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Refurbish kitchens : alternative approaches

Listed under Blog, hand-painted kitchen, suppliers Posted Jan 25 2012

When considering a kitchen refurbishment or kitchen makeover, there is a lot to think about. Even with clearly defined aims, there are several alternative ways to get there.

At some stage, we have all been inspired by (or envious of) glossy scenes of designer kitchens. (Here is a drooling set of pictures of hand-painted kitchen ideas) Picture a kitchen full of smiley homeowners mixing mulled wine and throwing a log in the Aga. You think, “I’d like some of that”, but then as you work through the reality of getting to that idyllic point, you are best beware the dream!

Kitchen refurbishments beyond a lick of paint can be real rocky roads for everyone involved, unless there is a great project manager at the helm.

Why are kitchens so demanding?

When you look up close, a kitchen probably contains as much joinery, electrical and plumbing work as the rest of an average house put together.

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You need banks of plug sockets; lighting has to be both general and specific; you have appliances to fit into spaces that are inaccessible, and those appliances tend to be hidden from view, which means designers have to dream up fixing systems and swing out arms… and all that head-scratching jigsaw puzzle doesn’t even touch on the plumbing work, waste disposal, flooring, worktops, tiling, and the minor detail of ceiling and wall finishes…

It is fair to say that a kitchen is a complicated room to refurbish, and its complexities have beaten the enthusiasm out of many people – from professionals who don’t see the big picture, to enthusiastic homeowners who find out the hard way that there is no substitute for experience.

Mistakes to avoid

The biggest snafus I have observed are on refurbishments organised by clients who call in favours from friends, and/or use “their plumber, their electrician, their…”

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These guys may be good, but if they don’t work together, if they don’t have a shared interest in making the job go smoothly, and the client isn’t absolutely on the ball, watch out! The misunderstandings and knock-on effects can be problematic, to put it mildly.

Subbies have their own schedules and self interests and when they collide – at best the kitchen can be out of action for extra weeks and weeks, or at worst the end result can be underwhelming.

Can you just add this in. JUST is my least favourite word. Just add a light, just change a shelf, they seem small fry, but often aren’t.

I have seen all but fist fights break out when a plasterer skimmed the walls perfectly only for the electrician to pop back and JUST run a cable he forgot to install – straight through the middle of a super smooth wall. On that memorable occasion the cable went in diagonal, which just about broke every rule in the book. It had everyone not involved in plastering and electrical well entertained, but the oversight was awkward to put it mildly.

The next guy can get over that.The other common issue when assorted tradesmen are poorly coordinated is the syndrome “the next guy can get over that”. I know this one well! Thousands of us decorators regularly end up with skirting boards that don’t meet in the corners, or weird gaps where plastering isn’t finished properly, or new panels aren’t scribed properly in to wibbly wobbly walls.

“Can you JUST fill that mate?” To which the correct answer is
“Why don’t you JUST do your job properly in the first place?”

And it isn’t just painters who land up in trouble because of someone’s lack of awareness or lack of care. Kitchen fitters love leveling up units on brand new wonky floors – not.

Assumptions can be fatal
If an inexperienced homeowner is coordinating individual subcontractors, and those individuals assess their work based on the incorrect assumption that all aspects of the refurbishment have been accounted for…

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There is no easy answer, because kitchen fitting is an organic process, and hundreds of small decisions need to be taken and re-visited. But there is hope if the person running the job has the experience and the eye for detail, and your individual tradesmen have the pride and commitment not to leave before their part of the job has been done without creating issues for the next trade in.

New kitchen

If your current kitchen no longer works for you in terms of layout, or it is falling apart, there are plenty of kitchen companies ready and willing to take your money.

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To design and install a brand new kitchen, these days, it seems that you can get a basic DIY supermarket all-in package fitted (probably without appliances) from around £5000. Shopping around, you can get high end workmanship from reliable companies for around £10-£15000, and the likes of a high profile Mark Wilkinson kitchen from £25-£30,000 and on up.

Within the all-in package, there are different options and variations –

1 – use the kitchen supplier to design, supply and install the whole package, responsible for all services and small building works.

2 – use the kitchen company to design and supply the units and either install yourself (literally you do it all), or employ a project manager to bring in the trades, or, hardest but cheapest financially, find and run the trades yourself.

These approaches all have pros and cons, and the best option really is dependent on your budget, experience and tolerance levels.

a- Kitchen installations are tricky at the best of times, so the turnkey packages may seem pricey, but in theory the stress is not yours, which can be priceless.

b -If you go it alone, hope that you can coordinate the fitting team, else stress, expense and delays are coming your way.

c – In my experience, the best value kitchen is one that has been designed, built and installed by a specialist independent company. There really are joinery companies out there with gifted staff and a small marketing budget doing fantastic work from their own premises for half the price of the high profile fantasticos!

New doors – on a budget

Measure up your doors, go online and you will find a multitude of companies who can deliver your exact sizes, direct to your property, in the finish or paint colour of your choice. They can also supply cornices, plinths to match.

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The extra costs to account for: cost of hinges and handles, and labour for a fitter.

Also, on the downside, you may not find the style you want – they tend to offer the most popular sellers only. The budget painted doors are invariably sprayed, which is fine, but they have different character to custom painted units. And the biggest downside is the fixed panels in the kitchen would not match the new doors. Again, this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but if you are into details you are looking at extra labour and costs to modify some units.

New doors – custom made, custom painted

Another option is to employ a high end joinery company to custom make doors for you. It is the same process as above but more tailored to your requirements. A company like Michael Harvey Design undertake this sort of work.

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Another option is to employ a kitchen manufacturer to come one day to remove doors and drawers from site and have them painted in their workshops. They come back and install the new doors.

There are obvious downsides to that approach! No drawer fronts, no doors, and unless they literally take the whole kitchen apart, you would still need a painter to make 4 trips to paint fitted cornices, end panels to match… But it is an option.

Hand-painted kitchens in situ

I am getting great feedback from customers who are basically astounded at the transformation of their kitchen doors when I hand-paint them”.

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There is more to it than a lick of paint, but in principle, done well, every component in a hand-painted kitchen will be 100% colour matched, it will coordinate with the rest of the decor and because of the finish from a traditional oil paint, it will look elegant and interesting for years.

Another plus with this approach is the simple organisation. One craftsman working exclusively on your kitchen until completion. No juggling schedules, no endless round of phone calls trying to get different people involved. Done and dusted.

On the downside, there is disruption too. As a guide, for smaller kitchens with 10-12 doors that are bare laminate or bare timber, it can take about a week hard graft to complete the process – to protect your floors and worktops, prepare and paint in oil-based paints and put everything back together again. It takes less time if a kitchen this size has been factory pre-primed, or it has been painted before. But in simple terms, the kitchen is out of action 8.30 to 6pm and you have to be quite flexible about cooking evening meals for the duration of the work. (It is no longer surprising how many clients book a holiday when they employ me!)


Whichever way you spin it, the kitchen is the hub of the home and any work is going to be disruptive. It is a matter of finding your comfort zone and your budget level.

Ordinarily, for a new kitchen, I would recommend an all-in-one design, supply and install package. The client has one point of contact, one person to pay and the responsibility lies completely with the kitchen company. Within that all-in-one package option, you can go top end £25000 plus, and have a kitchen with a neat badge on the pan drawers and a brilliant talking point at dinner parties. You can find a local joinery company with their own workshops, possibly using the same carcasses and same reliable sub-contract labour as the big guys. I am not sure I would go with a DIY supermarket all-in-one deal, having heard one client’s teary recollections of a nightmare project.

If considering a hand-painted kitchen as part of an upgrade, these are my considered kitchen refurbishment options to consider

If you know good people, another option is to employ an experienced kitchen fitter as freelance project manager. As they say on building sites nationwide, you want the foreman to be a carpenter not a bricklayer! People like Steve Evans in Wilmslow have a handle on every aspect of the installation process and know the people to call in. These guys see the big picture and the details before they ever become a problem. In the SE, @localbuilderuk used to design and install their own “Smallbones” quality hand-painted kitchens, ie of a standard that cannot be beat.

So good guys are around, and anyone who can recommend similar independents, please leave their contact details in comments section.

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