THE KITCHEN UNITS

Unless you are having them custom-built, these come in a standard high of 90 cm (35 1/2 in). If you are shorter or taller than average, some units are available with removable plinths, and all units can be raised if you build an extra plinth. Alternatively, wall-hung units can be installed at just the height you need. Always make sure that the sink unit, and any units with work surfaces above them, have a toe recess, so that you can work right up against them comfortably, without having to lean forward at an awkward angle.

If you would like colored units but don't want fridge and washing machines to stand out as solid blocks of white look of white look for a range that offers matching-colored decor panels. These cover the fronts of below-work-surface equipment making it indistinguishable from neighboring units.

Work surfaces:

incorporate one work surface at least 1 m (3 ft) long to provide uninterrupted space for food preparation, preferably sitting it between cooker and sink. (This won't apply, of course, if you have got a kitchen table sturdy enough to meet the same purpose.) Also include a good stretch of work surface for use as a serving area, sitting it near the door or serving hatch. If possible, create a slightly lower work surface for arm's length jobs like rolling out pastry-again, this won't apply if you have a kitchen table.

Plastic laminate is still the most popular work surface, and if you buy a textured surface, it needn't look hard and shiny. Nor need it come in predictable colures. Although unit-manufacturers only  offer a restricted range, you don't have to buy their work surface when you buy their units. You can have it made yourself, and then you have a choice of nearly a hundred laminate colors. Although a good quality laminate is very tough, it's still not tough enough to act as a chopping board, and it isn't heat-proof. You can get round the problem with free-standing chopping boards and trivets but given the choice, set areas of more practical surfaces like teak, slate or stainless steel into the laminate.

Ceramic or quarry tiles make very handsome work surfaces. They are not as hygienic and easy to keep clean as laminate and, unless you use a special epoxy grout that will not stain or get dirty, you will have to scrape the grouting from time to time, and touch it up sometimes to keep it looking good. Tiles are no use, of course for rolling out pastry-or chopping, unless you want to blunt your knives. But they are extremely tough and virtually heat-proof: it would take an exceptionally hot pan to crack a tile.

Slate has all the advantages of tiles, plus the fact that it's smooth and joint less, but it's almost prohibitively expensive. So is marble, although it's not as tough as slate, tends to stain, and may discolor if subjected to hot pans. Wood proves a tough, yet warm and quite surface, but it's vital to choose a hard and close-grained variety like teak-not something soft like pine, that is porous and stains very easily.

NB. Do remember that ceramic tiles, quarry tills, slate etc are not only much deeper than laminate in themselves, but because they are so heavy, need a much stronger and deeper sub-surface. Take this into account when calculating final heights.

Ideally, the junction of wall and work surface should be curved to avoid a dirt-collecting trap. With a plastic laminate work surface this is simply achieved by buying a post-formed laminate in the first place.

Floors:

Picture deals with flooring in terms of wear and tear, but there are other aspects to be considered. First, comfort. You will be on your feet a lot in the kitchen, so think seriously before you choose one of the hard floors like ceramic or quarry tiles. A cushioned vinyl will prove a great deal kinder, and today's ranges offer designs for every style of kitchen from crisply graphic grid-patterns, to totally convincing slate or brick.

If you prefer a genuinely natural floor covering ready-sealed or vinyl-surfaced cork could be the ideal choice, because as well as looking mellow, it's soft and warm to walk on very quite hard-wearing and easy to damp-mop clean.

Walls:

The vulnerable areas are behind sink, cooker and central heating boiler. Gloss paint is the cheapest and easiest wipe-clean solution, but for a more practical and permanent approach use something like quarry or ceramics tiles: not plastic laminate, because it won't withstand the heat from the hob.

Elsewhere in the kitchen, scrub able vinyl wall coverings are very practical; washable wallpapers less so. but the next best step. If you prefer paint, avoid gloss unless your walls are in perfect condition, and you have an efficient means of ventilation to obviate ugly condensation runnels. Oil-based eggshell or sultans silk could provide the alternative, because they are washable, and have a softer sheen,. More expensive ways of covering walls cold be with sealed cork, ceramic tiles-or tongued-and-grooved timber-either sealed and left natural, or painted if you feel that has become a cliché.

Ventilation:

This is especially important in small and open-plan kitchens. If your cooker is situated against an outside wall, an extractor fan above it or just to one side, will deal with steam and cooking smells relatively inexpensively-although avoid sitting it too near an eye-level grill. If you have a boiler or an Ascot which is not of the balanced flue type, also avoid sitting the fan where it could drawer fumes back down the flue: when in doubt, get advice from the manufacturer.

Extractor fans needn't look hideous: some are unobtrusive and fit flush to the wall.

Ducted cooker hoods suck steam and smells away to the outside air. The shorter the ducting the greater the efficiency: a run of more than 2m (6 ft) is not recommended. For cookers too far not recommended. For cookers too far from an outside wall, recirculation hoods draw air into charcoal filters and return it to the kitchen cleaner and dryer.

However they are not as effective as ducted hoods, and although cheaper to install, filters need replacing every six to nine months according to the amount of cooking you do.

The lower the hood over the hob the better it will work. About 60cm (24 in) is ideal, but anything up to 80 cm (32 in) will do. Some hoods are not suitable for use above an eye-level grill : indeed, any hood would need to go at least 40 cm (16 in) above one- too high from the hob for real efficiency.

Lighting:

All kitchens need good general lighting plus specific task lighting to work by. Fluorescent lighting is extremely efficient because it doesn't throw any shadows and as manufactures have discovered how to reduce and bend the tube, it is now available in light-bulb from. However it gives a colder and less friendly light than tungsten. This coldness may not be a disadvantage if it suits the chosen style of your kitchen-as in the crisp, high-tech example on picture.

In a very small, or a long galley kitchen it may be possible to combine general and task lighting. A simple solution could be to run a lighting track down the centre of the ceiling, with several spotlights: some lighting the cooker, sink and work surfaces directly, others bouncing light off the ceiling for more overall illumination.

Larger Kitchens:

The ideal solution here might be to have ceiling-recessed, semi-recessed or ceiling-mounted down lighters providing both general light and specific light over the cooker and sink ; plus strip-lighting fixed to the underside front edge of wall-hung top cupboards to illuminate the work surfaces. (Of course, some kitchen units come with pelmet-concealed strip-lights already fitted-just as many cookers have inbuilt lights in the hoods).

The important thing about task down lighters is to make sure you install them immediately above the area to be illuminated-not behind where you will stand, or you will be working in your own shadow. The main thing about strip-lights is to decide between fluorescent and tungsten tubes. Although tungsten looks warmer, tungsten tubes are really just elongated light-bulbs, and are therefore extremely vulnerable to the slightest knock. Fluorescent tubes are cheaper to buy, much tougher, more economical to run and last much longer than tungsten.

Although you can always warm fluorescent lights by adding a prismatic diffuser-possibly incorporating a strip of pale yellow filter-provided the work surface lighting is independently switched (as, indeed, all task lighting should be)- there seems little point to this refinement in a kitchen. If you have no top cupboards to fix strip-lights beneath, you could attach the tubes and pelmet to the front edge of a shelf-or of course you could use down lighters.

Open-plan lighting:

As well as providing physical barriers to define the separate areas of open-plan kitchens, it's vital to provide psychological barriers too. The easiest way to achieve this is with independently switched lighting .If you add a pendant light fitting or down lighter over the dining-table, it will contain the table-top in an intimate pool of light, allowing the kitchen area, and the kitchen area, the shambles of meal-preparation, to recede into shadow once the lights in that area have been switched off.

PS on wiring: set wiring into the wall for safety, and have plenty of socket outlets installed just above work surface height, to avoid unnecessary bending.

Never underestimate the number you will need: possibly ten universal 13-amp socket outlets, one 30-amp cooker outlet (two for split-level) and perhaps a 20-amp water heater outlet.

Drawing up the plan:

It's best to begin by drawing a scale plan of the room measuring everything in metrics, as kitchen units and equipment all come in millimeters nowadays. Even if like many people, you are still thinking in Imperial, don't measure in inches and then start consulting conversion charts-there is far too much scope for arithmetical error. Invest in a steel measure, which will have parallel makings in inches and millimeters. and will be rigid, instead of floppy like a tape measure from the sewing box.

Use graph paper for drawing up your plan, and work to a scale of 1:25 or 1:50. Mark in everything: the position of doors and windows, the height of the sills, the position of electric sockets gas or electric cooker outlet, water supply and waste. Also mark any wall obstructions like pipes or radiators, and the position of the boiler if there is one. Only then can you start thinking of units and equipment, and the best way to effect an efficient work sequence.
Read more:
THE KITCHEN DESIGN
EASY BUDGET KITCHENS

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