Flat-pack kitchen in­stall

We ex­plain all the pit­falls, tips, and tricks

The Shed - - Contents - By Lach­lan Jones Pho­to­graphs: Adam Croy and Gary Hat­field

Kitchens are the heart of a house, the con­trol room around which ev­ery­thing re­volves and a room that gets a lot of use, more so than any other. It’s also a work­place where meals are pre­pared and of­ten con­sumed. It’s a hard traf­fic area that sees a lot of ac­tion. Kitchen styles are con­stantly changing and tra­di­tion­ally there has been a trade­off be­tween func­tion­al­ity and de­sign within a set bud­get.

How do you in­te­grate oven, hob, fridge, sink, pantry, and all the im­ple­ments that grow to fill the space avail­able and still have the stylish en­vi­ron­ment you want? Flat-pack kitchens are a vi­able op­tion in terms of cost and qual­ity, as well as con­fig­u­ra­tion, for ev­ery kitchen size and type.

What is a flat-pack kitchen?

Flat-pack kitchens are mass-pro­duced mod­u­lar kitchens that can fit a num­ber of dif­fer­ent-sized homes and kitchens within a range of bud­gets and tastes. The ‘flat pack’ term comes from the fact that the kitchens are gen­er­ally man­u­fac­tured in bulk, then the re­quired pieces are sent to be as­sem­bled and in­stalled on-site by a builder; kitchen in­staller; or, in some con­fi­dent cases, the home­owner/ shed­die.

The flat-pack kitchen means a lot less muck­ing about on-site and is a uni­form prod­uct that can be put to­gether in no time (by some­one with the pa­tience and know-how). 

Flat-pack kitchens have made their mark on the Kiwi con­struc­tion and ren­o­va­tion scene and are now a firm favourite, having by­passed their pre­vi­ous cheap-and-cheer­ful rep­u­ta­tion. They now of­fer bet­ter qual­ity, plenty of op­tions, and more palat­able pric­ing than ever be­fore.

The kitchen used in this project is from New Zealand kitchen man­u­fac­turer Peter Hay Kitchens (pe­ter­hay.co.nz). Once our home­own­ers had cho­sen the com­po­nents off the shelf, so to speak, the flat packs were de­liv­ered on-site to be in­stalled by Gary Hat­field from Home Skills. The flat-pack kitchen com­po­nents have all that a pur­chaser could want in terms of size and shape — even com­po­nents for fill­ing in that awk­ward small left­over gap that you have no idea what to do with. There is a jig­saw-puz­zle piece avail­able to com­plete any space.

The project — the old kitchen

The old kitchen was dark and rather worn out. As the main route into the house, there was a feeling of be­ing dis­jointed from the rest of the house. There was a lack of any flow into the liv­ing room as a high unit above the bench blocked the kitchen from the liv­ing room. The decor was a bit dated, too. The own­ers had em­barked on a project to ren­o­vate the en­tire home, from the bath­room to the bed­rooms, in­clud­ing new light­ing, new floors, new car­pet­ing through­out, as well as the up­dated kitchen. This in­cluded all new ap­pli­ances, which meant that the home own­ers were able to start from scratch. 

The flat-pack kitchen means a lot less muck­ing about on-site


While the cab­i­netry was be­ing as­sem­bled for our project kitchen, the de­mo­li­tion of the old kitchen was get­ting un­der­way. Draw­ers and doors were re­moved first to al­low the plumber to dis­con­nect the taps to the sink and dish­washer. The elec­tri­cian ar­rived shortly after to dis­con­nect and make safe the connection­s for the oven, hob, and var­i­ous power points. Then the ap­pli­ances were re­moved and the benches and the rest of the kitchen cleared to make way for the plas­terer, who needed to re­pair the hole where the oven tower had stood and the ceil­ing where the floor to ceil­ing cup­board had once been. The old linoleum was lifted.


Kitchen in­staller Gary vis­ited the own­ers of the home and spent some time with them, mea­sur­ing up the space and dis­cussing their re­quire­ments. At this early stage it’s very use­ful to know what ap­pli­ances will be needed and it’s im­por­tant to have the ac­tual di­men­sions. There are reg­u­la­tions and man­u­fac­tur­ers’ spec­i­fi­ca­tions around the place­ment of re­frig­er­a­tors. Fail­ure to ac­com­mo­date them can lead to fail­ure of the ap­pli­ance and a voided war­ranty. Fridges need space to cir­cu­late air or they will over­heat.

Ovens too re­quire some thought over place­ment. When ovens are in a tall unit with the oven at bench level, there is a reg­u­la­tion about how far the oven has to be off the ground.

Once the plan is fi­nal­ized the kitchen de­signer/cab­i­net­maker will draw a floor plan and el­e­va­tion, which will show where all the cup­boards, ap­pli­ances, and bench top will go. This is then trans­lated into a com­put­er­ized draw­ing that gen­er­ates a 3D il­lus­tra­tion so that the clients can vi­su­al­ize what they have planned. At this stage fi­nal de­tails can be de­cided on and mod­i­fi­ca­tions made. From this plan a fixed price is ne­go­ti­ated. Once the home­own­ers are happy with the con­cept draw­ings and pric­ing, a de­posit is paid and the man­u­fac­tur­ing be­gins.


Most kitchen man­u­fac­tur­ing is done in large fac­to­ries by com­puter-aided man­u­fac­tur­ing. Com­puter-con­trolled ma­chines cut, shape, and pre-drill the parts for later assem­bly. This makes the turn­around faster and the pro­duc­tion far cheaper over­all.

If the kitchen is well planned and co­or­di­nated with the other trades, the stan­dard time for com­ple­tion is around a week. Once the kitchen cab­i­netry is in­stalled then floor­ing and splash­back tem­plat­ing can oc­cur. 

There are reg­u­la­tions and man­u­fac­tur­ers’ spec­i­fi­ca­tions around the place­ment of re­frig­er­a­tors

Once the kitchen is cut and edged it must be as­sem­bled into its com­po­nent units. This can be done on-site but it is of­ten bet­ter for the joiner or cab­i­net maker to do so off-site and then de­liver the units ready-built. It’s also a chance to check that the parts are cor­rect and will join to­gether as they should.

At the same time as the sides, doors, and draw­ers are be­ing made, the cho­sen bench top is be­ing cre­ated in an­other fac­tory.

As we all know, par­tic­u­larly in older prop­er­ties, very few walls are square. Over time walls can move and shift out of plumb. So bench tops are al­ways or­dered larger than re­quired. This is to al­low the in­staller the chance to scribe the bench to fit the vari­a­tions in the wall. Of­ten the wall can un­du­late very slightly but just enough to be ob­vi­ous when you put a large straight edge like a bench against it. It’s those un­sightly gaps that the scrib­ing cor­rects.


Most kitchens are con­structed from MDF with a ve­neer cov­er­ing, fre­quently a pres­sure-lam­i­nated one like melamine, which goes by a num­ber of dif­fer­ent brand names. Dur­ing the 1980s and 1990s, it was com­mon to see kitchens con­structed from par­ti­cle board. You can still get kitchens man­u­fac­tured in this ma­te­rial at the low end of the mar­ket. It has a num­ber of draw­backs, prin­ci­pally that the ma­te­rial lacks den­sity, mean­ing that it has less hold­ing power for screws and other com­po­nents.

You can of­ten see older kitchens in which the doors, hinges, and all have parted from the cab­i­nets. This is usu­ally due to the par­ti­cle-board cores. MDF is denser and now comes in a mois­tur­ere­sis­tant ver­sion es­pe­cially use­ful for kitchens. It needs to be spec­i­fied when or­der­ing the kitchen. 

If the kitchen is well planned and co­or­di­nated with the other trades, the stan­dard time for com­ple­tion is around a week


Cab­i­net join­ery, es­pe­cially what you don’t see, is im­por­tant. A cup­board or cab­i­net made from a light ma­te­rial might need to have a bat­ten across the back for sup­port. When there is a solid back, you can screw it wher­ever you like. The in­staller putting the kitchen in need not stress out about where the nogs are. They can fix the cab­i­net any­where and into any­thing be­cause they are not re­stricted by a thin 3–6mm MDF back. If you screw through a thin back, it bows and your cab­i­net can pull away from the wall, so you need to put ex­tra sup­port in, or ex­tra nogs.

The likes of Peter Hay Kitchens of­fer be­spoke cab­i­nets for cor­ners, small ar­eas, and skinny re­cesses.

Benches and cab­i­nets can be sprayed with lac­quer. Gen­er­ally for kitchen use, paints will have to be two-pot lac­quers or epoxy based, and this is sprayed di­rectly over a mois­ture-re­sis­tant MDF sub­strate.


Draw­ers ain’t draw­ers anymore. Nowa­days they are ‘sys­tems’ that in­te­grate with other hardware such as hinges and slides. Most mod­ern draw­ers are made with man­u­fac­tured sides of pow­der-coated steel that are screwed to the base and have the drawer front

clipped on. Be aware that some drawer sys­tems may be made of plas­tic.

The pow­der-coated steel sides in­cor­po­rate part of the slide mech­a­nism. The sys­tems al­low for some ad­just­ment to achieve that per­fect fit. There are many styles and an equally wide va­ri­ety of prices for draw­ers, which may be full ex­ten­sion, self-clos­ing, or soft clos­ing.

Th­ese are the parts that get the most wear and are of­ten the first to fail. It pays to invest in high-qual­ity drawer hardware — it will keep pay­ing for it­self for decades. Poor-qual­ity fit­tings will in­evitably re­sult in prob­lems and re­grets. It pays to get it right be­cause retrofitti­ng hardware such as drawer run­ners is dif­fi­cult and ‘dif­fi­cult’ usu­ally means ex­pen­sive.

Talk to your cab­i­net­maker and lis­ten to their rec­om­men­da­tions. They have to stake their rep­u­ta­tion on your fur­ni­ture and they don’t want it to fail. Draw­ers in kitchens es­pe­cially of­ten have to carry very heavy loads and that means they need slides that can bear that load.

A kitchen de­signer rec­om­mend­ing some hardware might never have had to deal with open­ing up the packet and reading the in­struc­tions on how to in­stall it. The in­stal­la­tion can be tricky, so en­sure that you or your in­staller reads and re-reads the in­struc­tions.

Stone tops

Stone tops such as gran­ite, mar­ble, and even pol­ished con­crete are very pop­u­lar and they present an­other dif­fi­culty. It isn’t prac­ti­cal to scribe a gran­ite top to size, so th­ese tops are usu­ally mea­sured by the stone sup­pli­ers and tem­plates are cre­ated from ply­wood or thin MDF from which the fi­nal shape is cut.

Stone benches rep­re­sent plan­ning

It pays to invest in high-qual­ity drawer hardware — it will keep pay­ing for it­self for decades

prob­lems of an­other kind too. The weight of a gran­ite top must be con­sid­ered in the de­sign of the cab­i­nets that will sup­port it and they will fre­quently need re­in­forc­ing to pre­vent them from sag­ging or bow­ing un­der the weight.


While the kitchen is clear and after all the holes are patched it can be a good idea to paint the walls and ceil­ing at this time. It will be more dif­fi­cult to do so after ev­ery­thing is in­stalled. It’s worth con­sid­er­ing one or other of

[P]eo­ple can get the look they want cut to their spec­i­fi­ca­tions, with pan­els, han­dles, and cab­i­net fronts

the spe­cial­ist kitchen paints too. Re­sene has a paint that con­tains sil­ver ions, which have nat­u­ral an­tibi­otic prop­er­ties and keep sur­faces free of mould and odour-caus­ing bac­te­ria, par­tic­u­larly in damp or hu­mid ar­eas.


The cab­i­nets are screwed and glued to­gether. The de­sign al­lows for the var­i­ous com­po­nents to slot to­gether with mor­tises and tenons cut into the edges to add rigid­ity to the pieces. Cab­i­nets that are butt joined (sim­ply at­tached end to side) can have more play, es­pe­cially as the pieces move over time and shift out of align­ment.

The draw­ers are as­sem­bled and fit­ted to the cab­i­nets and the kitchen be­gins to take shape. The cab­i­nets are fin­ished with ad­justable feet that can be ad­justed up or down by up to 10mm and keep the cab­i­nets off the floor and al­low the tops to be lev­elled, tak­ing up any vari­a­tions in floor level.


There is con­stant checking of mea­sure­ments against the plan and lev­el­ling the cab­i­nets and assem­bly. If the mea­sure­ments or level and square are not cor­rect at the be­gin­ning then noth­ing else that fol­lows will ever be level or sit/ fit prop­erly.

The floor will be laid up to the legs and then kick­boards put in front of the cab­i­nets to hide the legs. The readyassem­bled cab­i­nets are easy to work with com­pared with the days when cab­i­net­mak­ers had to build the plinths and cab­i­nets, cut them to fit, and then ended up with pan­els that had to be scribed all around. Now of course, peo­ple can get the look they want cut to their spec­i­fi­ca­tions, with pan­els, han­dles, and cab­i­net fronts that can be var­ied in colour and style.

The cab­i­nets are clamped to hold them in place while fit­ting them tightly with screws where they are less likely to be seen. A tem­po­rary brace holds two of the cab­i­nets steady where the sink goes un­til

the in­staller has screwed the backs into studs in the wall.

The ba­sic height of a work­ing kitchen bench is 890–900mm. Mea­sure­ments that need to be al­lowed for when judg­ing the height in­clude 10mm for tiles and 5mm for an un­der­lay.

With a cab­i­net near a power point or a cup­board door open­ing to­wards the wall, there will need to be some pack­ing to al­low for the door open­ing.

The bench tops them­selves are joined with spe­cial tog­gles and have the holes cut out of the supporting sub­strate to ac­com­mo­date th­ese.

Good plan­ning makes per­fect kitchens

Early plan­ning en­sures that the home­own­ers de­cide on a sin­gle, one-anda-half, or two-bowl sink, and for the hob. Pro­vi­sion for the plumb­ing in the first case and wiring in the other is built in be­fore the bench is fi­nally in place.

Once the bench is in­stalled, the elec­tri­cian in­stalls the hob, oven, and the ex­trac­tor. The plumber re­con­nects the sink and dish­washer. If peo­ple in­stall their dish­washer them­selves rather than a plumber, one of the as­pects to re­mem­ber is the heat shield on the un­der­side of the bench above the dish­washer. Steam com­ing up from the opened door can af­fect the ma­te­rial in the bench.

One of the last el­e­ments to go into a new kitchen is the splash­back, with the colour adding a high­light to the kitchen scheme.

It’s im­por­tant not to for­get to no­tify the in­sur­ance com­pany for an ex­ist­ing house in­sur­ance that work is be­ing done on the house so that con­tract in­sur­ance can cover any dam­age dur­ing the ren­o­va­tions. Also en­sure that any trades­men com­ing and go­ing in the house use proper cov­er­ings and pro­tec­tion. Thanks to Gary Hat­field of Home Skills (home­skills.co.nz) and Peter Hay Kitchens (pe­ter­hay.co.nz), as well as the home­own­ers for let­ting us into their home to fol­low this in­stal­la­tion.

Above and be­low: The cab­i­netry for this in­stall was as­sem­bled on-site, but some­times off-site is a good op­tion

There are rules about space around elec­tri­cal ap­pli­ances. Fail­ure to com­ply can void war­ranties

Max­i­miz­ing stor­age space is key when ren­o­vat­ing a kitchen

Flat-pack kitchens th­ese days use ro­bust hinges and MDF board for in­creased strength. Cab­i­net legs can be ad­justed up to 10cm in height

Soft-close draw­ers are now a com­mon fea­ture in mod­ern kitchens. En­sur­ing straight lines when in­stalling will keep the soft-close draw­ers on track. It pays to choose qual­ity drawer run­ners

How many draw­ers, what type are re­quired, and where they should go are all eas­ily solved with op­tions aplenty

Left: You can never have too much eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble stor­age in a kitchen

The flat-pack man­u­fac­turer will of­fer a wide ar­ray of han­dles and cab­i­netry fin­ish­ing to suit each cus­tomer’s per­sonal pref­er­ence

that While stan­dard sizes are al­lowed for, you’ll want to make sure that your ap­pli­ances will fit into the spa­ces al­lowed for by the kitchen man­u­fac­turer and that they’ll have ad­e­quate ven­ti­la­tion. If pur­chas­ing new ap­pli­ances, check the spec­i­fi­ca­tions and di­men­sions against your kitchen plans

New kitchen usu­ally means all new ap­pli­ances too. Never a bet­ter ex­cuse

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