An independent source of kitchen design advice & ideas
Very few people can easily identify why one kitchen would cost £8,000 and another, using a very similar plan, would cost £16,000. It's easy to identify the differences beteen the £3,000 kitchen and the £30,000 one ... it's the big middle ground which is more tricky. It's made more difficult by the fact that buying a kitchen may be inextricably linked with it's design ... as explained in the Kitchen Design section. If you do go to a supplier for your design, try to sort out in your mind the relationship between the designing and the selling. Decide how much of the advice you're being given is sales driven and how much is genuine.
If you're not happy with a design you've received, is that because the designer wasn't very good? Or is it because the units available to them were very restricted in size and type? Or was it both? It can be very difficult to come up with a great kitchen design, when you haven't got the right selection of units to choose from; even more so, if you don't have much experience of designing kitchens.
For a bespoke kitchen, like the one shown below, you need both the right designer and the right supplier
You also need to decide, whether or not your designer is being too much of a silver tongued salesman (or woman). Are they trying to pull the wool over your eyes as to the real quality of the units they want you to buy, using a lot of sales patter and a merely adequate design? Not all big discounts are big bargains. Could it be that the really low price is due to the really low quality of the units, rather than that one-off bargain you're being told about? (Whether the explanation put forward is ... yet another sale ... meeting last minute quotas ... under-employed fitters ... surplus stock ... using your kitchen as a showhome ... or any other hoary old chestnut).
Be very wary of any direct salespeople who come to your home. They're likely to be very much keener to sell you a new kitchen than to design it well ... and their list prices are almost certainly artificially inflated before they start. Be equally wary of the national outlets who have similarly inflated list prices and almost continuous sales. Some of these outlets charge very high prices for accessories, such as end panels, which tend not to be in any sales. You look at the very reasonable unit prices ... and then can't understand why the overall cost is so high.
You can get free kitchen advice and details of the types and qualities of units available in the UK by downloading Majjie's Before You Start guide. It's completely free, if you register on this site. More detailed information on kitchen suppliers will be available in Majjie's UK Kitchen Buying Guide (which is currently being re-written). That one's not free but it could be a good investment if you're looking for sources of good quality kitchens.
If you're going direct to a kitchen retailer, for your new kitchen, I would recommend going to an independent kitchen showroom which uses a number of different suppliers and can offer you a range of kitchens to choose from, varying in quality and price. Ideally it will be a place that can source made-to-measure carcasses (bought in, or that they make themselves). Even with standard sized doors this gives you much more design flexibility. Branded doors are likely to come from companies like Burbidge, PWS (branded Second Nature) and Marpatt. You can also get made-to-measure doors in vinyl wrapped styles, from companies such as Crystal Doors and Browns 2000 (although kitchen showrooms are less likely to use the brand names of the vinyl door manufacturers).
If the budget can be stretched far enough, then go for a bespoke kitchen from a showroom or (as in the picture above) a cabinetmaker ... where they make their own cabinet doors. That way, you get something made specifically for you (and your kitchen space) and it may not be as expensive as you think. Certainly not as expensive as the big name, upmarket companies and often no more expensive than a high street showroom.
If money is no object, then choose one of those well known names and have a designer kitchen ... but do check the quality first. Are you happy to pay a lot just for the name and the look ... without getting better quality units? Some famous names use distinctly better quality materials than others and you may well be able to get a better calibre of kitchen by going to an unknown cabinetmaker. Don't use a cabinetmaker if you want a high tech, high gloss minimal kitchen, though. Those are better made in a scrupulously clean factory, than a workshop full of sawdust.
If your budget is very limited, then I would consider buying a kitchen from IKEA (but beware of their non-standard sizes and the lack of any recess behind the units); Homebase (but their fitting costs are high); or Wickes. It's not that other multiples have poor quality units, necessarily - but they do seem to have trouble delivering everything at once.
IKEA units have their disadvantages and you need a good designer ... but you'd be hard pushed to get better quality at the same price. The kitchen below is in Tidaholm Oak.
You can also look for showrooms selling branded kitchens with standard sized units ... such as Crown Imperial (who do a range of qualities), Colonial, Lakes and Omega (who also do Chippendale and the slightly more upmarket Sheraton). These kitchen brands provide only standard sized units, in the same way as the multiples and the cheapest brands do ... but their range of standard sizes tends to be more varied, allowing for more design versatility ... and a better looking kitchen.
Take a look at the Kitchen Brands and Kitchen Retail Supplier pages on this website. Companies can only appear there by invitation, even though they have to pay for a full entry. You won't find any direct sales kitchen companies (whose salespeople come to your home and use high pressure sales tactics), amongst the retail suppliers listed on this website.
Also consider finding a kitchen fitter first, and buying a kitchen from him. Many use cheap units from Howdens or Magnet Trade, but some use better quality brands, such as Crown Imperial. Even with the cheaper units, you could do well going to a kitchen fitter, since many are good at adapting and altering units for unusual situations ... where an inexperienced, in-house designer might not dare to make the suggestion. Some kitchen fitters are even good at designing kitchens themselves (don't tell them I said so!) but others have a tendency to keep things easy for themselves and only a few keep up-to-date with appliances and modern kitchen trends.
If you want to know why I don't recommend a big multiple like B&Q for cheaper kitchens ... have a look at this innocent blog I wrote about their slightly dodgy Sale tactics, back in January 2009. I actually said I liked some of their kitchens ... and it's still getting comments from disgruntled customers now:
Here are some more of Majjie's previous blogs and articles that might be of interest (but bear in mind that some of them are from a while ago):