If you’ve spoken to a friend who’s built a kitchen before, prepare for a horror story. “I spent twice the budget! 6 months delayed! He’s a scammer!”
Kitchens can be confusing and convoluted if you don’t know what you’re doing. In this guide, we’re hoping we can help you navigate this long process.
- How Much Do You Need to Spend?
- How to Layout Your Kitchen?
- 6 Things to Watch out For
- How to Maximize Space
- Choosing Materials
- How to Find Suppliers and Talk to Them
In this post, we’ll assume that you’re going to build a modular kitchen, not a carpentry one.
How Much Do You Need to Spend on a Kitchen?
Unfortunately, kitchen pricing isn’t as transparent as buying soy sauce in the grocery.
But walking to a supplier and requesting a price is like asking the cashier at Uniqlo if you’ll look good in their underwear. They can’t tell you without understanding a few things.
What makes a kitchen expensive?
- Size. More shelves and cabinets drives up price.
- Finish. Lacquered paints cost more than laminates.
- Parts. Soft close hinges and drawers add cost.
- Precision. Getting things right cost more due to better training and careful methods.
- Supplier Fees. Better suppliers usually charge higher.
But we’re guessing you just want a starting point just so you know what you can afford. As an exercise, let’s set a baseline just to start somewhere. Pretend we’re building a kitchen like this:
- Inside a 1BR condo...
- with 10 cabinet (or drawer) boxes...
- complete with a cooktop, oven, hood, and sink.
For a kitchen with these specs, prices can look something like:
In kitchens, higher prices usually means better quality.
But better in what ways?
- Peace of mind. With great kitchen suppliers, you buy peace of mind. Most kitchens within the entry-level range will drive you mad with stress. The most common problems include misaligned drawers, appliances that don’t fit, long-term deterioration, rough finishes, or a timeline that’s 6 months late. The cheaper you go, the more you risk something going wrong. Unless you can’t move your budget, the stress isn’t worth it.
- Fancy hardware. When you go mid-range and above, you start getting silent-open drawers, push-to-open faces, soft-closing hinges, deep-pull cabinets, and hydraulic pull-up doors. Every movement feels like butter. While these aren’t critical, everything feels better to use, and you get to maximize space.
- In-cabinet lighting. More premium kitchens will often include automatic lights that turn on when you open the cabinets.
- Premium, machined materials. Higher-end kitchens typically feature materials that last decades, can handle high temps, are resistant to water damage, and just beautifully finished.
- Precise measurements. Kitchens are like clothes—everything needs to fit right. Cheaper kitchens will always fit tight in some areas, and loose in others. You’ll see these in the gaps between cabinet doors. You’ll feel them when you feel friction as you open drawers. Appliances will often not fit snugly too. Most premium kitchens are built with machines and computers, so they end up tight and precise.
- Design consulting. Most upscale kitchen contractors have professional designers on their team. They’ll teach how to design your kitchen to maximize space, prevent common problems, and how to weigh the pros & cons of different materials.
So you just pay more if you can? Is that the rule? Not all the time.
For most folks who just want a great-looking kitchen that works, stay somewhere around mid-range to low luxury. At this range, you’ll notice a huge leap in quality compared to lower end kitchens. You’re going from food court steak to a USDA Certified Angus Ribeye.
But beyond the mid-range, the practical gains shrink.
Luxury kitchens work much like luxury watches. A Rolex doesn’t tell the time better than a Swatch. But people still buy them for prestige and artistry. Luxury kitchens will use brand name accessories, rare materials, and high-tech devices. They’re great to have, but they will usually triple or quadruple the price of your entire kitchen.
How to Layout your Kitchen
Your kitchen layout can make your life easier or harder depending how well you pull it off. Naturally you don’t want to make it harder, so make sure you consider every decision.
And even if you have an interior designer, you’d best arm yourself with knowledge. They won’t be the ones using your kitchen for the next 10 or 20 years, you will.
The 4 Most Common Kitchen Layouts
If you want something crazy, go ahead and build yourself a triangular kitchen. But what if you’re not unhinged?
Here are the four most common layouts:
- Galley Kitchen. As the name suggests, this is a straight kitchen with two sides. Uncomplicated with no corners.
- L Kitchen. The most common kitchen type in condos, the L kitchen usually has one corner and one side.
- U Kitchen. The U kitchen is similar to a galley kitchen except that the end connects and it’s got two corners.
- Island Kitchen. Featuring a detached counter, the island kitchen works for larger spaces. Because the island faces outwards, these kitchens work well for entertaining as you can interact with people as you cook. But island kitchens can be messier to clean up. Without a backsplash, splattering oil will end up spreading itself out across your cooking area.
All of these kitchen layouts work, just choose one that fits your needs.
One thing to consider with any layout is the amount of corners. Remember that corners are hard to access—you have to reach deep underneath—so you’ll need to spend a bit more to make use of corner cabinets. So if you want to save a bit of money, you may want to ditch the corners.
Master the Kitchen Triangle
The triangle refers to the 3 most used stations in your kitchen: cooking, washing, and refrigeration.
The kitchen triangle states that you want these 3 stations within a short distance of each other, forming an imaginary triangle that defines where you work.
That means you shouldn’t put all 3 stations on one side of the kitchen. You also shouldn’t position them so far apart.
You can break the rule, but the triangle helps you work easier. By having them in this layout, you can just rotate your body to access different areas in the kitchen instead of walking far away just to get something in the fridge or dumping a dirty pot in the sink.
Don’t Overlook Your Drying Station
While cooking, washing, and refrigeration form your holy trinity, there’s another one that people often miss: drying.
Every time you wash your dishes, make sure you have an accessible dumping ground for your wet dishes. Position your drying area right beside your sink works best—and even better if you purchase a drying rack that drains to the sink. Some kitchens also add a drying area above the sink.
Consider which side it sits on too. Dish dryers should be as big as possible to be useful. If you position them on the side of the sink where you chop your vegetables or plate your food, you’ll block your work area.
To prevent this from happening, position your drying station somewhere outside your work area. This way, you can just slide dirty pots, pans, and chopping boards to your sink without having to go around your work area.
6 Things to Watch Out For
When building kitchens, don’t screw up your measurements. If you misfire, you might end up spending hundreds of thousands more.
When you work with a reputable modular kitchen supplier, they won’t make your kitchen in your house. They build entire kitchens in a factory. Once done, they bring it to your house and assemble the parts like Legos. With wrong measurements, your cabinets won’t fit when they arrive.
Before you call someone to build your kitchen, make sure that the physical space where the kitchen will go is ready to be measured by your supplier.
If you’re working with an architect or interior designer, you might have a floor plan in hand. Don’t rely on it. In practice, floor plans don’t reflect reality so accurately. The plan usually ends up a couple of inches off from reality—and this is a big deal when it comes to kitchens.
2. Smoke & Exhaust
If you cook steaks, chops, or fish, you’ll produce a huge amount of smoke.
While you might tell yourself that having huge windows and fans is enough, it usually isn’t. If you’re in a condo, you might set off the smoke alarm too.
As a precaution, always buy the most powerful exhaust you can. Ask the seller about suction ratings and they’ll let you know and compare which ones do a better job.
3. Water & Washing
Water is pretty straightforward. You just need a pipe where it enters and a drain where it exits. But you can add a few things to make your washing experience better.
- Get a water filtration system on a second faucet. It’s not expensive and you can use that to access filtered water on a second faucet. If you’re a small household, you can get away with this without ever having to lug those 5-gallon water tubs ever.
- For cleaning oily containers, install a water heater. Hot water helps big time when you’re cleaning oily plates and plastic containers. But beware: the electricity costs can get really high since heating takes up a lot of energy so you can skip this if you’re energy-conscious.
- Get the biggest sink that you can. If you like to bake or cook in large batches, you’ll need to dump trays and huge pans in there. Best to play it safe as early as now.
- Install a faucet with a fairly high neck. This lets you wash deep stock pots with ease. If it’s too short, you’ll have trouble fitting those in.
4. Electrical Needs
We recommend you go fully electric and ditch gas for your kitchen.
Most people think that if you have outlets, you can just plug any appliances into them. Not true! Your kitchen needs enough electrical capacity to power all your devices: your cooktop, a microwave, an oven, blenders, and whatnot. Talk to your electrician to know how much you can plug.
Consider where you’ll be working too. Your primary work area should have outlets close by so you can easily plug small appliances like hand blenders and food processors.
5. Choosing Cooktops
Your cooktop is the most important appliance you’ll buy. When choosing one, you’ll need to make 3 choices.
- Heating Method. Your first choice is the heat source: gas, electric plate, or induction (also electric). For most homes, we always recommend induction.
- Built-in vs Detached. You need to decide if you want your cooktop mounted on your countertop or as a separate unit. If you can afford it and you’re building a new kitchen from scratch, built-in not just looks better, but it’s also easier to maintain because you don’t have gaps. The gaps in detached cooktops are difficult to clean because food will tend to fall inside. This will attract all sorts of pests that you will have trouble clearing out later on.
- Number of Burners. Smaller cooktops start with a single burner, but the largest ones offer as many as five burners. In reality, you don’t really need all that. Nobody cooks five things at once. At most, get 3 burners—four is usually a waste.
We keep on getting asked what brands we recommend. Most of the popular brands work decently and similarly—even the pricey ones. So just buy whichever you can afford. What you want to know is how good the service is. Ask your suppliers what their service policy looks like.
6. Built-in Ovens
If you see kitchen catalogues, you’ll find that they have built-in ovens usually under the cooktop. Whether you need one for yourself depends on how much you bake or roast.
If you don’t really use an oven, you might consider just using the space as a cabinet. If you’re using an induction cooktop, you can place a cabinet under it easily.
If you’re only toasting bread or baking cookies, you might find that a smaller countertop oven might be more than enough for your needs.
How to Maximize Space
One huge benefit to working with premium modular kitchen suppliers is that you’ll get access to a lot of space-maximizing mechanisms.
Every kitchen benefits from more space. Since you always want as much space as possible, consider the following:
Sometimes you’ll end up with a kitchen layout where you’ll get left with a small space where a full-sized cabinet just won’t fit. Since kitchen cabinets go deep, adding a regular cabinet doesn’t help as you won’t be able to access the rear. In these cases, you can opt to install a narrow cabinet mechanism.
If you have an L or U-shaped kitchen, you’ll come across corners. Corners waste space because they’re so deep. To make use of corner space, you can install different styles of corner mechanisms.
You still have enough room below and around your sink that often goes to waste. With a proper under-sink mechanism, you can add a drawer that fits right under. This place becomes ideal to store cleaning materials for easy access.
While some prefer aesthetics by using walls for display shelves, we recommend installing upper cabinets instead. Having cabinets above your counter adds a huge amount of storage while remaining easy to use. Just make sure to choose cabinet mechanisms that enable you to easily reach up top.
Pots and pans can be difficult to store due to their long handles and large surfaces. One great way to store them is through tall drawers with vertical organizers inside. If you can get a mechanism that can hold a tall front plus the heavy load of pots and pans, this will make your kitchen life much easier as you won’t need to dig deep for them.
Most kitchen counters measure around 60cm deep. If you have enough room, you might consider adding another 10cm to its depth. This gives you a huge boost in usable space as you can use your counter’s rear area as quick-access storage for frequently used items like salt, sugar, or flour.
Cabinet doors looks simple. On the surface, they just look like painted wooden panels. But they’re not that simple.
Contrary to popular belief, most cabinet doors aren’t made of wood. They’re usually synthetic boards made of varying materials like pulp, wood sheets, or plastic. On their own, these boards aren’t presentable. But they’re affordable, easy to cut, and more sustainable than wood. So for most cabinets, kitchen suppliers end up just wrapping these boards with different finishes to create beautiful cabinets.
The most popular cabinet finishes and materials:
- Thermofoil. Despite its name, thermofoil doesn’t contain any foil. It’s a peelable, sticker-like, soft plastic made of PVC (the same material used in water pipes) and typically wrapped around cabinet doors. This is usually the cheapest option. It doesn’t feel premium.
- Laminates (or Melamine). Laminates (and its cousin melamine) are hard plastic sheets with varying colors and patterns. You can get them in solid colors, faux metal, or faux wood. Laminates can look good if purchased and installed by a good supplier. This is usually the second cheapest option after thermofoil.
- Acrylic. Acrylic is a plastic that looks like glass. Often glossy and transparent, acrylic appears like glass without the burden of its heavy weight and the risk of shattering. Acrylic cabinets look sleek and clean.
- Wood Veneered. Wood veneers are paper-thin wood sheets wrapped around cabinets. Unlike faux wood plastic laminates, veneers are actually made of real wood—when applied by skilled hands, they can look very woody. So why wrap cabinets with wood veneers instead of just getting solid wood cabinets? Cost. Since wood veneers are thin and portable, you can wrap them around any kind of cheaper material. You can also access a wider variety of wood types.
- Lacquered. Lacquered cabinet doors are ones painted with lacquer—a hard, synthetic, and protective coating made for various materials. When finished, they can appear glossy, matte, or something in between. Lacquer offers great durability and premium-looking finishes. Since lacquer is applied directly on the cabinet material, the corners are completely sealed as they’re not wrapped with a second material.
- Solid Wood. As the name suggests, solid wood cabinets aren’t just wrapped with a wood sticker—they’re made entirely of wood. Popular types include oak, walnut, ash, or mahogany. With a quality supplier, solid wood cabinets will look and feel luxurious. They tend to be one of the most expensive materials to use.
- Other Materials. You can fashion cabinet doors with any material you want. While less common, you can also choose stainless, glass, or ceramic. It all depends on what your suppliers can do.
Aside from your cabinet doors, you’ll need to select your countertop.
Since this is where you’ll do a lot of kitchen work, you’ll need something that’s waterproof, heatproof, scratch-proof, and impact-resistant.
The most popular countertop materials:
- Granite. Granite is solid rock unearthed, cut, and polished. The hardest and most durable material you can buy. Resists heat and scratching.
- Marble. Similar to granite but with a few differences. The patterns appear as veins instead of flecks. It’s not as hard, so it can get scratched. The stone’s a bit porous, so coffee, wine, or acids can stain it if left for too long.
- Engineered Quartz. While it appears like granite or marble, engineered quartz is man-made, not natural. Constructed from stone and plastic, engineered quartz retains the best qualities of natural stone with better sustainability. It’s not as durable and heat-resistant as granite, but good enough for most daily use. Available in new and modern designs since they’re customized.
- Solid Surface. Like quartz, solid surface is a man-made “stone.” Also constructed with stone and plastic, but with much more plastic than stone, solid surface costs much less than quartz. Due to having less stone, solid surface scratches more easily due to higher softness. For the same reason, it can’t handle high heat too. People who have tighter budgets often go for solid surface as a great alternative.
How about tiles for countertops? You can use tiles, but since they’re installed one by one, you might end up with an uneven surface. This will make tasks like chopping more difficult and annoying. Go for tiles only if you’re on a really tight budget.
How about stainless steel? Stainless works great for restaurants due to their thinness, flexibility, and durability. But at home, we don’t recommend them for a few reasons. First, it can get really cold or hot depending on the weather. Second, if you drop something heavy on it, you can leave it with a gigantic ding. You can’t fix that ding. Last, it’s prone to scratching so you’ll need to do maintenance on it in case it does.
Other Things You Need to Choose
Your cabinets and countertops are the two most important materials you’ll be selecting. But you’ll need to choose a few more.
Since there are too many options to cover, we’ll just go through each one briefly:
- Cabinet handles: flush, no handles, fancy handles
- Cabinet hinges: soft vs hard close, how wide, which direction they open
- Drawer runners and boxes: tall vs short, stainless vs plastic, wide vs narrow
- Backsplash: stainless, tiles, or stone
- Shelving configuration: how many shelves for cabinets?
How to Find Suppliers and Talk to Them
So you know what kitchen you want, what layout you’re going for, what kind of budget you have. You just need someone to build your dream kitchen.
As we’ve said before, we really don’t recommend letting non-kitchen contractors build your kitchen. Most of them will tell you they can. Don’t do it—everyone who does it regrets it. We discuss contractor versus modular kitchens here.
Once you’ve picked your supplier, ask them a few things:
- Ask about their past work. You want to see a portfolio of great works. This is the surest sign that you’re working with someone you can trust.
- Ask about how they produce their kitchen. You want to work with a company that makes their own cabinets. This means they have full control of the process and they can have better costs. If they’re only buying cabinets from others, you’ll end up paying more.
- Ask for a cost estimate based on different configurations. Ask how much it would cost with a different cabinet finish. Or replacing cabinets with shelves. Or using different branded hinges. This helps you know what makes a budget go high or low.
- Ask for a timeline commitment. Ask what would happen if it’s not met. Put the terms of what you discussed in writing.
- Ask for terms if things go wrong. What if they don’t fit right? What if the finish is damaged? A reputable supplier will have warranties and they’ll put it in writing.
Once you’ve done all of these, you can only really trust your chosen supplier. So choose right. We compiled a list of the top 10 modular kitchen suppliers in the Philippines.
It’s never easy building your own kitchen. Even harder if it’s your first time.
But hopefully by now you have a good idea of how to move forward:
- How much you should budget
- How to lay your kitchen out
- How to watch out for the most common mistakes
- How to choose a supplier
- Why you should go for a modular kitchen
With this, you should be pretty much set. It still won’t be an easy path given how so many things can go wrong, but if they don’t go as planned, you know what to do.
Good luck in your kitchen journey! Have fun and we’re so excited for you!
Thank you to Oppein Manila for making this helpful article happen. Check them out on Facebook and Instagram—they make some of the best kitchens in Manila at unbeatable prices.