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Bespoke design or local chippy?

Updated: May 27

Your kitchen will look good if the facade, the facing doors and panels, are good - that's fact. What many people overlook is what sits behind the facade. These are the units themselves, the carcases (the cabinets), and there are various options to consider when you are getting into discussions and decision making about your new kitchen.


Internationally, good quality kitchens are made using carcases (the cabinets) built in MFC or MDF. Both sound a bit naff really, but that's very far from the truth. MFC (melamine-faced chipboard) is a manufactured board whose core is, basically, waste wood fibres and sawdust compressed and stuck together. Now, cheap and cheerful as this may seem, MFC is very, very stable and is ideal in climates where there are extremes of temperature - like Portugal.

The ugly bit of the board - its core - is faced with a melamine and this is where the ugly duckling becomes a swan. Modern melamine coverings are stunning and in many instances, board created by leading manufacturers such as Egger (www.egger.com) is almost indistinguishable from real timber. Delightful colours and even textures recreate beautiful timber finishes. Then of course, if you would rather have a coloured cabinet to complement your cabinet doors and panels then you will find an amazing range of pastel and bold hues from which to choose.


Cabinet and doors made in timber effect MFC

MDF is another popular board and many kitchens in Portugal are made using MDF. This is Medium Density Fibreboard which is made from wood fibres which are bonded together under pressure and give a very dense and very strong board. The raw board is very smooth and can be used in this state or painted. MDF can also be over-laid with veneers and laminates. MDF is used extensively when making cornice and pelmet mouldings, panels and plinths. It is smooth and easy to work, it's flat, and has no knots or graining. As with MFC, an MDF board is very stable in hot and humid conditions.


Timber - now this opens up an area of debate: the local chippy (or cabinet maker, joiner or carpenter) you met in the bar last week can indeed build a kitchen using timber for both the cabinets and the doors and very nice it will look too. It may even be cheaper than using a kitchen whose carcases are built with MFC or MDF. However, if you are going down this route, do make sure the timber being used is properly seasoned. It's a natural product after all and it shouldn't really be exposed to air which is too hot or humid. Heat generated by the Portuguese climate or heat from an AGA or wood burning stove can damage wood and weaken the structure of the cabinets. In a kitchen where there is a timber kitchen frame you need a humidity factor of between (approx) 40% and 85%. Air which is too dry can be as harmful as air which is moisture laden and little or no humidity is another 'danger'.


All timber doors supplied by Kitchens in Portugal are specially treated to ensure they comply to stringent humidity levels. Doors are then fitted to MFC (or MDF) cabinets for enhanced stability and durability. When timber doors are painted the paint application is similarly controlled - another benefit of having a bespoke kitchen built to international standards.


An oak shaker door beautifully made

Every piece of timber has a character of its own and you will find often considerable colour variations in the grain and in the pattern and appearance of knots. This, in my view, is one of the attractions of wood, but it may not surprise you to know that I have had clients who have specified a timber door only then to complain about too many knots, or blond streaks in the wood. Timber will also change colour, sometimes dramatically, over time and exposure to sunlight so the lovely maple or beech door you have today might take on a pinkish tinge tomorrow. It's all part of having and loving real timber!


The door pictured here is in shaker style

and made of solid natural oak.


Timber cabinets might look attractive but if you want to have modern, soft closing drawers and doors on state of the art runners then you will need to specify that and make sure your local chippy understands what it is you need. Hinges and drawer runners supplied by Blum (www.blum.com) or by Hettich (www.hettich.com) are the way forward - unless you opt for complete rusticity and go with 'push me, pull me' drawers. If the timber frame of the cabinet 'moves' over time, your drawers will scrape when they open or close.


So beware if you specify a timber built kitchen - make sure your chippy uses well seasoned wood in multi-stave boards and not single planks (which will warp) and make sure he selects the timber with some degree of uniformity in graining and knotting.


All in all, taking a bespoke design option is a good thing. You'll get a proper design service and a kitchen which fits perfectly with your expectations. The materials will be purpose made and all cabinets built to exact specification - no need to work with 'standard' sizes. If you want something shorter or taller, thinner or fatter, then it can be done - nothing is impossible: if it can be drawn and specified it can be made.


Contact Kitchens in Portugal right now and let's get a discussion going!

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