In this blog we offer advice on your choice of kitchen units. We compare and contrast options using a selection of cabinets that we have fitted over the past 14 years. You may also care to read our other kitchen design advice sheets.
Kitchen Cabinet Suppliers
You’ll find several alternative suppliers of kitchen units. DIY shops, trade suppliers, and specialist kitchen fabricators offer a wide range of off-the shelf cabinets. For a more exclusive option, a local joiner will produce a hand-crafted kitchen to your specification. A bespoke kitchen will be more expensive not prohibitively so. You may be surprised to hear that some of the more costly, off-the shelf designs are actually quite basic in construction.
The first step is to lay out your floorplan to scale. You can see how to do this as mentioned earlier in our kitchen planning guide. By all means fall in love with kitchen units of a particular design and colour, but bear in mind that all elements of your decorative scheme need to work together. Your kitchen units need to complement other finishes such as your worktop, splashback, flooring and wall colour.
Hand-painted cabinets offer a huge choice of colours. You’ll also see a trend for combinations of painted and timber cabinetry, or contrasting timber veneers, as in the image below.
Calculate your storage requirements; how many and what size of cupboards, drawers and shelves. This may be a simple case of counting what you have at the moment and deciding whether you need more, less or the same of everything.
With your basic layout on paper, visit your preferred supplier to check that their actual kitchen units will fit. Don’t forget that a real kitchen requires end panels and other features that you may not have considered. Different ranges have different corner units; and corner units come in many designs – magic corners (with rotating shelves) and other shapes and gizmos which alter the dimensions. Your supplier should reproduce your sketch to make sure it fits, with a 3D visual to show the completed look.
The height of tall kitchen units will dictate the top level of the wall units; make sure they don’t collide with a sloping ceiling or beam. Some cabinet ranges offer extra high units which may be useful if you need more storage. We also think they look more stylish. Some kitchens look a bit short for the wall space available, so push as high to the ceiling as you can.
Traditional, Classic, Modern or Contemporary Kitchen?
The look of a kitchen cabinet is all in the detail. For a traditional or country look, choose cabinet doors and cornices with mouldings and tongue and groove side panels. For a more contemporary style, choose a design with less detail. The modern, grey kitchen below has flat gloss doors and drawers with integrated handles. This styling is becoming increasingly popular, being easy to clean with few grooves to catch grime and dust.
Your choice of knobs and handles will also influence the look of the overall scheme. Below you can see pewter knobs with moulded detail suggesting a classic design, reinforced by the Belfast sink.
Shaker Style Kitchens
Shaker style kitchen designs are timeless. They can appear traditional with a cock bead moulding and a deep fielded panel, or contemporary with less detail and modern handles.
With in-frame kitchen units, cabinet doors and drawers are fitted into the carcass frame (as in the image below). They look great in a more traditional setting, but watch out for cleaning the inside; because each door is surrounded by a frame, the front corners can create dirt traps.
In the kitchen below, we achieved the look of an in-frame design, but constructed slightly thicker, rebated bottom shelves to minimise the dirt trap.
Lay On kitchen design
Lay-on door and drawer designs literally lay against the front face of the carcass (as opposed to within the carcass frame). You can below that there is no frame between the doors or drawers. The framed look around the cabinetry is created by separate side panels, pelmet and cornice which all need to be included in the dimensions and priced. Lay on designs are generally more contemporary and, unlike in-frame designs, allow you to sweep crumbs straight out.
kitchen unit Drawers
Large pan drawers are now very common. To save your hands and knees from hunting at the back of a cupboard, they help you to access items easily. Cutlery and utensil drawers naturally have their place, but be cautious of purchasing an integrated cutlery organiser as you are then limited to the sizes and shapes of utensils that fit; an unrestricted drawer with a sectioned tray is a better option. For a more sleek look, drawers are now being hidden behind full height doors – pull on the door and the bottom shelf opens with it; inside you then see one or two more drawers.
Kitchen End Units
It’s a personal choice deciding how to finish a run of kitchen units neatly. Options include a standard base and wall unit, in which you will see a square end panel. You might choose a specific corner unit with an angled side; or you could choose a rounded unit as in the image below. Ideally, you should plan a route with high traffic (such as to the back door) with a shape that funnels you into it; no sharp corners to limit the space or pose an injury hazard.
If you need to end a run of kitchen units that otherwise would have no natural boundary, consider constructing a short partition wall to provide a clean finish.
In the kitchen below, we built an extra narrow partition wall to the left of the fridge freezer to define the end of the kitchen. In fact, the fridge freezer is standing in the original building whilst the rest of the kitchen is in the extension, but our design masks this. The nib wall remaining on the boundary between the extension and the original (follow the main ceiling beam across) is actually concealed behind a reduced depth tall unit between the fridge freezer and ovens making the kitchen appear longer.
Kitchen Corner Units
You will be faced with many alternatives to make best use of those hard-to-reach corners where kitchen units come together.
- You might decide just to have a basic fixed shelf and use this corner unit for those items rarely used.
- With a magic corner, as you open the cabinet, the door pulls out a wire basket with 2 shelves, which in turn pulls out a second basket, effectively allowing you easy access to items stored right in the corner.
- A carousel is simply a mechanism with 2 round shelves that rotate – being circular, you lose some of the capacity of the square cupboard
- A Lemans mechanism optimises the use of the space with its lobe-shaped shelves.
kitchen Cornices and Pelmets
Buying off the shelf, your supplier will provide the cornice and pelmet in the same range as the cabinets. If you have a choice, a more ornate cornice would suit a traditional kitchen, whereas a minimal square cornice (or no cornice) would be considered contemporary. Pelmets are useful in that they hide pelmet lights and any associated wiring.
Islands take up a lot of space when you consider your access around them. But they are great in a large kitchen providing extra work surface, storage, and possibly a breakfast bar. You can fit a sink into an island provided the drainage is straightforward from the middle of the room. Similarly with a hob, remembering to include an extractor either suspended from the ceiling (with ducting in the ceiling void above) or as a pop-up, with ducting down through the floor void to the outside.
Islands are generally made from standard base units. The grey kitchen island below is constructed from 8 base units, one of which was a sink unit. The 300mm overhand provides a breakfast bar.
Kitchen Cabinet Knobs, Handles and Hinges
Your choice 0f knobs, handles and various door and drawer mechanisms is endless:
- Soft close mechanisms for doors and drawers are very popular. For most straightfoward designs these will work with concealed door hinges but not with more traditional butt hinges.
- Knobs and handles – the world is your oyster. However, consider carefully the orientation and alignment of these. If you leave the installation to the fitter with no guidance, you will probably end up with a combination of vertical and horizontal handles, because that’s the way they always do it. But there is nothing wrong with having them all the same way; your wrist does rotate after all. Look again at the kitchen image below with all the handles horizontal; ordinarily, the fitter would have fixed the fridge and all the wall and base unit cupboard unit handles vertically and the drawer handles, horizontally – it would have looked a mess.
- Integrated handle – these designs look very contemporary with a finger groove to open the doors and drawers.
- Push to open – push, and the door or drawer springs open. A more expensive solution but very sleek. A sprung plunger pushes the door open but check that it doesn’t stick out too far (as do some of the cheaper solutions). For a bespoke kitchen, ask your supplier to fit short sprung plungers with a magnet to hold the door when closed. With these, you do need to push the door or drawer fully home to close.
Flat Packed or Rigid Carcass kitchen units?
Check whether your kitchen units are flat-packed for assembly, or supplied as a rigid carcass. Kitchen fitters will charge 25-30% more if they have to assemble the kitchen as well as install it.
Kitchen Unit Materials and Finishes
The quality of kitchen units, carcasses, doors and drawers varies considerably, as does the price you pay.
- Foil wrapped doors at the cheaper end of the market have a plastic / vinyl foil wrapped over a chipboard or MDF base. MDF tends to be more robust than chipboard, but both may delaminate at the corners through wear and tear depending on usage and quality of the brand selected.
- Acrylic doors may be solid or faced onto MDF, usually to give a hi gloss finish.
- Lacquered doors are lacquered on all sides so there is no join. Again these present a hi-gloss finish, usually in high quality ranges.
- Timber doors offer a number of options, but note that their colour tends to change with time, particularly in kitchens with bright sunlight:
- Solid timber – tend to be more expensive. Oak is common, but more exotic timers are also available at a premium.
- Veneered doors – offer the look of real timber at a reduced price. Veneers also allow you to choose more interesting finishes more cheaply.
- Painted doors – there is a limited range for off the shelf doors, but bespoke doors offer any colour you like.
Kitchen Cabinet Heights
Kitchen base units have adjustable feet to give a finished worktop height around 900mm. Wall units come in different sizes to give more storage, provided you can reach. Check what size best suits you. Remember that the height of any tall units sets the level for the tops of the wall units and vice versa. This also dictates the space between worktop and wall unit.
Base units offer drawer-line and high line options. Drawer line units have an integrated drawer front in the unit; high line units do not. Recent developments include drawer pullouts in which drawers are hidden behind a high line door for a contemporary sleek look. You then access these drawers having opened the door.
Base units offer built in bins. Again approach with caution; a built in bin has little scope for variety – catalogue photos show them with ordered rubbish neatly in place, but how often do you fold your re-cycling to create an art form?
Unlike some designers, we have no problem having a separate rubbish bin, provided it looks smart and is kept clean. We keep clean recycling out of sight in a separate cupboard.
Don’t be afraid to ask your fitter to make best use of the space. In this fitted kitchen with integrated handles, we bought extra side panels and the fitter created this impressive wine rack to make use of the available space at the end of the run.
Your joiner can construct open shelves from spare side panels to look like the rest of the kitchen. Open shelves look more natural leading into a sloping ceiling than does a shorter wall unit that steps down.
kitchen designers in Bath
We have been designing and installing kitchens in Bath for the past 14 years. Ours is a complete service from initial concepts to completion. If we can help with your kitchen refurbishment in Bath or Bristol, please read more about our kitchen design service.
As mentioned earlier, we also offer additional kitchen design advice sheets for you to consider; if you scroll down that page, you’ll find links to other kitchen fittings such as kitchen worktops and kitchen splashbacks.
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