Choosing Kitchen units

Ranges of kitchen units generally comprise three elements:

1. Base cupboards go below worktops and sinks for storage and to house built-in appliances;

2. Tall floor-to-ceiling cupboards serve a similar dual purpose;

3. For storage alone shallow wall cupboards are wall-hung above work-top level.

Ready-to-assemble ranges of kitchen units are made by several manufacturers. These, of course, are cheaper than pre-assembled ranges. There are ranges of whitewood fittings that enable the homemaker to build up a scheme to suit the particular requirements of his kitchen. The whitewood fitments need painting; a laminate or other hard-wearing, heat-resistant surface must be applied to counter tops.


Much research has been carried out in attempts to rationalise the dimensions of kitchen units and components. As a result, for base cupboards used for storage and to house appliances, a front-to-back measurement of 60 cm (or about 24 in.) had been recommended. Minimum worktop lengths that have been recommended are: 60 cm on the draining side of the sink; 90 cm (or about 36 in.) on the stacking side of the sink bowl; 90 cm for mixing and food preparation; 30 cm (or about 12 in.) on either side of the cooker; 60 cm near the cooker for serving dishes; 40 cm (or about 16 in.) next to the refrigerator for placing items taken from it.

It would be an ideal kitchen that met all these and other dimensional criteria. The most important recommendation to follow is the 90 cm length for food preparation.

From the point of view of the kitchen user, the height of worktops, governed in fact by the height of appliances where these are built in, is probably more important than worktop lengths. Since no single level equally suits people of different heights, the ergonomists face a problem.

A preferred sink and worktop height of 90 cm (about 36 in.) has, however, been adopted as a metric British Standard.

If possible, avoid having work and counter tops at different levels. A single level throughout the kitchen makes food preparation and clearing up much easier and safer. Between a worktop and a wall-hung cupboard, a vertical gap of about 16 in.-18 in. (say 40-45 cm) permits the most effective use of both. The intervening area of wall can take power points or hooks for small implements.

Storage cupboards

The objective is to store things as close as possible to the surfaces on which you will use them. Concentrate first on the work triangle: the area of the refrigerator, cooker and sink with linking work surfaces. Within this area you need storage for most frequently used utensils (e.g. saucepans, frying pan, collander), implements (e.g. kitchen knives, graters, mixers, measuring jugs), dry goods (e.g. bread, tea, coffee, condiments) and cleaning things (e.g. detergent, scourers). Then plan the rest of the kitchen storage outwards from the work triangle roughly according to the frequency of use, with the least used utensils, implements and stores farthest away, stocked perhaps in polythene on the top shelves of a tall cupboard on the perimeter of the kitchen.

The positioning of storage should be governed by practical function and not by department store considerations. It may seem systematic to store all saucepans in a base cupboard well outside the work triangle. But a small saucepan that is used for almost every family meal has nothing functionally in common with a massive preserving pan used only now and again for making jam.

Shallow drawers with compartments are best for smaller items such as kitchen cutlery, pastry cutters and whisks. Here again, to save excessive walking to and fro during food preparation, it is advisable to store the most used items within the work triangle if possible. Rather than putting them in a drawer you can fit pegboard to the wall backing a main work surface and hang them on pegs: this way they are immediately accessible and if. For instance, you are preparing vegetables you do not have to wipe your hands before opening and delving into a drawer.

Deep drawers are probably the best place to house your main store of large saucepans, with pan handles vertical, but because of the weight the drawers should be on runners for ease of pulling out and pushing back. Heavy saucepans can be stored too on the bottom shelf of a deep cupboard. However, heavy objects are not easy to extract and lift when you are in a squatting position.

Adjustable fitments.

Many manufactured storage units allow for flexibility in the form of adjustable shelves, storage turntables, sliding trays and racks. You can improve the efficiency of old cupboards by buying and inserting adjustable fitments of this kind.

Sliding doors are safer than hinged doors on wall-hung cupboards but they are not really effective on cupboards longer than about 30 in. (say 80 cm) and can be difficult to clean. If you are committed to or prefer hinged doors on kitchen fitments, calculate the door swings when re-planning the kitchen and try to ensure that there is minimum over-lap and obstruction as the doors are opened.

“Cool cupboard”.

A well-ventilated “cool cupboard” to store stocks of vegetables, fruit and tinned foods is a valuable ancillary that takes some of the burden off the refrigerator. Pantries used to serve this purpose. Before dismantling the pantry in converting an old kitchen and opening up the area to integrate with the rest of the kitchen, consider whether it might not be better left to its original devices. If the hinged pantry door is obstructive, replace it with a sliding door or curtaining.

Where you have a utility room with a built-in cupboard, this could fill the role of “cool cupboard”, given adequate ventilation. Whether the “cool cupboard” is in the utility room or the kitchen itself, it may be possible to let air bricks into the wall behind it to provide the necessary ventilation.

Cleaning equipment.

The kitchen or utility room may have to accommodate the household cleaning equipment and materials (e.g. vacuum cleaner, floor polisher, buckets, mops, brooms, dusters, polishes, disinfectant). For this purpose, allocate or build-in a cupboard tall enough to take brooms and perhaps a step-ladder and deep enough to take shelves at the back The wall space at the front free of the shelves can be fitted with a batten and items like brooms and brushes be neatly secured to it with spring-clips.

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