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What makes a good quality kitchen?

Did you know there are very few kitchen manufacturers who make their own doors. In fact, the majority of manufacturers will just make the units(cabinets) to suit doors bought in from a specialist door manufacturer (or at least some doors). So with this in mind, what makes for a good quality kitchen?

With this in mind, it should therefore not come as a surprise that it is also not uncommon to find two separate kitchen retailers selling the exact same doors on their own cabinets. This can make things very confusing for consumers.

– Could it be said that they are the same kitchen?
– Should/could we assume a similar price point?

After all, they look the same..

Let me highlight something for you – a quick ‘google search’ for porcelain shaker door brings up the following image results from different kitchen companies:

Image showing typical google search results

The eagle-eyed amongst you will notice that the top two and the bottom left images are of the same kitchen.

Ok, so these three companies are selling the same kitchen, I can get a fair comparison price from all three, can’t I? – Probably not!

The door will be the same, yes, but the chances are, the units would be different. So, why would one be more expensive than the other, where are the differences?

Let’s break it down for you. This will hopefully make things easier for you to determine where the quality is and what makes one kitchen better than another.

We need to break it down into 3 categories:

Carcass / Cabinet build

Not many of us look beyond the doors when first searching for a kitchen that we like. You will have been drawn to a kitchen by the overall look, door style and colour and yet, you 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 front and back.

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 a stronger hold and will house better in a thicker panel.

The next thing to look at closely is the edge of the carcass.

Image showing different MFC edging A good quality kitchen 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, however it is not as attractive to look at.

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 virtually no protection against moisture.

To cut costs further, some manufacturers only edge the front face.

Top tip. When visiting showrooms, 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.

The third thing to consider the carcass colour.

Manufacturers who mass-produce their units on a large scale will not offer anything more than 3 colours for your carcass (normally white, cream or oak). 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 were to offer 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, wouldn’t it? 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?

Beauty of the interiors

Image showing a cheap kitchencabinet
Example of a cheap cabinet with loads of pre-drilled holes

As well as the edging and the colour, there is another aesthetic point to consider. A standard height (720mm) wall unit will often be supplied with two adjustable shelves. The walls of the cabinet may have around 30 holes pre-drilled at 20mm intervals, this is unattractive and exposes the chipboard core.

A premium cabinet will have less holes, maybe two or three and will come with attractive nickel studs to fill them. Also, with a cheap wall unit, you may have a bulky hanging bracket in each top corner, this will be a concealed fixing with a more expensive cabinet.

Door and drawer buffers

This is something that is very much overlooked by most, but it is quite important. Buffers act as a cushion to protect both the unit and the door from banging and rubbing. A good quality kitchen cabinet will have door and drawer buffers built into the carcass.

Where they are not integral, your supplier will furnish you with stick on rubber dots like those pictured below. These will not last and will drop off the doors and drawers over time.

Image showing a cheap door buffer
Stick on door buffer


One of the most used components in your kitchen, it is essential that you use a good quality kitchen 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 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 soft-close). The clip-on type do not work as well as integrated and they also have a tendency to un-clip or get knocked off.
  • Ease of adjustment. Over the lifespan of a kitchen the doors will move and sag slightly. Being able to easily tweak them straight is important. Ask a salesperson or designer to demonstrate.

For the sake of completeness it is worth mentioning 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

Did you know that according to a survey on average you will open your cutlery drawer a whopping 20,000 times per year! Therefore, does it not make sense to purchase good quality drawers and runners?

What makes a good kitchen 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 and this is what you should look for:-

  • Bottom mounted runners 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?
  • Little or no sag when fully extended – does the drawer front drop slightly? If so then you could get clashing of the drawers in a stack when they are extended potentially damaging your drawer fronts.
  • A thick drawer base – Do not buy a drawer that as a thin hardboard base.
  • Smooth glide action – does the drawer open with little resistance? Some cheaper soft-close drawers require considerable effort on opening to pre-load the soft-close mechanism. This can be particularly difficult for young children, the elderly or ones with arthritis.
  • No wiggle or rocking – Check a wide (1000mm+) drawer, does it move side to side when opening or closing? If it wiggles a lot when new it will only wear quicker with the wiggling over time.
  • Drawer box sides – do the sides finish square to the base or are they curved? Square sides offer more usable space, are easier to pack and less chance of items falling over when closing the drawer.
  • Weight capacity – check with your salesperson you should expect at least 40kg load capacity, and up to 70kg or more on wider drawers.
  • Guarantee – are the working parts covered by a lifetime guarantee? Is the manufacturer confident in their product to be able to offer this.

Here at Saffron Interiors we recognise that there are some manufacturers of hinges and drawer runners that are pretty good. There are also some that are shockingly bad and counterfeits from the east.

We however make no bones about the fact that we love the BLUM range of hinges and runners. Not only are their products superbly engineered for usability and durability, their after-sales are second to none.

If you took one of your broken old style runners from 30 years ago and asked BLUM for a replacement you will get one. Their lifetime guarantee is exactly what it says on the tin, which is why every kitchen supplied by Saffron is done so with BLUM hinges and drawer runners installed.

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