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Why pay a designer? What is a work triangle? Where should I buy my kitchen?
Flat pack versus rigid? All retailers are born equal? Steel sink or coloured?
Laminate-v-Timber-v-Granite tops?    

Why 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 product range.
  • 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 reasons.
  • 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.


What 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 line)

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 or designer.


Where 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 the options.

  • 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 a yarn.
    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 tops.
    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.


Which 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?


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 & installation service.
  • 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 trading practices.
  • 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.


Stainless 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 Quartz/Granite composite.


Laminate-v-Timber-v-Granite work surfaces?
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 look good.
    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 it.
    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 worth it.


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