I’m starting to plan a new kitchen so thought I’d share what I’ve found out so far. I’ve been looking at modern frameless kitchens rather the traditional in frame ones but I think the principles below apply to both. I’m no expert and have just been Googling so take this with a large pinch of salt.
I started off by trying to understand what makes a good quality kitchen and what spending more money gets you. I’ve also considered how good a kitchen needs to be. Design, appliances, installation, construction and materials seem to be the main elements. Obviously this has to combined with good customer service from the supplier and fitter.
The construction part has been the most interesting aspect to find out about. I think kitchen units are quite simple things, they’re just boxes on legs so the standard of the joinery and materials used will define the quality. Very cheap kitchens mainly use MFC, melamine faced chipboard, and use Ikea style butt joints with barrel bolts and nuts. They’re often flat packed. There are different grades of MFC and the cheap ones aren’t very dense (160kg per m3 compared to 500 kg per m3 for good quality) and struggle to hold a screw firmly and so can result in drooping doors and wobbly cabinets. They also give off volatile organic compounds which can be harmful. The edges will be 0.4mm ABS plastic and prone to peeling. If the coating on the MFC is cheap it could also detach with time. This means water can get in damaging the chipboard and will result in a ruined cabinet. The cheaper cabinets have very thin backs and the tops are reinforced with only minimum support. This means only the bottom and 2 sides are providing most of the structural strength. Hinges and drawer runners will be cheap although some do offer Blum which seems to be a good standard even for high end kitchens. Despite all of this they do seem to last for a good while (maybe 5 to 10 years) before needing replacement. I have a Howdens kitchen which I’d say is in this category, it’s 7 years old and still looks and works fine. Customer service was terrible though! I think this is the category most of the big chains will be in. Not sure there’s much to choose between them despite the different price points. One interesting option is DIY Kitchens who are able to offer better quality than this for a similar price and are well rated by Which? and in many online reviews.
I don’t think you have to spend much more to get something better which will should last 20 years. Maybe spending double, say £6000 instead of £3000 on cabinetry (based on a normal size kitchen, cabinets only) is probably enough. A smaller, local firm is probably the best place to buy from. For this you should be able to get constructed (not flat packed) units made out high quality, dense 18mm thick MFC ( Eggerboard from Austria is apparently a good one) with 2mm thick ABS edging and solid structural backs and tops made out of the same material. Glued dowelled joints and Blum or Grasse hinges/drawer runners should feature and are an significant upgrade over the cheaper options.
Spending a bit more, maybe up to £10k can add nice sold oak drawer boxes with dovetail joints, slightly nicer doors (but an expensive painted door looks a lot like a cheap painted door), more choice of finishes and bespoke sizes.
Interestingly, lots of the high end kitchens appear to use the same construction methods and materials and I really struggle to see how they can justify being 4 to 10 times the cost. I could be wrong but I suspect they make very nice margins and spend a lot on brand positioning and making sure they are perceived as a luxury product.
There are some exceptions. Good quality plywood (18mm thick, 5 layer, BWR grade) seems to the best material to make cabinets from. It’s very strong and stable which is important in the kitchen environment (real wood moves under such conditions and is more expensive). It is dense and holds a screw solidly so no drooping! Naked Kitchens in Norfolk are one supplier who use this and appear to be good. However, cost is up to £20 or £30k for the cabinets. Koivu and Common Projects are similar I think. There are some smaller suppliers who offer a similar thing at about half that price (I’m in contact with Celtica and Farmwood kitchens, small firms but who will supply nationwide). The question is whether spending the extra on ply rather than a good quality MFC kitchen is worthwhile given the cheaper options have a lifespan of 20 years. That’s probably long enough and the saved money can be better spent on decent worktops and appliances.
Phew. Need to start researching layouts, worktops and appliances now. Should be ready to go ahead with kitchen by 2024 at the earliest.
Regarding layout, a point made by a forumite on previous kitchen thread was to avoid very wide wall cabinets, use narrow ones or avoid entirely, over a much used work surface as they can be a claustrophobic. I took that advice and it worked for me, although I am 6ft5in so maybe not everyone feels the same way.
You might consider space for a small wine fridge to keep wines at serving temperature. I bought a small wine fridge for the kitchen (I have an all in one kitchen, dining room and sitting room layout so fridge close to dining table) with two different temperature compartments for serving wine. I took out most shelves so could store bottles vertically, to aid sedimentation on old wines and so could then decant and put decanters back in fridge ready for service. Optimized for red and white Burgundy, one is set at 11 °C and one at 15°C. Solves a lot of problems and worries about temperatures.