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Thanks to the RIAI for publishing our guide to designing and buying a new kitchen for your home, seen here in last week’s Sunday Independent

Delighted to share this advice on kitchen design and procurement in last week’s Sunday Independent, thanks to the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland. 

“A beautifully designed kitchen can transform the functionality of your living space and add a central sculptural element to the heart of your home. To truly enjoy your home renovation process, it’s essential to embrace the possibilities for avantgarde design and exciting materials and finishes which only the kitchen can afford. But before you get carried away remember; kitchen fitting is usually the single biggest expense, and quality varies wildly.  

Value can be hard to achieve as suppliers sometimes make quality, price, and the scope of what’s included unclear.

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 points for many of the greatest risks. Kitchen redesign should always start with a registered architect who can propose a design which is safe of the context of the overall home.     

Elegant Composition of Modular Systems

The overwhelming majority of fitted kitchens are assembled from modular systems of “casework” boxes. The simplicity of this process is deceptive; relatively few suppliers can compose these simple elements with the skill and attention to detail needed to create clear elegant lines. A thorough site survey and tireless coordination of various skilled workers onsite is crucial.  

The kitchen will initially be designed by your architect, we normally do this according to a generic 600×600 grid, which is standard for kitchen units. When you and your architect select a specific 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. As part of this process, they will have to conduct their own survey of the room where the fittings will be located, so they know the exact size of the space, and the locations of any obstructions. In the context of a home renovation, the kitchen supplier will 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.  

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 imperfections of fit. At handover, it should be completely clean and free of any scratches or surface imperfections.   

How the Process Should Work

In an ideal scenario, the architect for your home will prepare a design for your kitchen based on a 600mm grid; you will bring the plans to kitchen supplier and they will use an in-house design service to match the architect’s design to their modular system.

This redesign process can be risky because it allows the supplier to “up-sell” more expensive finishes and fittings, to break from the overall design of the house or even to change the architect’s layout to include more casework.

Four Goals When Selecting a Kitchen Supplier

Companies 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. At DKAD we are open to working with suppliers of any size but we always encourage clients to seek an honest assessment of quality and price, and to go for a well made kitchen which 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.

Key Questions for Price and Quality?

While the concept of modular casework is entirely universal, the quality of materials 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 fitout.  
  • 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.
  • A fully itemized price breakdown of all components.

What Size Kitchen Do You Need and How Much Should You Pay?

As a general rule of thumb, our clients for long term family homes of 3-6 people look for around 15 standard modules (a module is a typical two-foot square box) which includes fitting a utility room; apartments for 2-4 people usually need around 8 modules, and studio apartments can suffice with 6 if they have separate clothes washing facilities.  

The price you can expect to pay ranges from €500- €1000 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 €1000 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, 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.

Design Tips

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. Remember the kitchen 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 2 colours, consider pared down designs with handle- less doors, and seamless resin- formed worksurfaces. This visual simplicity will allow the kitchen to harmonize with the overall interior, without limiting future options for interior design in the rest of the space.

Consult a registered architect when considering any changes to your home. The RIAI is the Registration Body for Architects in Ireland and you can find a registered architect on www.riai.ie

Diarmuid Kelly is a Registered Architect of The Royal Institute of Architects.   www.dkad.ie”

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