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23 April 2021

Kitchen cabinets, doors and worktops

Expert advice on kitchen units, doors and worktops, whether you're designing a new kitchen from scratch or refreshing an old one.
Liz Ransome-Croker

One of your biggest decisions when planning your new kitchen will be the materials you choose – should you go for solid wood or chipboard units? Granite or laminate worktops?

Costs, as well as the quality, can vary dramatically depending on what material you opt for. 

To help you make the best choice for your kitchen, we've surveyed 3,443 kitchen owners about the materials their kitchens are made from to find out which are best able to stand the test of time.

Already know what units and worktops you want? Head straight to our best and worst kitchen brands

Kitchen units

Your cupboards are the backbone of your kitchen, offering brilliant storage solutions and a seamless cooking experience – if you get it right. 

The first thing to consider is the size of units, also called carcasses. Our table below will give you an idea of the dimensions you will need to work to if you're buying a fitted kitchen, as opposed to a bespoke one, which will be more flexible.

Kitchen unit measurements
Sizes Base unit Wall unit Sinks
Height 72cm plus plinth 72-90cm 15-18cm
Width 30-60cm 30-60cm 76-95cm
Depth Up to 60cm 30cm 44-50cm

There is a huge range of storage options, but what's right for you boils down to how you use your kitchen on a daily basis. Our page on planning your kitchen takes you through this in more detail.

Once you have chosen the sizes and types you need, you'll need to think about materials. 

Chipboard or MDF kitchen cupboards

Most people choose laminate-covered chipboard or MDF (medium-density fibreboard) units. Options include plain matt or gloss laminate finishes, or those that replicate other materials, such as wood. 

These are the cheapest units, and many of the kitchens from big-name brands, such as B&Q and Homebase, offer units in these materials. 

MDF is higher density and therefore stronger than chipboard and tends to be more water resistant; as a result, units that use it are likely to be a little more expensive than chipboard alternatives.

Solid wood kitchen cupboards

Solid wood kitchen units come in a variety of wood types, from oak to beech. But, as you might imagine, these are more expensive than laminate or veneered models. Most arrive pre-assembled (and glued together), making them very strong and rigid.

Cheap kitchen units and cabinets 

You won't see the carcass of your units very much, so this is an area you can save on. Many people opt for cheaper units accessorised with higher-quality doors and fronts.  

This is particularly the case if you are keen to have the look of real wood, but not the full cost. In this case, you could buy a kitchen unit in cheaper chipboard or MDF and add end panels and doors in solid wood.

Sales and buying second-hand can also be a great way to pick up a bargain. But any of these tactics could easily be a false economy if you don't do your research. 

Read on to find out more about what makes a great kitchen carcasses that will age well, and head to our pages on kitchen sales for tips on how to avoid being sucked in by deceptive deals and buying second-hand.

Best kitchen cabinets

In May and June 2019 we asked kitchen owners who own these types of unit what they think of their quality, and how they have stood the test of time. 

Log in to unlock the tables below, and reveal the percentage of people who rated each type as 'excellent' for quality and durability.

You will also get access to our kitchen installation page, where you'll be able to see ratings for kitchen installers from different brands; the top scorer got 83% while the bottom got just 58%.

If you're not a Which? member, you can gain instant access to this and thousands of product and service reviews by joining Which? today.

Kitchen units
Material Quality of units Durability of units
Laminate covered chipboard
Laminate covered MDF
Painted solid wood
Solid wood
Table shows the percentage of people that rated the material as good or excellent for quality and durability.

It's not all about materials though. When our experts assessed a selection of units from popular kitchen brand in our lab (in spring 2019) to see whether any were worthy of a Best Buy, we found that they were all made of the same material. 

But they all differed in other ways that have a bearing on the quality of a unit. Log in or join Which? to find out which units scored best and what the key differences were. 

Kitchen wall cabinets

Kitchen wall cabinets are the perfect way to make the most of the space in your kitchen. A lot of kitchen wall cupboards come as two at 90cm or 1000cm wide, as opposed to one. You can get single ones though, so think about what will match with and mirror your floor unit layout for a symmetrical look.

Most are also a standardised height of 72cm, like base units, but you can get taller ones that got right to the ceiling, really utilising every inch.

However, have a think about what you need and can reach - there is no point in having an extra-high cabinet if it's a total pain to reach anything on the top shelf. There are a lot of storage solutions though, such as pull-down racks and rails - more about kitchen storage and unit sizes on our kitchen planning page

Also consider whether you want cornices - decorative pieces on the top of wall cabinets. They're not essential - and add another cost - but they do give the units a finished look.

You can also add downlights or LED strips to the bottom of your kitchen wall units to add extra light to your workspace - particularly useful when prepping food.

Kitchen drawers

Kitchen drawer units are a useful way to store different types of kitchen equipment. There are a lot of different options too

  • four slim drawers
  • three deeper drawers
  • extra-deep drawers for pots and pans
  • bin drawers to hide away unsightly rubbish.

Most kitchen companies also offer soft-close drawers, which help to stop them being accidentally slammed close.

Kitchen corner units

A corner unit is a very useful way to turn a wasted corner into storage space. You can get floor and wall corner units too. But, like with tall wall units, they're useless if you can't access anything at the back. 

The solution is pull-out storage instead of standard shelves. These allows you to bring items out from the back and can be simple shelves or racks that pull out around the corner, systems that fold in on themselves or units that can be spun around inside the cupboard.

Find out more about the different kitchen storage options on our kitchen planning page.

Best kitchen doors

We asked the same questions about durability and quality of people's kitchen doors as we did for kitchen units, with similar results.

Which? members can log in now to see the ratings for the different types of kitchen door, as well as all our kitchen brand ratings and costing information. If you're not member, join Which? today for instant access. 

Kitchen doors
Material Quality of units Durability of units
Laminate covered chipboard
Laminate covered MDF
Painted solid wood
Solid wood
Table shows the percentage of people that rated the material as good or excellent for quality and durability.

Kitchen cupboard doors: replacing and repainting

Replacement kitchen cabinet doors

If the layout of your kitchen works and your units are in good condition, replacing just the doors and drawer fronts, rather than the whole units, should save you a lot of money. 

There's a wide range of kitchen doors available, and a range of prices to reflect that. As your doors are central to the look and feel of your kitchen, this is the place to spend a little bit more, if you can, to get the style you want. 

Doors cost from about £5 each. Many of the big-name kitchen companies sell replacement doors as well as fully fitted kitchens, but it's also worth looking on second-hand sites, such as eBay, for cheaper doors in the material you want. 

Our kitchen costs page gives more information on the cost of repairing and replacing kitchen doors as well as worktops.

Whether you're buying new or second-hand, you'll need to ensure that you get the right size and associated fittings, such as hinges, for your cupboards. Most kitchen companies have a free design service, so make the most of this and ask for advice if you're unsure. 

The last thing to think about is the material your doors are made of. Again, laminate-covered chipboard or MDF are typically more cost-effective. They're a very flexible choice and come in a range of colours and effects. 

If you love the look of wood, and don't want to get wood-effect laminate, there are lots of solid wood options, including oak, beech, walnut and teak. 

Cheap kitchen doors

The cheapest type of kitchen door, like with the units, is chipboard or MDF ones covered in laminate. They come in a wide variety of colours, are sold by pretty much all kitchen stores, and are readily available second-hand. 

You might also want to consider buying cheap doors that are unfinished and painting them yourself, particularly if you have a particular colour or even a pattern in mind. 

Repainting your existing kitchen cupboards instead if replacing them, if they're in good condition, is another way to save money too Just make sure you use the right paint - more on this below - and consider getting in some help for a professional look.

However, laminate covered or even painted doors aren't likely to be as long-lasting as solid wood doors, depending on what they materials, so keep that in mind.

Remember to check our guide to kitchen sales for advice on how to buy a discounted or second-hand kitchen, and our kitchen ideas page for inspiration for your design.

Kitchen cupboard paints

You can paint pretty much any type of door, and there's an endless selection of colours to choose from, whether you prefer vibrant colours or more muted pastels. You can also get gloss or matt paints to suit the look you're going for. 

You'll need to make sure you properly prepare your doors first – they'll need to be cleaned, lightly sanded (if they're wooden) and usually primed. The latter depends on both the material you're painting and the paint itself, so check the instructions.

Taking them off and laying them flat to paint will also help to avoid unsightly drips. Also remove any handles to stop them getting covered.

There are specialist kitchen door paints - it needs to wipe clean and withstand moisture. But you can use a multi-purpose paint designed for different materials, as long as it's durable. 

If you go with this option, make sure you choose the right one - if you're painting wooden doors you'll need one that's suitable for woodwork, for example. You can also use chalk paints, which usually don't need a primer, but sometimes require a top coat to seal them. 

Most DIY shops and paint specialists sell kitchen door paints as well as all-round options, and often have detailed advice on how to paint specific types of doors.

If you're not sure about doing the job yourself though, why not call in a professional? You can use our service, Which? Trusted Traders, to find a reliable and recommended trader. 

Kitchen door handles

It might sound silly, but your kitchen door cupboard handles can make a real difference to the look of your kitchen, so think carefully about what you choose. 

There is a huge range of available, both in terms of material and style. Wooden, standard knobs are ideal for a rustic country look, while long, sleek metal handles are perfect for a modern setup.

Consider mixing and matching kitchen cabinet handles for added interest. You could also buy cheap handles and paint them for a more lux feel or to match your design. Handles are also something you can easily pick up second-hand for less. 

Also think about how easy they are to use - it sounds simplistic, but you'll be using them day-in-day-out, so having one that feels nice to hold and is easy to grip will make a big difference.

Choosing a kitchen worktop

Kitchen worktops come in a wide range of materials and finishes, from more expensive solid wood and granite to cheaper laminated chipboard or MDF. 

As you can image, the prices for these vary widely, too, from £50 to more than £500 for the same length of worktop. 

Laminate-covered worktops are a flexible choice, as they come in a range of realistic effects, including granite, wood, stone or slate, without the associated cost of the real materials. 

Most worktops come in 20 to 40mm thickness (most commonly 28mm or 38mm) and widths of 600mm or 900mm.You can also get a bespoke worktop made to your specifications.

See our kitchen ideas for more design inspiration. 

Granite worktops

Granite worktops are available in a huge range of colours (including black, cream, red, and even pink).They are very hard-wearing and highly resistant to heat and scratches. However, they can still become marked with heavy use, such as through exposure to heat and acidic chemicals for long periods of time, or by chopping food without a chopping board.

Granite doesn't need a lot of maintenance, although you should keep it clean. You can also buy specialist granite cleaners and sealers to use every so often.

Wooden kitchen worktops

Wooden worktops come in a number of different types, including oak, walnut, beech, birch, ash and teak. They are sealed, so should be fairly durable, but you'll need to be more careful than with quartz and granite to avoid scratching, staining and scorching from heat. 

You'll also need to maintain your wooden worktop, coating it with oil semi-regularly initially, which you can gradually do less frequently. It's best to ask the company you buy it from about specific maintenance for your particular type of wood. 

On the flip side, wooden worktops can also be sanded and resealed to remove imperfections, which quartz and granites can't undergo so easily.

Wooden worktops can warp if poorly stored before installation, so ask the company how to care for yours when it's delivered.

Quartz worktops

Like granite, quartz worktops come in a range of colours, but are more commonly white, black or grey. Some are quite detailed and have lots of patterns within them, while others are plainer.

Quartz is durable and resistant to heat and scratches, although not as much as granite. Again, you'll need to ensure it's kept clean and doesn't undergo excessive wear and tear, but it won't need a lot of maintenance.

Laminate kitchen worktop

Laminate worktops are simply MDF or chipboard wrapped in a layer of plastic, also called laminate, and sealed. This makes then water resistant, hygienic and durable, although they can scratch if used as a surface to chop directly onto. 

This style opens up a wide range of options when it comes to the look of your kitchen. Advancements in printing methods onto the laminate means they can look very like the material they're aiming to replicate, thus allowing you to have the look of wood, quartz or granite without the cost.

Alternatively, laminate worktops enable you to go for a bold pattern or distinctive colour palette, and can be high gloss or have a more matt finish. 

Cheap kitchen worktops

As you might expect, laminate worktops are the cheapest. But the thickness of a worktop makes a difference too, as well as how much you need. 

Have you considered using a more expensive type of worktop in a smaller, highly visible area, such as a kitchen island, and another cheaper one elsewhere?

Shopping around and considering buying second-hand or in the sales can also allow you to pick up a bargain too. Visit our guide to kitchen sales for tips on buying a cheaper kitchen.

Best kitchen worktops

Log in now to see which types of worktop kitchen owners rated most highly. If you're not a member, join Which? today for instant access. 

Kitchen worktops
Material Quality of units Durability of units
Laminate on chipboard
Laminate on MDF
Solid beech
Solid granite
Solid oak
Solid quartz
Table shows the percentage of people that rated the material as excellent for quality and durability.

All of the big-name kitchen brands have ranges of standard worktops, particularly laminate, while a number of specialist companies offer wider ranges for different materials, as well as bespoke services. 

Kitchen plinths

Plinths are simply the thin strip of wood that sit at the bottom of your kitchen floor units. They hide the legs - which are usually adjustable - and stop dirt and dust from getting underneath. 

When you buy a kitchen, they should be automatically included, but it's worth double checking, especially if you're buying second-hand. 

If you need to replace a plinth, contact the original manufacturer first to see if you can get an exact match. Otherwise, you can buy them on their own new or used, but they may not match exactly, so ask for sample if you can. 

You can also get small heaters or vacuum cleaners to fit in under your cupboards within the plinth - the latter is particularly useful for clearing up small spills without having to get our your vacuum cleaner.

Which? kitchen survey and assessments

In May and June 2019, we asked 2,238 Which? members about the kitchen they bought in the past 10 years and their experiences of buying a kitchen and with the brand they bought it from.  

We also assessed kitchen units from the big-name kitchen brands we have reviewed, looking at a base unit, wall cupboard and a drawer unit for each type of carcass from each company, for example flat-pack and pre-assembled versions.

Find our more about how we test kitchens. Or, head straight to our round-up of the best and worst kitchen brands