How to design the perfect kitchen
Architect's Clinic: Diarmuid Kelly
Q We're investing some savings this year to completely overhaul our fitted kitchen. What should we focus on?
In most contemporary architect-designed homes, kitchens are the functional centrepieces of open-plan living spaces, typically surrounded by dining areas and communal lounge spaces. When you're imagining your new kitchen, remember that it will change far less frequently than wall coverings and soft furnishings.
In such designs, the kitchen should sit comfortably as a quiet monolithic sculpture, rather than seeming to be a busy assembly of parts. Limit your palette to two colours, consider pared-down designs with handle-less doors, and seamless resin-formed work surfaces. This visual simplicity will allow the kitchen to harmonise with your overall interior, without limiting your future options for interior design.
A beautifully designed kitchen can transform how your living space works and add a central sculptural element to the heart of your home. But before you get carried away, remember, your fitted kitchen is usually the single biggest expense, and the quality of what is available varies wildly.
Value can be hard to achieve as suppliers sometimes make comparing like with like tricky in terms of quality, price, and the scope of what's included.
What size kitchen do you need?
As a general rule of thumb, if you're designing a kitchen for long-term use for a family of three to six people, aim - if you can - for around 15 standard modules (a module is a typical 600mm square box), which includes fitting a utility room. Apartments for two to four people usually need around eight modules, and studio apartments can suffice with six if they have separate clothes-washing facilities.
The overwhelming majority of fitted kitchens are assembled from modular systems of 'casework' boxes. The simplicity of this process is deceptive; not all suppliers can compose these simple elements with the skill and attention to detail needed to create clear elegant lines so choose your supplier carefully.
How the design Process Should Work
The kitchen will initially be designed by your architect; we normally do this according to a generic 600mm x 600mm grid, which is standard for kitchen units.
When you and your architect select a kitchen supplier, they will reconfigure the architect's layout using the specific casework units and fittings they supply. The kitchen supplier therefore creates the final drawings of the kitchen design which will be used onsite.
This redesign process can be risky because it allows the supplier to 'up-sell' more expensive finishes/fittings, to break away from the overall design of the house or to change the architect's layout to include more casework.
As part of the process, the supplier has to conduct their own survey of the space where your kitchen will be located, so they know the exact size of it, and where any obstructions are located. They need to coordinate the various skilled workers onsite and they also need to communicate with the builder to agree the required locations of water, waste and gas pipes, and the electrical layout of lights, sockets and appliances.
Once the kitchen is fitted, you will need to check it carefully. Flaws in casework assembly are immediately apparent to the untrained eye.Look for perfectly level and balanced doors with no visible gaps between elements. All cases should be self-supporting on the floor, no parts should be missing or loose. There should be very few packing pieces or filler strips to conceal a poor fit. At handover, it should be completely clean and free of any scratches or surface imperfections.
How to choose a supplier
Kitchen suppliers range in size from large, bespoke joinery workshops and multinational franchises to local fitters working out of vans and sourcing generic modular kitchen units from catalogues. We work with suppliers of any size but always encourage clients to seek an honest assessment of quality and price, and to go for a well-made kitchen that is:
- In keeping with their overall house design.
- Has all their required functions, with a suitable ergonomic layout.
- Is within their budget, and has not been redesigned to optimise the supplier's profit.
- Has a guaranteed minimum level of quality.
What to ask about price and quality
While the idea of modular casework is universal, the quality of the materials that might be used varies widely. Before you pay any money, check the supplier's website for:
- ISO accreditation for their service, or references from previous customers.
- A statement of the scope of other building work, such as plumbing and wiring, to be undertaken by the supplier to enable the kitchen fit-out.
- Guarantees and testing certificates for the key components which are highly likely to fail: laminate finishes and adhesives, hinges, drawer mechanisms, paint quality and the main casework sheet material.
- An itemised price breakdown of all components.
What should you expect to pay?
The price you can expect to pay ranges from €500-€1,000 per module. For prices below this level, you need to think about self-assembly options like Ikea and be prepared to invest a large amount of time in a DIY project. Above €1,000 per module, you should have a more bespoke service which goes beyond the use of purely modular systems and should include some highly skilled, customised joinery work.
At the lower end of the price scale, expect doors made from good-quality, painted particle board, and melamine-covered work surfaces. At the higher end, expect high-quality, factory-applied laminates or painted hardwood finishes on cabinet doors, and work surfaces supplied by specialist fabricators. Such high-quality work surfaces could include reconstituted stone, wood or resin composite products, all of which are sold under a variety of brand names.
These prices exclude electrical appliances. You would also need to factor in €2,200-€5,000 for electrical and gas appliances, based on averages for well-known high street brands.
Ask Your Architect about Safety and Compliance
The location and detailed design of your kitchen are absolutely critical factors in the overall compliance of your home with the building regulations. Fire safety, ventilation, and carbon monoxide risks in homes are complex and kitchens are the nexus point for many of the greatest risks. Your kitchen redesign should always start with a registered architect who can propose a design which is safe in the context of the overall home.
- Consult a registered architect when considering any changes to your home. The RIAI is the registration body for architects in Ireland, log onto riai.ie
- Diarmuid Kelly is a registered architect of the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland; dkad.ie