The Custom Kitchen–Flatpack Face-Off
Flatpacks are no longer reserved for simple furniture that you can put together yourself – homeowners can now update their house by self-installing an entire flatpack kitchen. But how do they compare with custom designed kitchens installed by a team of professionals, and which option is better? Kirrily Ireland sits down with David Mitchell, director of Kitchens U Build, who answers the important questions about whether you should opt for a flatpack or consult an expert for something more bespoke.
Designing Your Decision
The first step to renovating your kitchen is deciding on a new design, and this is where custom-made kitchens are well in the lead. Mitchell explains, “Being able to customise means that design possibilities are endless … [it] allows the client to change heights, widths and depths to better suit various aspects in the room and the client, such as higher or lower benchtops, and higher or lower overheads. Colours and finishes become near endless with options such as melamine, vinyl or painted doors, giving the client absolute control over their finished products.”
On the flipside, “if you decide on a look and then go to a flatpack company, more often than not, they will not be able to do the look and finish you require. Most only have a few options to keep the price down.” This is not to say you can’t find a stylish and functional flatpack, but it’s best to expect something on the modest side, with less detail and no personalised features.
“A good designer will always take the customer’s initial input into what they want to achieve, and design this into the space provided, [whereas with] flatpack kitchens, the client must not only understand the complexities of a new design but also how things are to go together and work,” Mitchell says. “The designer from a flatpack company may only have basic suggestions but in the end, it is up to the client to fully understand everything there is to know about design and the installation process.”
A Question Of Cost And Time
If your kitchen is in serious need of a renovation but you’re working on a tight budget, flatpacks are often the instant go-to. They’re a particularly popular and economical choice for rentals or homeowners looking to put their house on the market, giving their kitchen a quick makeover to boost the overall value. However, the low costs and quick turnaround come with a catch.
While they’re suitable for a very simple space, flatpacks are quite limited when it comes to making any alterations needed for fitting the kitchen into your home. “I am sure that in some cases, slight alterations to cabinets can be achieved, but the costs will start to creep up very quickly where the client suddenly finds that altering standard units to fit becomes more expensive than a custom unit made from scratch,” Mitchell cautions.
He also adds that “many flatpack places will only quote what you ask for and not what you require. When the job is done, after many trips back to the shop to pick up bits that were not quoted, suddenly the cost is running close to the price of something installed professionally.” Flatpacks also generally don’t include the other elements that form a kitchen, including the flooring, splashbacks or the tradespeople you may need to help with the installation. So while they might cost a fraction more than flatpacks, the design benefits and the peace-of-mind that comes with custom-designed kitchens are worth it. On the other hand, while they might be more cost-effective for people confident enough to install themselves for free, flatpack kitchens aren’t for everyone.
To DIY Or To Not DIY?
Purchasing a flatpack kitchen often comes with the expectation that you will put it together yourself. Flatpacks are a very DIY-centric option that will save you a dime but pose a few challenges.
“Having the project managed from rip-outs to installation means the client does not need to worry about organising any parts of the renovations,” Mitchell explains. “Usually, they have never done this before, so the fact of buying flatpack units to fit, demolishing the old kitchen, installing [the new one], [plus] tiling, floors, painting, electrical and plumbing can be very daunting.”
If you’re up for the challenge, Mitchell’s main advice is to consider your handy skills and recognise your limits, for everyone is different. “We do have many [clients who] self-install our kitchens. Most though are trade based – plumbers, electricians, builders etc. – who have good general knowledge on how things work.
Of course, we get those who have never done it before and do a great job, and it can be very
rewarding, but as we like to say, ‘Be aware of your abilities and understand your limitations’.” Perhaps start somewhere small and straightforward, like a laundry, where you can test your abilities before taking on an entire kitchen.
The reason experts are less likely to advise self-installation is because it’s imperative to do it right the first time. A seemingly small mistake can lead to a void warranty, or additional costs down the track when you need to hire a professional to fix something you’ve broken or installed incorrectly. Not to mention, for your own sake it’s important that everything is level and lines up perfectly, so that you’re not stuck with a nuisance drawer that doesn’t open properly.
Of course, some flatpack companies will still offer assistance and answer questions if you decide to take the DIY route, but if you want a stress-free experience and a fully functioning kitchen that looks just the way you want it to, getting a qualified tradesperson to do the job is preferable, and won’t make too much of an impact on the budget. If you fancy a flatpack but fear the installation process, you can get the best of both worlds and hire an experienced tradesperson to install it for you. “Many companies now, [including Kitchens U Build], can offer both a DIY or fully-installed option, [which] is the way to go – offering customers a choice on what they are prepared to do themselves or if they want it all completed for them,” Mitchell says.
Whether you’re keen to join the flatpack frenzy, or excited by the idea of having a space created just for you, Mitchell makes one thing clear: “There is room in the market for both types [of kitchens] and in the end the customer will always win as long as they do their research.”
Images courtesy of Kitchens U Build