Logo of Saffron Interiors

Magnet vs Tom Howley vs Independent Kitchen Retailer

Very rarely will you come across two kitchen suppliers that have the exact same offering, however, you will, without doubt, come across two or more that are very similar.

But how do you differentiate between retailers, where are the differences? What makes one retailer more expensive than the other? Why do some companies charge for design where others do not?

We know how very confusing it can be for you when you are shopping around so we have chosen two well known Surrey kitchen retailers (Magnet and Tom Howley) and have put this guide together to help you better understand the market and how these companies differ from the independent showrooms.

Before we go into specific detail about each of the above companies, we need to break down and explain a few key important areas first. This will help to better understand each company offering as we cover them further on in the guide. We will look at the following:

Then we will have a look at:

For a quick summary click here


Bespoke is a word that is banded around quite readily within the industry, but what does bespoke mean?

Well, by definition, it means something made to a buyer’s specification – something purpose built. Quite a broad term, right? So does this mean every kitchen therefore a bespoke kitchen? 

It seems some retailers refer to their product as bespoke just because an element such as the worktop is ‘custom cut’ to suit the kitchen. This we believe is a little mis-leading.

Inside kitchen cabinetAs you will see from the image here, the example cabinet has lots of pre-drilled holes throughout so that the installer can adapt the aperture to suit the appliances being used . If this were bespoke, surely, the fixed shelves would be in the correct position for the ovens specified by the buyer?

So, whilst the kitchen layout is arguably unique to each customer, is it really bespoke if generic, modular cabinetry and industry standard door sizes are used? We don’t think so!

For clarity, when we refer to bespoke in this guide we mean cabinets and doors that are built to specific dimensions and configured to suit a customer specified use. (example below).

Image of a bespoke kitchen drinks cabinet
  • Custom width at 1030mm
  • Smoke mirrored back panel
  • Glass shelves
  • LED recessed lights into the gables (sides) to the desired height
  • Fixed shelf to support the stone worktop
  • Internal drawers with glass front
  • Deep drawers spaced to accomodate bottles

Carcass / Cabinet build

Not many of us look beyond the doors when first searching for a kitchen that we like. We will have been drawn to a kitchen by the overall look, door style and colour and as yet, may not have paid much attention to the insides.

Most kitchen units are constructed from MFC (Melamine Faced Chipboard). This is a chipboard core that is faced with a 0.4mm thick sheet of melamine. When visiting a high-end showroom, you may find that the carcass is finished with a real wood veneer instead of melamine. Veneered panels still have a chipboard core but are finished with a 1mm thick veneer, often in oak or walnut.

The first thing you should pay attention to is the thickness – Entry level kitchens will have a 15mm thick carcass with a 4mm hardboard back panel. More expensive units will have an 18 /19mm thick carcass (depending on whether it is melamine or veneer) including the back panel. The latter will naturally be more rigid and robust, the back panel will not flex and ‘pop-out’ over time. Screws, dowels and other fixings will have more purchase and will house better in a thicker panel

The next thing to look at closely is the edge of the carcass  – A cheap cabinet will have a ‘paper edge’ this is a flat 0.4mm thick edging tape that can chip and peel quite easily. It also offers very little protection against moisture. To cut costs further, some manufacturers only edge the front face. A good quality unit will have every panel edged on all sides using either a 1.2mm or 2mm PVC edge. This type of edging seals the panel and protects the chipboard core from moisture. 2mm is naturally more robust than 1.2mm but is not as attractive to look at. When visiting showrooms we advise to  remove a shelf from a unit if you can and check that it is edged on all four sides with at least a 1.2mm edging tape.

Now, consider the carcass colour – Manufacturers who mass-produce their units on a large scale will not offer anything more than 3 colours for cabinets. Whilst this is not an issue in terms of quality, there are advantages to having more choice. Let’s say, you want to have a walnut effect laminate door and the only carcass option is white. What happens when the side of a unit is exposed at the end of a run of furniture? You see the white gable of the unit right? So, you must use a walnut effect end panel clad on to the side of the unit which takes up more space (20mm). If your supplier offers a walnut effect carcass, there would be no need to pay for the additional panel. Also, if you have a beautiful painted shaker kitchen within a traditional scheme, it would be lovely to open the doors and see an attractive oak or walnut inside right? This is fine, if you are paying for expensive veneered cabinets but if you have the option of an oak melamine at no extra cost, which would you prefer?


One of the most used components in your kitchen, it is essential that you use a good quality hinge.

Check the hinges that are on offer from your supplier, open doors in the showroom and look. There are good brand name hinges on the market that work really well but don’t just look for the name as each manufacturer will produce different standards of hinge. Hettich, Gras, Salice and Blum are all good brands but what you should look for? :-

  • The opening angle of the hinge (beyond 90 degrees)
  • Integrated soft-close (not clip-on as they can clip-off just as easily)
  • Ease of adjustment – kitchen doors settle over time and being able to easily adjust them is important 
  • Side note: For exposed hinges (butt hinges) on in-frame doors, the opening swing angle is greater and the hinge should not require any adjustment. These are very attractive and compliment a traditional scheme however, they require buffers and magnetic catches for soft-close.

Drawer boxes and runners

Drawers are the other most used component in a kitchen, in fact, on average you will open your cutlery drawer a whopping 20,000 times per year. So, it makes sense to purchase good quality drawers and runners doesn’t it?  What makes a good drawer runner and drawer box and how do you check for quality?

Just like with hinges, there are good brands but again, different standards. Blum, Gras, Hettich are sound brands but this is what you should look for:-

  • Bottom mounted runner that supports the weight of the drawer base and not from the side
  • Full extension – can you see the back of the drawer from above when fully open? This is allows easy access to lift items from the back of the drawer.
  • Little or no sag when fully extended – does the drawer front drop slightly?
  • A thick drawer base – please, do not buy a drawer that as a thin hardboard base. It is simply false economy.
  • Smooth glide action – does the drawer open with little resistance?
  • No wiggle or rocking – check a wide (1000mm+) drawer, does it move side to side when opening or closing?
  • Drawer box walls – do the walls finish square to the base or are they curved? Curved wastes valuable drawer space.
  • Weight capacity – check with your salesperson you should expect at least 40kg load capacity. 
  • Guarantee – are the working parts covered by a lifetime guarantee?

The Comparison

Now that we have a common base and understanding of what to look for let’s dive into the detail on each company.

Firstly we have created a comparison chart that outlines specific key areas and how each company scores from zero to five (5 being good).

We have used Saffron Interiors to represent the independents. Naturally one would expect a little bias so we invite you to pop in to our showroom and see for yourself. If you disagree with our appraisal on any of the points and you can evidence why you disagree, we will gladly amend it.

Kitchen retailer comparison infographic

Magnets logo – Advantages (iD3 collection)

Free Design

Magnet offer a free consultation and design service in their showrooms. The design offering includes 3D visuals and a detailed quotation. Detailed plans and elevations are not supplied as part of the free design package and are only released when a deposit is paid.


The cabinet build, hinge and drawer quality on offer from Magnet as part of the iD3 collection represents good value for money. The hinge used (Blum inserta) has an integrated soft-close, the Blum Tandembox drawers have a 40kg load capacity and a 15mm solid base. The factory assembled cabinetry comes with a lifetime guarantee.

Product Range

There are a good number of options from Magnet, the range of lay-on doors come in a good mix of modern and traditional styles. The colour choice is limited but the number of options is far greater than the likes of Howdens, Benchmarx and the DIY stores.

Lead Times

Magnet have a relatively quick turnaround for most of their range. Flat packed cabinets are available from stock. Magnet also have a 24-hour express service for ordering replacements / remedials as part of their installation service.

Magnets logo – Disadvantages (iD3 collection)


Although they have a lot of cabinet types and options, the permutations of your kitchen design are still limited due to the standard, modular cabinet sizes and limited trims and on offer. This in turn gives the designer less creative freedom.


There are no options for bespoke cabinet sizes or internal configuration from Magnet. There is only 1 cabinet colour available for each collection. Worktop options are limited to a small portfolio of materials and colours. There are no options to purchase solutions outside of this offering.

Project Management

Magnet offer a more comprehensive installation service than some of the well known national brands. They can organise electrical and gas work for an additional fee but there are no further supplementary works or project management on offer. Co-ordinating other trades and site preparation lies with the customer to arrange.

Tom Howley logo -Advantages

Style and Desirability

Tom Howley specialise in manufacturing and supplying ‘in-frame’ kitchens. This strong traditional look is very desirable and truly timeless. With premium appliance brands, stunning pantry units and a plethora of optional trims, pilasters and feature panels Tom Howley kitchens are both inspirational (and for many, aspirational).


From consultation through to installation, Tom Howley provide a detailed and comprehensive design service. With planning and technical advice on structural features as well as custom cabinetry, your whole room is considered. Please note, although initial consultation and provisional design is free, to progress the design beyond this point a deposit against the initial quote will be required.

Build Quality

Made to order factory assembled cabinetry built from 19mm real wood veneered chipboard, fitted with solid wood dovetailed drawer boxes and Blum Movento runners. Hinged doors are hung on beautiful 5-knuckle steeple topped exposed hinges. All panels are finished on every edge.

Bespoke Solutions

As well as bespoke cabinet sizes, Tom Howley will design and create beautiful pantries, appliance housings, canopies and mantles to your specification.

Tom Howley logo – Disadvantages

Price point

Positioned at the higher end of the market, your kitchen will not come cheaply at Tom Howley. There are several factors that affect their pricing: – Production volume, veneered carcassing, dovetail drawer boxes, hand painting, premium appliances and accessories as well as huge national marketing overheads.


With such a large network of showrooms to cater for on a ‘made-to-order basis’, the range is condensed; there are only 6 door styles on offer. Appliances, accessories and worktops are restricted to premium brands with limited curated options.

Lead Time

As you would expect from a made-to-order offering, the lead times for cabinet production are far greater than those companies that mass-produce their furniture. Expect lead times of around 8-12 weeks. Remedials / replacements may take 7-14 days

Guarantee / Warranty

Whilst many retailers offer a warranty of 20+ years on their cabinetry. Tom Howley only offer a limited warranty over 10 years for all furniture. 

Saffron Interiors Logo -Advantages


Local independents will differ in many ways, but there is one major benefit that is consistent across them all, CHOICE!
Saffron Interiors supply modern and traditional kitchens with lay-on, in-frame and handle-less door styles. The portfolio of doors and colours is huge with over 4,500 options available. Appliances, accessories and worktops are sourced from various manufacturers to ensure that there are solutions for all styles and budgets.

Build Quality

Saffron Interiors kitchens are made to order and constructed from either 18mm MFC (41 colour options) or 19mm veneered chipboard (8 colour options). All carcasses and panels are finished on all sides with a reinforced 1.2mm PVC protective edge.
Hinges are Blum ‘inserta’ integrated soft-close with the option of 5-knuckle steeple topped exposed hinges on in-frame doors.
Premium Blum drawer runners for both our solid wood dovetailed and Legrabox drawer boxes. Our drawers have a 40kg load capacity with 70kg load capacity on those wider than 900mm, all of which are covered by a lifetime guarantee.


Full detailed consultation covering, storage, workflow, ergonomics, lifestyle and aesthetics. Comprehensive design includes fully dimensioned and annotated plans, elevations, 3D visuals, 360 panoramic 3D renders, technical drawings and installation notes.
With bespoke cabinet sizing, finish and internal configuration, your kitchen will be designed to make efficient use of the space available.


Saffron Interiors offer two types of installation –

  • Full turnkey (including removal, plastering, electrical, plumbing, tiling work etc)
  • Dry-fit (all other services via client appointed trades – eg. home extensions)

Supply only is also available for DIY / 3rd party installation

Project Management

Saffron Interiors offer a project managed installation, co-ordinating deliveries, access, waste management and associated trades. All work and scheduling are overseen by our design and installation team.

Customer Service

For small independents, reputation is everything. Saffron Interiors strive for excellence and have designed their working processes to ensure that all projects run smoothly with clear communication from start to finish. Our small experienced team take ownership of every project with customer satisfaction at the forefront of all that we do.

Saffron Interiors Logo -Disadvantages

Lead Time

Although a large part of the range can be delivered within 4-5 weeks (acrylic and laminate doors), bespoke cabinetry and factory painted solutions can take up to 8 weeks, With a small installation team, you may have to wait up to 12 weeks during busy periods. Remedials / replacements may take 7-14 days.


Most independents, including Saffron Interiors operate from small showrooms. Whilst these spaces are carefully designed to show the most important features and best components, there will be a limit on how much of the range can be displayed.

Quick Summary


Magnets logo

Entry to mid level – National retailer with a broad range of modern and traditional kitchens on offer. Good value for money with quality cabinet components. iD3 collection ideal for supply only projects.

  • Free Design
  • Low cost
  • Simple Design
  • Good Value

Guide price – £9,000 to £25,000

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Saffron Interiors Logo

Mid to High end – Small family run independent offering a comprehensive range of quality products. Huge choice of door style and colour. Bespoke cabinetry and complete project managed installations.

  • Quality
  • Large range of doors
  • Comprehensive design
  • Project managed turnkey installation

Guide price – £15,000 to £80,000

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Tom Howley logo

High end – National retailer of traditional ‘in-frame’ kitchens. Curated range of appliances and worktops to compliment luxury look and appeal. Bespoke cabinetry and comprehensive design service.

  • Aspirational
  • Specialist in Traditional In-Frame
  • Comprehensive Design
  • Limited product portfolio

Guide price – £30,000 to £100,000

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