How to get a luxury kitchen on a budget

A high-end kitchen makes a big difference to your home, but costs can spiral. Here's how to save money without compromising on style

Brookmans kitchen
Credit: Design: Brookmans by Smallbone

The kitchen is, in most cases, the most expensive room in the house: the general rule of thumb is that a kitchen remodel costs between 5 per cent and 15 per cent of the value of your home. It’s a significant investment, however you do it – particularly if you want good-quality cabinetry and a high-end finish. But there are ways to get a luxurious look for less.

1. Try a diffusion line

Just as some major fashion labels offer a more accessibly priced diffusion line, some high-end kitchen companies now have offshoots that display the same design nous but at a lower price. A bespoke Plain English kitchen, for example, starts from around £35,000 but can often rise to far more; while its sister brand, British Standard, produces off-the-peg solid wood cupboards – handmade but unpainted – from £425 each.

Similarly, Brookmans by Smallbone, a sister brand of the upscale kitchen company Smallbone of Devizes, is made at the same Wiltshire workshop but has a more contemporary look, at a much lower price (from £25,000). 

2. Buy a pre-loved kitchen

Credit: Konrad Kaczmarkiewicz

In today’s eco-conscious world, choosing pre-owned over new has become popular when it comes to both fashion and furniture. Buying a second-hand kitchen is not, as yet, quite so commonplace, but it’s one way to make huge savings on an expensive brand. Occasionally, a developer will put a kitchen into a new-build property that is promptly replaced when the property is sold, and the barely used kitchen can be bought for 20 per cent of the original price.

Premium cabinets are built as separate pieces of furniture, so they can easily be moved from one room to another. This Mark Wilkinson kitchen (above and below), installed at a house in Windsor, would have cost £200,000 new, but its current owners bought it through the resale company Used Kitchen Exchange for £40,000, including appliances by Sub-Zero & Wolf, Quooker and Miele (the range cooker alone would have cost £27,500 first-hand). 

Credit: Konrad Kaczmarkiewicz

The kitchen had had very little use – its previous owners had decided they wanted a change of style – so for its new owners, Gary and Donna Pilchowski, it was a bargain. ‘The primary driver for us was value and quality – I loved the aesthetic and design, but was also really excited by the prospect of getting a great deal,’ says Gary.  Sustainability was a key consideration, too: ‘We’re an environmentally conscious family… By buying this particular kitchen, we saved around nine tons of carbon.’

The cabinetry and units were reconfigured by their carpenter to suit the shape of the Pilchowskis’ kitchen, and repainted to give it a fresh look. They used Farrow & Ball’s Slipper Satin on the walls, Shaded White on the units and Drop Cloth on the island. The result is a kitchen that looks as good as new and has plenty more life in it, plus the feel-good factor of knowing that they have saved on both their budget and their carbon footprint.

What to look for when buying  a second-hand kitchen by Helen Lord, founder, Used Kitchen Exchange

  • Try to find a premium brand: the higher the original price tag, the better the build quality and materials used. Often a more expensive kitchen cabinet can have a lifespan of 25 years or more.
  • Go for a wood or painted kitchen, rather than lacquer – it will be easier to repaint and make your own. Buying a kitchen that is a little bigger than you need will give you more flexibility with reconfiguration.
  • If you’re not buying through an agent (who will inspect it for you), ask to see the kitchen in person. Check for water damage around the sink, heat damage on doors situated close to sources of heat, and internal wear and tear on cabinets. If you  can’t view it, make  sure there are plenty  of photos. 
  • If you’re nervous about buying a second-hand kitchen, go for an ex-display one from a showroom. They are designed to impress and often contain more gadgets and storage solutions than average. 

3. Mix and match fitted with free-standing

Mixing in free-standing furniture with fitted elements is another way to cut costs while keeping things stylish. To  provide an extra work surface,  an old butcher’s block is a good choice in place of a kitchen island, particularly in a narrow space where a standard island isn’t an option. Vintage handles for cupboards add a bespoke look, and combining an antique dresser with fitted cabinets - as in this kitchen (above) by deVOL - will also help you stick to a stricter budget.

Try fairs such as Ardingly and Sunbury, at Kempton Park Racecourse, where dressers can be picked up for as little as £100.  It doesn’t have to be vintage to save on fitting costs: Cox & Cox’s new range of free-standing furniture includes an island unit with storage and open shelving, a larder cabinet and  a glass-fronted dresser (from £1,250).

4. Update doors and handles

If the layout of your kitchen works and the cabinetry is in good shape, updating the doors, drawer fronts and handles can be all that’s needed to give it a new lease of life. Asking a joiner to make doors to fit is the cheapest way to get a bespoke look, and also allows the option of using characterful reclaimed wood. 

Several companies offer ready-made doors to fit Ikea and other budget kitchens, giving them a designer look. Husk’s are sleek and modern, in chic, muted shades (from £62), while Superfront’s come in a choice of colours and textural patterns (above, from £28). A modern handle in metal or leather (try Dowsing & Reynolds; from £6.99) will also do wonders.

Finishing touches

Clockwise from top left: Milk frother, £149, Smeg (currys.co.uk); Coalbrook casserole pot, £35, Garden Trading; Espresso coffee machine, £119.99, Morphy Richards; brass handle, £30.99, Dowsing & Reynolds; wood and marble board, £30, Habitat