Fitted kitchens make the most of available space and facilitate cleaning. Ready-made units are expensive, but there are self-assembly units which you can buy at considerably less cost. All components are factory-made and supplied pre-drilled complete with fixing screws and any other items needed for assembly. The units are packed flat in boxes for easy carriage.
There are several brands to choose from and leading manufacturers have showrooms where you can see the units assembled. If you are not near a showroom, collect all the available leaflets so you can compare the different types; basic units are similar in design, but fittings and accessories may vary. If you want housing units for a cooker, fridge or freezer, look for those designed to fit the brand of appliance you own or plan to buy. When visiting a showroom, check the drawers and doors of a unit open and close easily and are well finished. Some doors have special features such as magnetic catches and hinges which allow the door to swing closed. It is usually possible to choose either left or right-hung doors, but check before buying. Also look for units which have backpieces because they make the structure more stable and hygienic.
Materials Most components are made of laminated chipboard; the doors are made of solid timber or faced with laminate or timber veneer. Worktops are usually finished in a tough laminate which can be plain or patterned to simulate marble, cork or timber.
Dimensions Many units are now designed in metric measures based on a module of 100mm (or 4in). The standard height of a base unit is 900mm including the plinth; the width (depth) is 600mm. Common lengths are 300, 500 and 600inm, although some manufacturers produce units up to 1200mm (or 47in). Wall units come in the same lengths, but are not as wide. Sink units are from 1000 to 1500mm (or 39-59in), depending upon whether they have a single or double drainer. Worktops come in several standard lengths; other lengths can usually be made to order.
Before ordering units, measure your kitchen carefully and transfer the measurements onto graph paper; you can then draw in the units to scale. Allow space for existing appliances such as a washing machine, cooker and fridge, if they are not going to be fitted into housing units. You can fill odd gaps with a tray recess or filler panel. Some manufacturers offer a planning service, based on your requirements and measurements; there may be a fee for this service, refundable when your units are delivered.
If you wish to add to existing units, any differences in height can be adjusted by placing blocks under the lower units; or you can simply fit a continuous worktop over all the units. If there are differences in width, bring the narrower units forward so all the units line up at the front.
Guarantee Some manufacturers provide a guarantee with their self-assembly units, so check this before you buy.
Types of unit
There are several basic types of self-assembly unit common to most manufacturers; the differences are in the finish, fittings and accessories.
Base unit This stands on the floor of the kitchen and consists of cupboards and/or drawers. There are base units available to house particular makes of hob (specified by the manufacturer) or sink. Sinks with drainers can sit on top of a base unit or be set into the worktop; one version includes a sink bonded into the worktop so there are no cracks through which water can seep.
This is a smaller cupboard which fits on the wall above a base unit; you can fit midway units below them for shelf storage.
A tall unit is used as a larder or for broom storage; it is best placed at the end of a run of units so it does not interrupt the work surface.
Housing unit To enable you to position an oven, freezer or fridge at eye level so you do not have to bend, there are housing units specially designed to accommodate such appliances. Manufacturers indicate which brands fit into their units. Storage space is provided above and below the unit.
Fittings and accessories
Storage of a wide variety of items is facilitated by the appropriate fittings. You can store vegetables in racks which pull out on rollers or are attached to a pull-out unit; similar units have racks designed to hold bottles. Other pull-out units incorporate a table, ironing board or a lifting platform which can hold a mixer. Moulded cutlery inserts are designed to fit snugly into drawers and self-opening waste bins and racks for detergent fit inside cupboard doors. Swivel shelves which can be swung out make use of the otherwise inaccessible corner space where two base units meet. If you are left with a gap between units, you can make use of it by fitting a tray recess in which telescopic rails for tea towels will fit.
Assembly of units
Each manufacturer provides detailed assembly instructions and it is important to follow these closely. However, there are a few general principles which apply in all cases.
After unpacking each unit check all the parts against the list supplied by the manufacturer. Check also the alignment of walls and floor. If they are uneven, use packing to ensure the units are square; if the units are not square, the doors will-not align correctly. When fixing units to walls, check before you drill any holes that there are no electric cables, plumbing fittings or gas pipes in the vicinity. It is sometimes very difficult to drive in a screw close to the corner of a unit, but there is a specially shaped offset screwdriver for screwing round corners and this will make the job easier. When fitting hinges, check the door alignment before finally tightening the screws.