Kitchens are now viewed as the most important room in the house. Unfortunately it has not always been this way, which means that if you are renovating an unloved period property, chances are the kitchen will need some work.

Ripping it out and starting again

Once you have planned out your kitchen, unless you are intent on siting it in a new extension, you will probably have to rip out an old one to make way for the new.

This may sound a doddle, but it is actually important to remember that the more careful you are with the removal of the old kitchen, the easier it will be to install the new one.

Don’t feel that everything has to go — there may well be some items worth salvaging. If you are remodelling your kitchen on a budget then it will be worth taking a look at what kind of condition your unit carcasses are in — whilst the unit doors may be in a bad state of repair or not to your taste, you might find that the carcasses can be reused.

Start by removing the wall units. If you take out the base units and worktop first, you will have nothing to rest heavy wall units on while you work. When removing wall units, first remove all internal shelves as they can fall out when you are taking them down. Each unit will probably be attached to the one next to it either by wood screws, interconnectors or bolts. Older units tend to be attached to the wall by long screws, whereas more modern ones are usually connected by an adjustable hook and wall bracket system.

Before removing the sink, make sure you can turn the water off. The main stopcock, usually located under the sink, controls the cold water, whilst the hot water should be switched off using the hot water valve, often found in the airing cupboard with a big red handle. Turn on the taps and wait for the water to stop — the hot tap can take up to 10 minutes to drain. It is a good idea to keep a couple of push-fit stop-ends close by in order to cap the pipes and stop the water flowing out. You will then need to undo the waste pipe. This is easily done by turning the upper plastic collar anti-clockwise and placing a bucket underneath to catch any dirty water.

Next, remove worktops, being careful not to damage any pipes that run under, behind or through them in the process.

Removing base units is a similar process to taking out wall units. Remove doors first, then unscrew the plinth. Remove all fixings, then simply pull the base units out. Take extra care when removing the sink unit as there will be many pipes that you won’t want to damage.

Chipping off tiles should be easy using a club hammer and bolster. Turn the power off as you may be working close to sockets, and always wear safety goggles and gloves.

Old vinyl can be taken up easily using a stripping knife. If it resists, try using heat gun to soften the glue. Floor tiles can be tricky to get up, but using an SDS drill should do the trick.

Designing a new kitchen layout

Whether you choose to use an architect, kitchen designer or do it yourself, good planning and consideration of how your kitchen will be used is vital in ensuring that the rest of the process runs smoothly.

Now that you have your blank canvas, start with the basics. Every kitchen needs a cooker, fridge freezer and sink. Start with these items, and add other features around them.

Gauge early on how much storage space you will need, basing your conclusion on the size of your household, how much kitchen equipment you own, whether you want to keep your worktops clear and minimalist or are happy to have appliances on view, how often you cook and shop and what type of food you will need to store: lots of dry and canned goods, or mainly fresh and frozen foods that will not be kept in cupboards.

You will also need to take into account what activities will take place here. Are you happy to use the kitchen as a room in which to store, prepare and cook food, or would you like it to double up as a room in which you can sit and eat? Would you be satisfied with a breakfast bar or island unit with stools, or would a fullsize table for family gatherings be better? Finally, will your kitchen be open plan?

Assess the dimensions of the room and then make a wish-list — in order of priority. Does a built-in coffee machine really come before that extra wall unit?

Order of Work

1 Remove wall units
2 Remove worktop and base units
3 Remove flooring
4 First fix electrics
5 Reroute plumbing
6 Lay new flooring
7 Install wall units
8 Install base units
9 Second fix electrics
10 Fit worktop
11 Fit sink and complete plumbing to taps, drains and appliances
12 Install appliances
13 Fit extractor fan
14 Tile and decorate

Kitchen Heating and Ventilation

Many people choose to have no heating at all in their kitchen, feeling it unnecessary in a room that often becomes unbearably hot whilst cooking anyway. However, for those that use their kitchens for more than just cooking, or who want somewhere to hang damp tea towels, there are several options.

The cheapest and simplest is to fit a radiator with a thermostatic radiator valve (TRV) so that it can be easily adjusted. However, kitchens, especially compact ones, do not always offer sufficient wall space for this. A good alternative is a plinth heater that fits neatly into the space between the bottom of the base units and the floor. Plinth heaters can be electrical fan convector heaters operated by a switch, or can be linked to the rest of the central heating system.

Many people now choose to use heated towel rails in the kitchen, complete with pegs for tea towels — there is a range of radiator companies providing strong individual feature designs that can make the most of the tightest of spaces.

Underfloor heating (UFH) is another popular choice, providing an even and comfortable heat. UFH is ideal in this room, where floors are often stone or tile and can become cold. On the downside, UFH is a little more trouble to install than radiators or plinth heaters, although opting for an electric system as opposed to a water heated system means you can tackle the installation on a DIY basis.

Good ventilation will ensure your kitchen is a pleasant place to be, removing smells and steam and keeping the temperature even. The size and strength of your extractor hood or fan will largely depend on the floor area and how much cooking you do. The sucking power of an extractor is measured in litres per second or cubic feet per minute (CFM). Check with the supplier that the extractor hood you like is up to your needs. Ideally, your extractor will be positioned 75cm from the hob. The most efficient extractors suck steam and odours up and vent them out through a disused chimney or outside wall. Check that there is space to have a vent well away from any windows and doors, or smells will come straight back in.

Kitchen Electrics

Before your new kitchen is fitted, first fix electrical work needs to be carried out. Your electrician will need to check the existing system, as in many renovation projects a complete rewire is called for.

Before work starts, present your electrician with a plan showing the quantity and the position of all electrical switches and sockets. You will need sockets for all your appliances and even then it is best to have some extra.

Although a qualified electrician will carry out the majority of work, you can save money by doing some jobs yourself. Chasing out the walls for the new metal boxes and casing for sockets and wiring will cut down the amount of time an electrician will spend on the job.

The electrician should return to carry out second fix electrics, such as connections to plug sockets, before the worktops are fitted. When purchasing your sockets, bear in mind that some appliances, such as your cooker, will require a breaker switch which allows you to turn it off without having to pull it out and reach a socket.

Kitchen Plumbing

The plumbing in your kitchen needs to perform two functions — providing a water supply and taking away waste.

You will need a hot and cold water supply and there needs to be a waste pump from the sink to outside and a hot and cold water supply feeding the kitchen tap. Your washing machine will need to be either connected to the hot and cold water, or just to the cold water, whilst most dishwashers only require a cold water connection.

Pipework for Kitchens

Whilst renovating a property means that services are all usually connected – unlike with self-builds – this does not necessarily mean that all pipework will still be in good condition. Get a plumber to take a look at your pipework and decide whether it is worth saving it or starting again. Your main consideration will need to be whether the existing arrangement of the pipes is going to get in the way of your planned layout for the new kitchen — unless you are putting everything back in the same place, you are likely to find that they will get in the way and will have to be rerouted. Check pipes for kinks and dents and inspect the joints, looking out for green marks, which indicate leaks.

Kitchen Lighting

Good lighting is essential in kitchens, where a multitude of tasks are carried out and enjoyed. Look at how much natural light there is in the room. If there is very little, consider ways of getting more, such as a rooflight, lightpipe or roof lantern, or perhaps by replacing a window with a set of French doors. When choosing to extend the kitchen, many people design the extension to incorporate large amounts of glazing to bring as much light in as possible. Avoid central pendants. The light they produce is not targeted enough and they tend to cast shadows around the sides of the room, so providing little light over the worktops.

Downlights and track lights that can be adjusted are the best option, but think through their position and talk it over with your electrician, as these can be affected by shadow unless located correctly. Recessed fittings are practical as they will not get covered in dust or grease as with some other forms of lights.

Use under-cabinet lighting to highlight worktops and, if your extractor hood does not incorporate lights, ensure there is sufficient lighting over your hob.

Dimmable lights are best for kitchen diners, allowing you to vary the mood to suit cooking and entertaining alike.

Small kitchens

If you only have a small space, try to think about whether certain functions, such as the laundry, could be carried out elsewhere, and consider whether it may be worth knocking through into another room to create an open plan kitchen diner or living area to create a greater sense of space.

There are several layouts that work well in compact kitchens. If you live alone, a Ushape layout is ideal. However, if there is more than just one person who will be using the kitchen, then consider a galley kitchen. Not only does this layout work well on a practical note, keeping everything close to hand, but it also makes the most of tight spaces, allowing for wall space to be used effectively without intruding on work space. Include lots of wall units, shelves and hanging racks and you should have no problems in fitting everything in. Another layout that works well in small spaces is the L-shape — particularly practical in open plan situations.

Finally, use units and appliances that can be stacked to save on floor and worktop space.Whilst many people do this with washing machines and tumble dryers, installing built-in ovens, with storage above and below, should also be considered.

Getting a kitchen design

There are several different routes you can go down to get a kitchen design. Perhaps the most obvious is to head for a kitchen company, tell them your requirements and budget and see what they come up with. However, you could ask an architect or interior designer to come up with something, or, if you are the creative type, formulate your own design and take it to a joinery or bespoke kitchen company.

Decide early on whether you want a fitted or unfitted kitchen. It used to be considered that unfitted kitchens were more suitable for traditional designs, whilst fitted kitchens were best for contemporary schemes, but this is no longer always the case. Whilst it is true that many traditional kitchens consisted of a pick and mix of unfitted pieces of furniture, many companies are now catching on to the fact that unfitted units are really practical, allowing for flexibility and a nice relaxed feel. Modernist kitchens do, however, suit fitted furniture, which is more apt at creating a sleek, no-fuss image.

In terms of style, the decision is yours, but bear in mind that to obtain a really cutting-edge kitchen, flush, sleek doors in bold colours such as cherry red, bright white and even jet black with high-gloss finishes are very popular. Handles should either be sleek and stainless steel or invisible, with doors operating on a push-click system.

Composites are a great choice for contemporary kitchen worktops — hard-wearing, minimal and available in a range of colours. The only downside is their price tag. Other good options are stainless steel, or stones such as limestone and sandstone — both of which must be properly sealed and treated if they are to maintain their good looks.

Traditionalists should opt for a clean and classic design, such as the ever popular Shaker style, but update it with exotic woods such as wenge, or paint units in powdery blues, greys or greens. Complement traditional units with either timber, granite or marble work surfaces.

Fitting a kitchen

Fitting a kitchen on a DIY basis is no mean feat, but it can be done. Once you have a design, get quotations from builders, kitchen fitters, plumbers and electricians.

Custom-made units are usually supplied ready assembled, whereas many standard units are flat pack, for you to put together yourself. They generally come with instructions and this should not be a complicated job.

Preparation is key. Measure up the wall to the height of your units (a standard unit is 890mm high) and use a spirit or laser level to get a straight line around the room to work off. If you are using adjustable brackets, drill the bracket to the wall. Make sure your base unit is level and plumb — adjust the legs. Move on to the next one, clamping the units before screwing them together. Use a hole saw to drill through the cupboard where any pipes come through. Only when you have a run of cupboards should you fix them to the wall.

Choose units with adjustable legs, which allow you to tweak until everything is evened out and level — this is especially important in old properties where floors can be uneven, or if you are using riven floor tiles. Some units can be screwed directly to the wall into plugs, but most use adjustable brackets that allow you to adjust alignment. Finally, worktops, which are often too fiddly to fit neatly on a DIY basis, are best left to a professional.

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