22nd July 2021
One of your biggest decisions when planning your new kitchen is the materials you choose – should you go for solid wood or chipboard units? Granite or laminate kitchen worktops?
Costs, as well as the quality, vary dramatically depending on what materials you opt for.
To help you make the best choice for your kitchen, we've surveyed thousands of kitchen owners and sent kitchen cabinets from big brands to our test lab.
Your cupboards are the backbone of your kitchen, giving brilliant storage solutions and a seamless cooking experience – if you get it right.
The first thing to consider is the size of the units, also called carcasses. These are the dimensions of standard fitted kitchens:
Kitchen unit measurements
72cm plus plinth
Up to 60cm
If you're buying a bespoke kitchen, the measurements will be more flexible.
When you have chosen the sizes and types of units, start thinking about materials.
Laminate-covered chipboard or MDF (medium-density fibreboard) units are the most popular. You can choose from plain matt or gloss laminate finishes, or those that replicate other materials, such as wood.
Chipboard carcasses are the cheapest units, and many of the kitchens from big-name brands are made partly of chipboard.
MDF is higher density and therefore stronger than chipboard. It tends to be more water resistant, so units that use it are likely to be slightly more expensive than chipboard.
Solid wood kitchen units are more expensive than laminate or veneered cabinets.
Most arrive pre-assembled (and glued together), making them very strong and rigid.
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 with higher-quality doors and fronts.
If you want the look of real wood, but not the cost, you could buy kitchen units in cheaper chipboard or MDF and add end panels and doors in solid wood.
Although solid oak may seem much sturdier than laminate-covered MDF or chipboard, none of the 21 widely available units we assessed from popular brands were solid oak.
They were all made from melamine-faced chipboard, and some of them went on to become Best Buys.
Kitchen wall cabinets help make the most of the space in your kitchen. Kitchen wall cupboards are generally either single or double width - and fitted with one or two doors. Two-door units are usually 90cm or 100cm wide, and single-door units range from 30cm to 60cm. For the most visually appealing and balanced kitchen design, it's best to ensure that wall units are aligned with the floor units beneath.
Most are also a standard height of 72cm, like floor units, but you can get taller ones that go right to the ceiling.
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.
Consider whether you want cornices – decorative pieces on the top of wall cabinets. They're not essential, and are an extra cost, but they can give the units a finished look.
You can also add downlights or LED strips underneath your kitchen wall units to illuminate your workspace - particularly useful for cooking.
Kitchen drawer units are a useful way to store various types of kitchen equipment. There are a lot of different options too:
Most kitchen companies also offer soft-close drawers, which help to stop them being accidentally slammed shut.
A corner unit can turn a wasted corner into handy storage. But, as with tall wall units, they're frustrating if you can't access anything at the back.
The solution is pull-out storage instead of standard shelves. Options include:
Laminate-covered chipboard or MDF doors are typically more cost-effective. They 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.
We asked kitchen owners about the cupboard doors they chose, including how well they lasted and whether they were still happy with their choice.
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.
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.
Whether you're buying new or second-hand, check that you get the right size and fittings, such as hinges, for your cupboards. Most kitchen companies have a free design service, so ask for advice if you're unsure.
The cheapest type of kitchen door is chipboard or MDF 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 could also buy cheap doors that are unfinished and paint them yourself.
However, laminate-covered and painted doors aren't likely to be as long-lasting as solid wood doors, depending on the materials used.
Repainting your kitchen cupboards instead of replacing them is another way to save money.
You can paint pretty much any type of door. Specialist kitchen door paints are designed to wipe clean and withstand moisture.
You can also use a multi-purpose paint, as long as it's durable. Check that you choose a paint suitable for the material of your doors (a woodwork paint for wooden doors, for example).
Prepare your doors properly first:
Whether or not you need primer depends on the material of the doors you're painting and the paint you've chosen. Check the instructions on the paint tin.
Lying your doors flat when you paint them will help avoid unsightly drips.
Kitchen door paints are available from paint specialists and most DIY shops.
The handles you choose for your cupboard doors and drawers can make a big difference to the look of your kitchen.
Standard wooden knobs are ideal for a rustic country look, while long, sleek metal handles are perfect for a modern setup.
You can buy cheap handles and paint them for a more luxury feel or to match your design. Handles are also something you can easily pick up second-hand for less.
Consider how easy they are to use. Handles that feel nice to hold and are easy to grip will make a big difference when you're using them every day.
Prices range from around £50 to more than £500 for the same length of worktop, depending on the material you choose.
Solid wood and granite are the most expensive; laminated chipboard or MDF are cheaper.
Most worktops are between 20mm and 40mm thick (most commonly 28mm or 38mm) and widths of 600mm or 900mm. You can also get a bespoke worktop made to your specifications.
We asked kitchen owners about their kitchen worktops, including how well they lasted and whether they're still happy with their choice.
Choices include oak, walnut, beech, birch, ash and teak.
Wooden worktops are sealed so should be fairly durable, but you will need to be more careful than with quartz and granite to avoid scratching, staining or scorching them.
That said, wood can be sanded and resealed to remove imperfections. It's much trickier to do this with quartz and granite work surfaces.
Wooden worktops need coating with oil semi-regularly when they're new. Ask the company you buy from about how best to maintain the type of wood you choose. For example, beech is a much softer wood than oak and so marks more easily.
They can warp if they're stored poorly before installation, so check them thoroughly when they're delivered and store them carefully until you're ready to fit them.
Laminate worktops are MDF or chipboard wrapped in a layer of plastic, also called laminate, and sealed. This makes them water resistant, hygienic and durable, although they can get scratched if you use knives to chop directly on them.
Advancements in printing onto laminate mean that they can look very similar to pricier materials:
Laminate worktops also come in bold patterns and distinctive colours and can be high gloss or matt.
Granite worktops come in a range of colours including black, cream, red, and even pink.
They are very hard-wearing and resistant to heat and scratches. However, they can still be marked by heavy use, such as exposure to heat and acidic chemicals for long periods of time, or by chopping food directly on them.
Granite doesn't need much maintenance, although you should keep it clean. You can buy specialist granite cleaners and sealers to use every so often.
Fitting a granite worktop needs special tools, so you'll need to hire a professional. A specialist will also know how to make sure your units are strong enough to support the weight of granite.
Quartz worktops are usually black, grey or white, although they come in a wider range of colours. They can come with detailed patterns or plain.
Quartz is durable and resistant to heat and scratches, though not as much as granite. It won't need a lot of maintenance but you should keep it clean and protect it from excessive wear and tear.
Laminate worktops are the cheapest. But the thickness of a worktop makes a difference too, as well as how much you need.
Plinths are the thin strip of wood at the bottom of your kitchen floor units. They hide the legs of the cabinets and stop dirt and dust from getting underneath.
When you buy a kitchen, they should be included automatically, but it's worth double checking, especially if you're buying second-hand.
If you need to replace a plinth, contact the original manufacturer to see if you can get an exact match. You can also buy them on their own new or used, but they may not match exactly, so ask for a sample if you can.
In March 2021, we asked 3,848 Which? members who had bought a new kitchen in the past 10 years to tell us about how well it has lasted. We also assessed kitchen units from the big-name kitchen brands in our lab.