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Checklist when buying a hand-made kitchen for painting

Listed under Blog, hand-painted kitchen Posted May 01 2011

If you are shopping online for a hand-made timber kitchen to be painted by someone like me, you probably think that the photos show exactly what will be delivered. Even going into a showroom and looking at a finished painted kitchen, you probably have certain expectations of the bare timber kitchen that will be delivered to your home for fitting and painting.

When I take a kitchen apart for painting, I get to see a few details that you might have missed.

Not all wooden kitchens are created equal and within reason you get what you pay for.

Wooden kitchen Doors

From a painters point of view, a good kitchen door is one that has almost zero filling to do when it leaves the workshop.

I am no joiner, but to my eye, this is a well-made door. Tight joints, no dings, dents, nor holes made in error. And solid.

It took literally 20 minutes to fill and sand the gaps in the tops and bottoms of 10 doors.

This door however is not made with love, or anything like.

Basically, there were more rough edges here than a first day at finishing school. The joints are hideous and huge. There was no effort to fill pinholes, there were holes all over the place where catches had been wrongly sited. Disappointing.

This type of door is a good example of false economy if you are on a tight budget. Mass produced and sold on as a deal, ( a few hundred quid off list price, madam) customers think they are getting a bargain. However, all the kitchen guys are doing is a disservice to customers, by shunting problems, and consequently, adding extra overall job costs down the chain. ie to the fitting and painting. Had I known the state of the so-called high end kitchen here, the cost of painting would have been an extra £300 for filling and caulking joints. And I shudder to think how much extra time the fitter had to put in to making the whole kitchen work somewhat correctly.


They aren’t all created equal either. Timber doors will last decades if painted well at the start and maintained every few years. But the hinges get a lot of use and deserve, surely, to be robust. Skinny pressed steel hinges with piddly thin pins would disappoint me if I were buying a kitchen. How much to upgrade to something solid and substantial? Not much relative to the several thousand pounds for the units.


Sometimes I wonder if some kitchen companies have got their wires crossed somewhere when installing catches. They are selling cupboards for storing static food and pans, not imprisoning a manic chimp hell bent on smashing its way out of a cupboard to freedom. A single, gentle but firm magnetic catch per door is surely sufficient. Top and bottom push crocodile clips are ridiculous overkill in my opinion.

I think I know why catches are overly strong and placed top and bottom, it is to keep the doors straight. Understandable on over-size doors with 3 hinges, but on standard size doors, I would suspect that the kitchen company don’t trust their cheap constructed doors to not start bowing from day one. So every bit helps to keep them in shape – but not end-user friendly.

Sundry fitting problems

When customers buy kitchens online, units come in standard and custom sizes. And they usually come complete, doors hung. You tick boxes for plinth, cornice and end panels. So you measure out your kitchen, and order enough units plus kit and kaboodle for the space. You ask a joiner for a price off of plans to fit the modules, maybe a worktop company to come in after the kitchen is installed, plumber and electrician to do their bit, then finally, call in the painter- and you get a spot-on hand-painted custom-made wooden kitchen for the price you expected. Usually, but not always!

End panels
Laying out lining paper to protect flooring, I have noticed that floor levels in many kitchens are out of level. No problem for me, but picture the look on the fitter’s face!

The fitter rolls up never having seen the kitchen, starts marking out and gets to the final units, runs a level and – oops, the floor is out. Adjust the feet to level out the units, but then the end panel won’t fit. The correct solution is to get a new and bigger end panel and scribe it in. However, I can’t tell you how much caulking I have done to the underside of units, and made do and filled the gaps where the joiner has been told by the homeowner to make the now undersize end panel “fit”.

Plinths come in standard sizes and again, if the floor is out of level, any DIY measuring at order time goes for nothing.

This is an example of plinths that ended up too narrow to be scribed to the floor. Rather than reorder the right size plinths, time probably played its part and a bodge was the end result.

Painting didn’t really overcome the joiner’s workmanship, and with a poor seal between plinth and floor, eventually a wet mop will wreak its revenge on the plinths.

Pricing I don’t usually have an issue with my quotes, but if you ask fitters for prices off of plans only, be prepared for changes to estimates when the hand-made kitchen you ordered turns out to be a less than perfect match for your space. Nobody likes to eat into contingency sums, but you should have one.


Hope that highlights a few details to look out for when buying a kitchen for painting. Obviously no kitchen is designed, built and installed without compromise, but it definitely pays to nail the design at the start. DIY homeowners surfing the internet for bargains should definitely get a highly experienced kitchen fitter on board from the outset, somoeone who can foresee issues in snazzy designs before everything is ordered and scheduled.

And remember, the kitchen cabinet painter should be the last craftsman left in your house, everything fitted and commissioned, left alone to paint in a draught-free warm environment.

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