It’s perfectly possible to update your kitchen cabinets when you’re on a strict budget. However, it’s also easy to waste money or lose out on false economies if you don’t plan carefully. For example, an incompetent installer could spoil the look of your new kitchen and even add costs. “Even if you’ve spent a fortune on your dream kitchen, the results can be frustrating if you get the wrong person to install it,” explains Georgi Georgiev of The Kitchen Makeover Shop. Read on for tips on where you can save and where it’s worth spending – from planning through to installation.
Professional advice from:
Georgi Georgiev of The Kitchen Makeover Shop
Robert Lawrence of Wren Kitchens
Cyril Raberin of Mobalpa
Before you start to think about getting new cabinets, the first step should be to review how you’re using your kitchen. Changing its layout may mean moving services such as plumbing and electrical connections, which will add to the overall costs. So, if your existing setup works for you, keep it: there are plenty of ways you can update the space without a complete overhaul, and you’ll have more money for the right units.
It’s also worth thinking about whether your current layout could work harder for you. “There may be more efficient uses of space that you hadn’t considered, or modern ergonomic styles that better suit your way of life,” says Robert Lawrence of Wren Kitchens.
The cheapest cabinets usually come flat-packed and ready to assemble from a DIY store. You can either plan your design from home using an online tool or book an appointment with an in-house designer who will help you to draw up plans. Remember to take accurate measurements of your kitchen before your appointment.
If you don’t have the time or inclination to measure up, some retailers offer design services. A representative will visit you at home to discuss your options and take all the measurements needed. Typically, this comes at a small price; Ikea, for example, charges £40.
Pre-assembled cabinets, which leave the warehouse with hinges fitted and doors attached, are the next step up from flat-packed. You can choose to go the DIY route or call on the services of an installer, but either way, there won’t be too much onsite work.
The quality of the fit can make or break your new kitchen, so finding a first-class installer is crucial. “It’s often wise to go with the retailer’s recommendation,” says Lawrence. “Their fitters have experience with their kitchens, so you know that the kitchen will be fitted with care.”
If you decide to source your own fitter, take time to do your research and follow up on recommendations. “It may be a false economy to hire someone who only suggests cheaper options and fittings,” advises Cyril Raberin of Mobalpa. “A kitchen is an investment and it’s important you’re given confidence on where to spend and where to save. Poor fitting or bad design will only result in additional costs further into the kitchen’s lifespan.”
Look at samples of your chosen cabinets carefully. It’s easy to focus on the doors, but don’t forget to check inside: the quality of the carcass will be key to your cupboards’ durability.
Pay particular attention to the back panel: some companies use a 3mm board, which will bend easily. “Thin and flimsy backing doesn’t provide good protection from fluctuations in temperature, which quite often leads to mould inside the cabinet,” explains Georgi Georgiev of The Kitchen Makeover Shop, who recommends a back board thickness of no less than 8mm.
Side panels are generally either 15mm, 16mm or 18mm thick. While the difference between the thickest and thinnest panel may not seem sizeable, an 18mm cabinet will ultimately be sturdier than a 15mm one.
The majority of DIY and ready-assembled carcasses on the market are made out of MFC – melamine-faced chipboard. “Some people consider this to be a low-quality board,”says Georgiev. “It isn’t, as long as the density of the boards used is high enough.”
“Some cabinet manufacturers are using low-quality panels, which often have a lower density,” he continues. “These are mainly imported from non-European manufacturers to save money.”
If you’re concerned about the quality of the materials in your chosen cabinets, ask your retailer for more information about the products they source.
MFC cabinet doors are the most budget friendly. They’re only available in a basic ‘slab’ style because MFC can’t be shaped or moulded, but you’ll have plenty of choice when it comes to design. “Thousands of colours and textured effects are now available, such as woodgrains, concrete and slate,” says Lawrence.
Always check the edging of MFC doors to make sure it’ll stand up to moisture and everyday knocks. “I would recommend PVC or acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) edgings with a thickness of between 1.3mm and 2mm,” says Georgiev.
If moisture gets through the joins in your doors’ edging, you may need to pay for repairs later on. Avoid the costs by looking for doors made with laser or infrared edgebanding machines: these provide a better contact between the two surfaces.
Medium-density fibreboard (MDF) is a composite wood product made from wood-waste fibres connected by resin, heat and pressure. “MDF has a higher density than MFC, which is a plus when it comes to fixing the hinges to cabinet doors as the screws hold much better,” explains Georgiev. What’s more, MDF doors offer more design flexibility than MFC: for example, they’re often produced with patterns and detail on the front.
The most affordable finishes for MDF doors are vinyl or foil wrap. Both are made by wrapping the front and sides of the door in what’s best described as an industrial-style clingfilm, which offers protection against moisture. Virtually any finish can be replicated onto the wrap, including wood.
Be aware that there are not only variations in the quality of vinyl or foil used, but also the care taken to apply it to the MDF base. A typical sign of a badly made vinyl-wrap door is what’s known as an ‘orange peel’ effect – small ripples or bumps on the surface of the door.
“Lower-cost cabinet doors are often made from melamine, which is both resilient and easy to clean, making it a popular choice, particularly for busy households,” says Raberin. And because melamine is a synthetic material, it can be produced in a wealth of finishes.
If you’re after an expensive timber look without the associated cost, think about veneer. It’s made of thin sheets of real wood pressed onto MDF board, and can be stained and lacquered to produce a wide range of looks.
Sprucing up your units with a lick of paint can be time-consuming, but it’s a budget-savvy way to get a new look for less. “The price for painted MDF doors isn’t necessarily higher than vinyl-wrapped doors,” says Georgiev. “We have a standard-sized painted MDF door range in several different colours and finishes that’s priced really close to our vinyl-wrapped doors.”
The surface of MDF is super-smooth and perfect for painting – ideal if you want a custom colour or think you might want to update it in the future. Paint will also prevent moisture getting in through cabinet fronts and sides, so it’s a good choice around sinks.
Always wash off dirt and grease before painting, then lightly sand down cabinets to create a ‘key’ for the paint to stick to. Use an appropriate primer and once it’s dry, apply at least two coats of a suitable paint.
How to add character to your kitchen using paint
Before you splash any cash, check the quality of your chosen kitchen cabinets. “Touch and feel the surfaces and edges of doors to check they’re straight and level,” advises Lawrence. “Edge quality makes a real difference for both the appearance and life of your kitchen.”
You can also check the quality of doors by simply looking for chips around the corners and edges and any visible scratches. “Some panels tend to bend if they haven’t been stored or transported properly,” explains Georgiev.