If you wanted to, it would be possible to build a kitchen with floor-to-ceiling cupboards and a home for everything from the teaspoons to the ironing. There are manufactured units to suit almost every storage requirement and d-i-y fittings and fixings make it possible to build home-made furniture with few traditional carpentry skills.
Manufactured units can be sold ready-assembled or flat-packed for self-assembly at home. Flat packing is popular with manufacturers and retailers because it means the furniture is easier and cheaper to transport and store and less likely to be damaged in transit. For these reasons even quite expensive furniture ranges are now sold in flat-packs.
Self-assembly kitchen unit prices start extremely low – the cheapest units compare favourably for price (although not always for quality) with d-i-y ones — and because self-assembly furniture is easy to store, many shops sell cash and carry or, ifthey keep stock in a central warehouse, quote short delivery times of around 7 to 10 days you’d rarely have to wait longer than 4 weeks. Ready-assembled furniture can take several months to arrive.
You don’t have to assemble flat- packed furniture yourself, some shops quote a ready-assembled price and you can always employ a tradesman to assemble and install it for you. The more expensive flat-packed ranges are generally sold through kitchen specialists who will plan your kitchen, order the units and appliances and arrange for the installation as well. Ready- assembled furniture is usually sold by specialist retailers and many of the large manufacturers have their own showrooms.
Choosing a range
You’ll choose a kitchen that you like the look of, but that shouldn’t be your only criterion. The quality of the carcase (the frame of the unit) is important and you should also consider the selection of units available in a range.
Some of the cheapest self-assembly ranges include only a limited number of units. Ready-assembled ranges usually have the widest choice and include more unusual units such as trolley units on castors or pull-out ironing board cupboards. You could adapt ordinary units yourself to get these special features at a lower cost.
Although most manufacturers offer several ranges of kitchen unit with different drawer and door fronts, the basic carcase of the units in each range is usually standardised. The material used for the fronts is reflected in the price – within a range melamine-faced chipboard is invariably cheapest, followed by chipboard faced with thicker laminates or veneer, wood-frames with a faced panel of some sort or slatted pine and finally solid, often carved, wood – such as oak. The difference between these materials is mainly aesthetic, although melamine can be scratched fairly easily, door and drawer fronts aren’t generally at risk.
Whatever the front material, most carcases are made of white, or more recently beige melamine-faced chip- hoard and drawers are often factoryb’ade plastic units which slot easily together. Before you buy a range of furniture you should have a good look at some made-up units from that range. Take a tape measure when you o shopping and run through our
Don’t worry too much if the display units seem a bit wobbly. Often they’ve been put together quickly and aren’t bolted together or to the wall. When they’re fitted in a kitchen they’ll probably be satisfactory. The only exceptions are peninsular units. If you’re intending to use ordinary base units as peninsular units you should check that they’ll be stable enough.
Styles and sizes
Some styles and sizes of unit are illustrated on the following pages with a note on how common they are in self- assembly and ready-made ranges. See page 67 for a note on the modules used for kitchen furniture. These days most are metric sizes, but imperial- sized (feet and inch) units are still available and useful if you want to re-
THINGS TO CHECK ON A CARCASE
- the general level of workmanship – are the door, drawer fronts well finished, do the doors hang square? Can you see the hinges?
- backs – do the wall units and base units have backs?
- the drawers – do they run smoothly and have a stop to prevent you pulling them out accidentally? Can you re-fit them easily? Are the fronts securely attached? Are the sides full or only part depth?
- door hinges – do they open to 1800 so that they won’t project into the room? This could be essentialin a narrow or galley kitchen. Are hinges adjustable so that doors can be lined up, even if the unit has to be fitted slightly out of plumb?
- shelves – are they the full depth of the cupboard or do they stop short of the front? Are they well supported at the centre as well as the ends in a double unit? Are they adjustable? What’s the tallest object you can store in the cupboard? In some units you may find the maximum height is about 300mm.
- worktop height – this doesn’t vary much between units, but some are slightly higher than others and this could be important for someone other than average height.
- the materials – you can’t tell much just by looking at these, most units are made of chipboard. Find out whether the bottom edges of the carcase are sealed against moisture which will destroy chipboard otherwise.
The most efficient store cupboards:
a have pull-out shelves or drawers so that you can easily get right to the back
• are narrow enough for the contents to be only one row deep • are filled with regularly-used things at the front and objects used less often at the back.
Be flexible about what you keep in the kitchen. Utilise storage in other rooms where possible.
use imperial-sized fittings – a sink for instance.
If a range doesn’t include all the units you want, there are some tricks to make units double as others. For instance, wall units can be installed below a worktop to make a breakfast bar with room for your knees. Spare door fronts can be used instead of decorative end (or back panels) or as cooker hood panels. Also most of the internal fittings such as carousel shelf units and pull-out baskets are available separately.
Re-using existing units
If your existing units are basically sound it is possible to replace just the door and drawer fronts and worktops. You can buy made-to-measure fronts or find a standard-size front that will do. If you’re intending to extend your kitchen at the same time, this is your best solution because you’ll be able to buy complete units to match. Old fronts in good condition can be repainted. A comparable finish to the original can be achieved by spraying – a local car sprayer may be willing to do this work.
The worktops sold with most kitchen ranges are plastic-laminated chipboard. Plastic-laminates – like Formica and Warerite – have proved themselves over the years in kitchens and are hard-wearing and easy-toclean. Other alternatives are cork tiles – with many thin coats of a polyurethane varnish – ceramic tiles (though the grouting can cause problems), or solid wood. The first two are favourably priced, but wood is usually very expensive.
Worktops are usually fitted by screwing up into the chipboard core from underneath. There’s usually no reason why you have to buy the work- top for the units you buy, and by shopping around it’s often possible to buy at a better price.
Worktops can be square-edged, post-formed on just the top edge or
Straight tops are most widely available, but there are often many forms.
postformed on both the top and bottom edges. Some units are designed to take worktops with a deep front which comes down several inches at the front – see drawing. Wood- framed (or lipped) worktops are also in vogue and there are worktops with a raised front edge meant to stop water spilling over the front. Square-edged worktops are usually cheapest. No edge has any significant advantage over the others, but check that you’ll be able to wipe off easily. Another suggestion is to have a slot in the worktop through which crumbs could be wiped. It would need to have a flush-fitting lid and some method for attaching disposal bags below. A slot in a chipboard top would need to be well sealed.
The chipboard core of a worktop should be at least 30mm thick and many of the double-postformed ones are 40mm. The thicker the laminate
the more resistance it will have to knocks, but it’s total thickness has little influence on the surface wear which gradually rubs away any pattern. A worktop should be flat along its length – reject any that are bowed by more than a few mm deflection across a metre span.
Often, the presence of pipes, wiring or a skirting board behind the kitchen units, means that units can’t be built in absolutely flush against the wall. In this situation you need to cover the gap that’s left between the worktop and the wall. Some worktops incorporate an upstand, with others you fit a plastic or aluminium upstand. If the wall units fit flush you can tile down on to the worktop or fit an upstand to hide the narrow gap that will be left.
In the Table of Kitchen units RA is ready-assembled furniture, SA is self-assembly furniture.