Don't move, improve: It's a matter of taste – and design

Choosing the right kitchen is down to quality ingredients and a good fitter
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The Independent Online

The kitchen is a tremendously important part of the home. Increasingly, it has become the hub of family life and, as a result, more and more of us are creating kitchens that also function as breakfast and family rooms. It acknowledges that the kitchen is the place where the action takes place.

But when it comes to creating a kitchen, how do you choose the one for you? There are so many alternatives, and all seem so persuasive. There is also a huge variation in prices between the different options. So how much should you spend?

Of course, like so many other aspects of home improvement, there are no definitive right and wrong answers. To help clear some of the confusion I will try to outline the common options and the pros and cons of each. At the budget end of the market are the mass-produced cabinets available at DIY superstores; Ikea and the like. In many instances these are very good value. Mass production and warehouse selling mean that prices are keen and there are a number of well-designed options.

Typically these kitchens are constructed as melamine-faced chipboard boxes with laminate worktops and you will need to find your own builder or fitter to install them. And herein lies the downside. Given that the materials used can be rather flimsy, these kitchens have a tendency to start to fall apart after a couple of years or so – drawer-fronts come off, water gets into the chipboard, and so on. A lot depends upon the quality and care taken by the fitter during installation.

The other drawback with these mass-produced budget systems is that you generally have to work with a standard set of cabinet sizes. Given that rooms are rarely sized conveniently, you will often end up wasting precious space with filler panels to make up the width.

The second category covers specialist kitchen manufacturers. Within this group there is huge variety, from those a few notches up from the DIY systems, through to the ultra-chic Chelsea showroom type.

In general terms – and up to a point – you get what you pay for. Specialist kitchen manufacturers are able to put a great deal of research and development into the design, durability and quality of their product.

As you move up the cost scale, you tend to see better quality materials and a greater variety of options. You will also probably get a "free" design service (it is, of course, all factored into the final cost) and a list of approved fitters. However, prices can be daunting and this is why I use the phrase "up to a point". It is possible to spend a huge amount on a kitchen, and still be fleeced; there are some very smart brands who need to pay for their expensive showrooms and advertising.

The third main category is the bespoke kitchen. Given that labour is by far the most significant cost in most building projects, having a kitchen made from scratch will usually be the most expensive option.

By going this way, however, you can get exactly what you want and have it made to fit.

A great deal depends upon the maker. A project that we completed earlier this year included a beautiful kitchen made in a little workshop by a craftsman in Cornwall.

The customer was involved from the start, and even went with the craftsman to choose the timber from which he was to cut the veneers for the doors.

He did an absolutely beautiful job, and in that instance the cost was very competitive when compared to system kitchens of a comparable quality.

Examples of the sort of detail that the Cornish workshop tailored can be seen in the worktops and the cabinets beneath, which were designed to be extra deep so that the Aga would line up with the front of the units rather than stick forward. A special little section was even made for the cat to access his cat flap.

Hugo Tugman runs the design service Architect Your Home –

Project: installing a kitchen

How much will it cost?

Kitchens are one of the most variable cost items within a building project. An adequate job can be achieved for only a few thousand pounds using a budget DIY store kitchen, while at the other end of the spectrum kitchens can run into six figures – which is extraordinary, of course. A pet rule of mine is that everything within a kitchen is truly variable by a factor of 10. A cheap and flimsy mixer tap can be bought for £40, a really gorgeous, brushed pewter-finish ceramic disc mixer tap can be as much as £400. Tiles can be £30 or £300 per metre, and on it goes.

How much hassle is it?

If you are simply ripping out one kitchen to replace it with another (and if the project is well organised) the process can be extremely quick and painless – sometimes within a single week. When things are being all changed around, walls moved, services redirected, it can need significantly more time and be a great deal more hassle. You will probably be living on takeaways while this is going on.

What's the first step?

Try not to be sucked in by sales people. Often, so-called "free" design services are just elaborate sales techniques. My advice would be to get an independent interior designer or architect to help you plan how you want the kitchen to be laid out, and be armed with a scale drawing of what you want before you start looking around. If you want to find that elusive craftsman, talk to your designer who may well have some contacts.