hand without searching through cupboards to find stuff – so consider having open shelving baskets or wooden crates that you can just stash everything into, easily cleaned flooring and walls, and avoid fussy window treatments to allow lots of natural light in. Buying free standing appliances can keep costs down and makes replacing or transporting items easier in the future.
On a tight budget? Kitchen Design tips to save you money
Thankfully there are ways to cut costs on a kitchen without necessarily cutting down on quality.
Consider fitting an ex-showroom kitchen when shops are changing their displays. Even if there are not quite the right units in what they are selling off you can usually add to them with the same range or a contrasting style.
For instance you could have one colour of base units and another of wall units and that would still look like a considered design.
Be careful of buying second hand kitchen units form domestic sellers – unless the kitchen was originally of good quality, was carefully installed and can be carefully removed you can end up with so much damage and time spent re-fitting it that you are not really saving any money at all.
Also you might find the kitchen units are out of stock so you can’t replace or add to it if that is something you want to do.
Buy freestanding appliances rather than built-in ones. Look online or in charity shops for second hand options.
Find out when stores have sales on – you might get free appliances, a percentage of the total discounted, or free fitting, at certain times of the year.
Spread the cost. As a new kitchen is likely to increase the value of your home it might make sense to take out a loan, or increase your mortgage, to complete the work to a high standard – especially if the kitchen you are replacing is old and dated.
If you have good carpentry skills you can upcycle materials to make units – which can be freestanding or built-in. Using a selection of old furniture with new legs and worktop can give you an eclectic kitchen pulled together by these simple additions.
Even without carpentry skills you could repurpose an old dresser unit with paint, new handles plus a new marble top – like this one below from Better Homes.
Love expressing your own style? DIY tips to bring flair to your Kitchen
If you have DIY skills you can build your own kitchen from scratch or from upcycled materials and old furniture, as mentioned above. You can incorporate different materials such as copper, galvanised steel, wood, stone, concrete, mosaics, glass, paint finishes, tiles, fabrics and textiles.
You can raid architectural salvage yards, second hand shops, auction rooms and the internet for items to include in your design, repurposing anything from garden features to science laboratories, old scaffold boards to bicycles. Your skills and imagination set the limits.
Even if you don’t have DIY skills, but you like to chase down a bargain you can still hunt around to find a statement piece of furniture to use as a “wow” factor in your kitchen.
Finding something like this shop fitting (below) and re-siting it in a domestic kitchen makes a really exciting focal point for the room, and a great way to show off your favourite kitchenalia. Just make sure that any glazed units have safety glass fitted.
Finding a kitchen Supplier
To go back to our original questions at the top of this project, question 1 and 2 were How do I tell a good, reliable supplier of kitchen units? and How do I know if the kitchen I want is competitively priced?
Kitchen design services
Firstly you should be aware that many companies will provide you with a free design and planning service. You should ask for a kitchen design consultant who can visit your home, measure the space and work with you to design the kitchen you have always wanted. If you have worked through the stages above you will be in a good place to discuss your needs with the designer.
Wherever possible the designs should be shown to you in 3D CAD format so you can really get the feel of the space, as well as 2D plans showing the positioning of everything. Some designers can also provide augmented reality programmes that let you ‘see’ changes to your room in situ by ‘looking through’ a tablet.
You can also use our very own Price Doctor software to produce a 2D image of your new kitchen. The software will allow you to easily drag and drop in new units and appliances and easily move them around until you find a layout that works for you.
This will help you compare like-with-like. You should always get at least two or three quotes so you can see a range of prices. Then you can decide if any are within budget and start to see what you can get for your budget.
It is good practice to ask around friends and family to get recommendations on who to use. Try our find a tradesman service for designers, carpenters and fitters in your area. Get three quotes from the companies you like the most.
The company you go to should always provide free quotations and you should wait no longer than 3 weeks for a design and a quote. You should always be offered samples of the products you are considering buying, and it is a good idea to visit the showroom to look at the products in the flesh before making a final decision.
Some companies will have previous customers who are prepared to show their new kitchen or discuss their kitchen fitting and this is obviously helpful – you can also check to see if the company has online reviews.
If you like the kitchen units from a particular company but you don’t like their design or their service you can always just buy the products from them and get someone else to fit the kitchen for you. This may also work out cheaper depending on the fitting costs for each company.
You can use our Desired Outcome Building contract to help ensure you are working with good reliable tradespeople.
How do I tell a great quality kitchen from any old junk?
The cost of kitchens can vary hugely and a high price does not necessarily mean a good product, although there comes a point at the other end of the scale where cheap is just cheap (sort of like wine really).
Your ideal Company will supply to the trade as well as domestic clients like yourself. Trade customers will demand quality and they will demand it at a very good price. This means they will only go to suppliers who buy in bulk to get the best deal. If you can find a supplier of this kind you can be sure your goods will be good and at the right price.
Of course there are also domestic suppliers who offer good quality products – check for guarantees, warrantees and reviews from previous customers to help inform your decision. You should look for a 10 year guarantee and ideally your chosen company will be a member of the UK Consumer Protection Agency.
You should look for unit carcasses of at least 18 or 19mm (not cheap12mm units), with glue and dowel construction. We would recommend buying rigid, not flat packed construction, but we realise flat pack are much more widely available these days, and the cost is reflected in the construction time and transport of ready-made units.
The brand you choose should offer a great range in colours and styles so you can find one to suit you, and you should also be offered a range of kitchen appliances, sinks and taps.
However you might shop around to get units from one supplier, appliances from another and sink and taps from a third. Just be sure that if you do shop around in this way that you have everything delivered to you in time to start the fitting, otherwise waiting for items can delay work and cost you more money in labour.
All kitchen unit let you choose the colour of the doors. Good quality units will often allow you choose the colour of the cabinet, or carcass, and plinth – highlighted below.
Some manufacturers will dictate a particular set of handles but good retailers will let you swap and change (at a cost sometimes) to suit your tastes.
Check what the doors are made of, especially if you are having a wood kitchen finish because good quality manufacturers use real wood.
Look for terms like solid wood, 100% timber, or timber frame with real wood veneer panels (a thin coating of real wood on a chipboard or MDF base).
Veneer is usually cheaper than solid wood and the timber frame means any knocks to the door edges are not so likely to damage them and even if they do sustain damage they do not reveal any MDF or chipboard, which is unsightly and vulnerable to water damage.
If budget is less of a concern you can have kitchen units custom made to any size shape and colour you would like. You could have one individual piece made such as an island or a bespoke larder like the one below, or you could have the whole kitchen made to order.
With custom made kitchen units, you can also overcome any strange features you might have in a room where there is an unusual footprint or architectural elements that make it harder to fit in standard units.
The kitchen is the busiest room in the house. Make it a joy to work in. Being happy with the kitchen you choose relies on all of the above factors. It is always worth spending what you can afford to get exactly what you want, because it is a room you spend a lot of time in – Settle for less and you will regret it.
Now that you have an idea of how to choose the right kitchen for you, we can go back to the original questions at the top of this project, for instance you might like to know how to fit a kitchen yourself which would include:
- What tools do I need to fit a kitchen? You will find the answer to this question and more in our project How to Fit a Kitchen
- How do you hang kitchen wall cabinets? Which is answered in our How to Fit Kitchen Wall Units tutorial
There is loads more practical advice in our kitchen section including how to fit worktops, mitre joints and jigs, adjusting kitchen cabinet doors, and fitting catches.