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should I pay for a designer when most kitchen studios offer
free planning & design?
Although it is true that many studios offer a free planning
& design service there are a number of advantages to involving
a commissioned freelance designer.
- First off, you are getting purely independent advice on the
best arrangement for the cabinets. A designer acting on behalf
of a studio is limited to the cabinets available from his/her
- When you commission a design you are presented with a full set
of working drawing which you can then take to as many studios
as you like to obtain quotations. Saves all the hassle, and indeed
the time, of having numerous salesmen crawling around your home
trying to persuade you that their company should become your choice.
- Having the plans & renderings in your possession gives you
time to consider the proposed layout at your leisure before you
commit to the scheme with any particular supplier. No professional
studio based designer will ever give out his plans/artworks before
the prospective client has committed to the purchase, for obvious
- It is generally found that freelance designer usually know what
they're talking about. Quite often (but to be fair not always),
studio based designers are employed for their sales skills rather
than design ability.
- If you're not sure what to look for in your supplier an independent
advisor (if local) will know who sells what in your area. He will
also know who is likely to load the price so they can offer a
discount and who will give you an honest quote up front. Not forgetting
the all important question of reputations for quality of installation.
is a work triangle?
Pick up just about any home improvement magazine and somewhere
inside there is going to be an article showing you how to
design your own kitchen. One of the first things you'll read
is the importance of the work triangle.
You will be instructed that you should arrange :- food storage
and preparation, cooking facilities and cleaning/washing up, into
three dedicated areas, with free work surfaces in between.
The work triangle itself is actually self generating, try arranging
these three areas yourself without making a triangle. Obviously
it can't be done (unless of course you put it all in a straight
In essence it's just a bit of jargonese for what should be common
sense to any would be designer. The reality is that in all too many
cases the shape and/or size of the room in question, and the number
and positions of doors and windows tends to dictate the positioning
of these three basic elements more so than the aspirations of client
should I buy my kitchen?
OK, so you've got your layout/plans/pictures, where do you
go from here? The answer to this question depends largely
on how you plan to achieve your dream kitchen. Lets look at
- DIY (supply only, self fit). If you really do know what you
are doing, or have family and/or friends prepared to work for
buttons you can actually (obviously) save money this way. Just
where you buy your kitchen will depend entirely on your budget.
Usually the only people who go down this road are either on a
tight budget or like making life had for themselves. Budget kitchens
are the stock in trade for the usual bunch of superstores and
many builders merchants. Always bear in mind though that a cheap
kitchen is cheap because it's built to a price with the inevitable
compromises on quality. Anybody that tells you they are cheaper
because they're a big shop with a high turnover is spinning you
There are only a given number of kitchens being installed in any
given area so they are fighting for a share of that business like
everybody else. You only ever get what you pay for!
- Superstore-fitted. The same down market product but a fitting
service is provided. Usually at a horrendous premium. If you're
looking for value for money from your installer it is rare to
find it in a superstore. They aren't geared up for it, they don't
really want this type of work and that is almost always reflected
in the selling price.
- Specialist studio-supply only. As with the DIY option we started
with, this option is only recommended if you already have a team
of qualified people on hand. Even then you are asking for trouble
as you will have to organize the schedule of works so that, for
example, the electrician turns up to first fix when the old kitchen
is stripped out and not as the fitter is about to fit the work
The logistics of making sure every one is there when needed can
be a nightmare. Don't do it unless you're really certain. The
only real benefit is a superior quality product with the chance
of a saving on installation costs.
- Specialist studio-fitted. This is the only way to go if you're
at all serious about the task in hand. The word specialist implies
somebody that knows their job.
The word fitted means they have the headache of organizing the
various tradesmen so that they are on the job when needed and
not just when it suites them. They almost always offer a superior
product to any of the superstores or builders merchants. They
are also going to offer a much more realistic price for the installation.
is best, flat pack or rigid cabinets?
Much is made of the virtues of so called rigid kitchens. Mostly
by those who supply nothing else. The simple truth of the
matter is that unless you are paying top dollar for the best
that the Germans have to offer, you are more than likely going
to receive a flat pack kitchen that is merely pre-assembled
rather than a truly rigid kitchen.
Another, perhaps more worrying , reason why some manufacturers
produce rigid units is the fact that the board the individual cabinets
is constructed from is of a very low density. All modern kitchen
unit carcasses are made from wood particle board faced with melamine
(melamine faced chipboard or "m.f.c".). The problem is
that, as with most things, there are varying degrees of quality
which are not always apparent to the untrained eye. After all one
piece of mfc looks pretty much like any other piece.
The difference becomes apparent when you try to assemble the units
when using modern screw in dowel & cam fixing (the best quality
units use a combination of screw in dowels and timber dowels for
added load bearing ability). Low density mfc just isn't strong enough
to give a secure fixing so the only way you can get a cabinet to
stay together long enough for you to screw it to the wall is by
using glue in timber dowels. Hence the low budget rigid kitchen.
To illustrate the point, take a large woodscrew and a piece of Weetabix,
drive the screw into the Weetabix and pull. How hard do you think
you'll have to pull to get the screw out?
All things considered, a good quality "supplied
un-assembled" unit ( flat pack), professionally installed ,
will outlast any of the affordable rigid kitchens. There are various
other benefits too. Not least being the fact that if you find a
particular piece damaged on delivery, or more usually, when you're
about to fit it, a flat pack part is usually available by post or
overnight carrier from the manufacturer. This is not the case with
a rigid cabinet, especially if the manufacturer happens to live
somewhere near Munich. Most decent specialist can offer the choice
of flat pack or rigid (for the same units), but why pay a premium
for pre-assembled when a decent fitter can build all your units
in no time at all?
retailers are born equal, aren't they?
The simple answer is not really, but generally there are only
four main areas where retailers differ.
- Firstly there are the inevitable differences in the quality
of the products they sell. Some ill advised studios offer the
cheapest equipment they can get their hands on in an attempt to
be seen as competitive against the "big boys". Why bother,
the margins on such a product are proportionally smaller which
means you can't afford to fund a truly professional design &
- Second are the studios that want to please all of the people
all of the time. You and I know it can't be done but so many still
try. Here we are talking about the studios that display several
different makes of kitchen units. Not much wrong with that in
itself other than the fact that the only way you can
do this is to buy your stock from a variety of distributors.
The distributors then becomes middle men who's mark ups are inevitably
reflected in the selling price.
- Next we have the true specialist. This person has found a product
he has total confidence in and has what is known in the trade
as a SOLUS (sole-us) agreement with the manufacture. This means
that because he only displays and sells his chosen manufactures
brand of units he can buy his furniture direct from the manufacturer.
This means no middle man (no distributor), a cheaper buying in
price which means a cheaper selling price.
The advantage to the consumer is obvious. This "direct"
approach of the specialist retailer is not to be confused with
the stance of certain firms that advertises in the national press
offering "direct from the factory prices" and quoting
"huge discounts". These guys are a different kettle
of fish altogether and this page is not the place to discuss their
- The last major difference is the marketing philosophy adopted
by the various outlets. In other words how they regard you the
consumer and how they temp you with their products in the first
place. Basically there are only two ways of presenting a quote.
You either jack up the "retail price" and then give
a discount/free dishwasher/convince your fitters to work for free(?)...or
you offer your best/most realistic price up front and let your
design skills/product quality do the rest.
How many ways are there to say this? There's no such thing as
a free lunch, you only get what you pay for, or my own personal
take: "You can only ever get something for nothing when
you're paying too much for something else"! Don't be
taken in. That free dishwasher has to be paid for by somebody
and even at cost they are not cheap.
steel versus coloured sinks?
One of the most common questions a designer of kitchens is
asked is which is the best type of sink top to buy. Although
both formats have their own virtues there really isn't a right
or wrong choice or a simple "best" option.
Of greater importance in reality is the question of quality. Especially
when considering the many different materials available from which
the synthetic/coloured sinks are made. In most instances going for
a "known for quality brand" such as Franke means you are
more or less certain to get a product that will take just about
anything you can throw at it.
Although there are numerous compositions for the material such
sinks are made from, the most popular, and for that matter the most
durable are a composition of various resins mixed in with quartz
or granite particles. Such sinks are extremely resistant to scratching,
wear and accidental damage. They will also tolerate very high temperatures.
At the other end of the scale however are the sinks made from plastic
based compounds or polycarbonates. These can be very similar in
look and feel to the Quartz/Granite compounds but are nowhere near
as durable. At the end of the day a sink described as polycarbonate
is not worth touching with a ten foot pole. Especially given that
for just a little bit more money you can get an all but bomb proof
Again there isn't really a best option here though all three
have some serious limitations which is probably what we should
consider here as much as the virtues.
- The laminated work surface, these days al but exclusively with
post formed edge, is the bread and butter of the kitchen industry.
It's available in a huge variety of colours and is relatively
inexpensive. The only real concern regarding type is the increasing
number of high gloss finishes now available. The trade rep' says
"They're now more scratch resistant than they used to be".
A plastic based lamination is never going to effectively resist
the edge of a piece of Sheffield steel nor will it out-wear the
underside of an unglazed casserole dish.
Another minor problem with laminated tops is the fact that it
isn't possible to carry the post formed edge around a corner (not
without using specially cut fillets, the joints of which look
ten times worse than the otherwise square edge ever would).
One way around this is to apply solid timber lippings to the leading
edge and exposed ends of the top in question. This gives a much
more aesthetically pleasing continuous profile all around This
adds cost but not that much and can greatly enhance the overall
appearance of a timber door kitchen, (though in fairness it is
rarely conspicuous by it's absence, the already mentioned square
edges to exposed ends not withstanding).
- Solid timber tops are becoming increasingly popular these days
and not without good reason. There are numerous timbers to choose
from with an even wider choice of front edge profiles and board
make up. There are only two real drawbacks to timber work surfaces.
Firstly, they are (for a quality product) expensive. Second, they
are hard work. You have to be prepared to look after them the
way you would a favorite piece of lounge furniture. In addition
to this you must, on a regular basis (about once a month, subject
to use), clear the decks and oil the surface of the tops to keep
them in pristine condition.
If you are prepared to make the investment in a quality product
and are ready to commit to looking after it then your solid timber
work surfaces will look fabulous for many years to come.
Oh, but what about the wood effect laminate tops available these
days? Yes you can tell the difference, from the end of the street!
By the way there isn't room here to fully define quality in timber
tops but best advice would be to go for a 40mm thick hardwood
with a continuous front stave as a starting point.
- Granite, the designers best friend. Why, because nothing compares
to the shine on a well polished slab of solid granite work surface.
The effect of using "the real thing" is truly stunning.
A kitchen with solid granite tops can make even a mediocre designer
Not that I'm advocating the use of granite to make up for poor
design. No, not a bit of it. It's just that granite is such a
versatile product. It can be cut to just about any shape you want
without worries about edge profiles or grain direction. From a
designers point of view it's the perfect material to work with
as basically, if you can draw it, a decent fabricator can cut
Yes it's expensive, we all know it's extremely heavy and it's
a nightmare to deliver. But the finished result is always, always