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13 October 2020

Kitchen units, 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.
Kitchen cabinets 435120
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.

Choosing kitchen units

Your kitchen units 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 units

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.

Remember that 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.  

Solid wood kitchen units

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.

If you're keen to have the look of real wood, but not the full cost, one option is to buy a carcass in cheaper chipboard or MDF and add end panels and doors in solid wood.

Best kitchen units

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. 

Replacing kitchen 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. 

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. 

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.

Repainting kitchen doors

If your existing kitchen cupboards are in good condition, you could repaint rather than replace them. 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'll need to make sure you properly prepare your doors first – they'll need to be cleaned, sanded (if they're wooden) and primed – and use the right paint for that material. Most DIY shops and paint specialists have detailed advice on how to paint specific types of doors, or you could pay someone else to do it for you.  

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.

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.

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.

Wooden 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.

Best kitchen worktops

Log in now to see which types of worktop kitchen owners rated most highly. 

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. 

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.