Choosing kitchen appliances
Once you've chosen your kitchen cabinets and worktops, you might then be wondering how to choose kitchen appliances that suit your style of cooking and kitchen. The most basic kit comprises oven, hob and extractor. You can then create more flexibility by adding a second oven and perhaps a microwave and steam oven.
You'll also need a dishwasher - they use much less water than washing-up by hand - and a cooling product such as a fridge-freezer.
Whatever kitchen appliance you're looking for, make sure it's energy efficient by choosing a model with an A rating. Some appliances now come with A+, A++ or even A+++ ratings and these will not only work more efficiently but they will also cut back on energy bills, too. Independent retailers are a great place to purchase, as you'll benefit from their expert knowledge, demonstration skills and after-care service - and you won't get that on the Internet.
The next step is to think about the features and functions for each appliance that will make your life simpler.
Do you want a freestanding cooker or a built-in oven? Freestanding range cookers can be used to make a statement with a professional stainless steel finish or colourful enamelled design and you can choose from a single or double oven model with warming drawer and hob in a fuel of your choice. The latest models offer an induction top teamed with gas or electric oven below.
Range cookers come in 90cm, 100cm or 110cm widths and are perfect for larger kitchens and great for roasts and slow cooking. For smaller kitchens there are plenty of compact slot-in cookers available in a 60cm width.
For a more streamlined look, a built-in oven can be integrated at eye level, which is kinder on the back, or installed below the worktop as a built-under model. Built-in ovens tend to offer the very latest technology, making them the ideal choice for keen cooks and those who enjoy entertaining.
Whether you prefer a single or double oven, look for automatic programmes that take the guesswork out of cooking by suggesting the time, temperature and oven shelf for your dish; memory functions so you can cook your favourites at the touch of a button and Pyrolytic self-cleaning, which burns fat and grease at 500˚C, leaving a fine ash to simply wipe away.
One thing to remember is to always check the cooking capacity. Single and double ovens have the same dimensions on the outside but the internal capacity will vary and the bigger, the better.
A good hob is a must in every kitchen and the latest trend is for induction, which is energy efficient, ultra-quick and safe, making it the perfect choice for families with young children. It works by heating the pan not the hob, so heat is only conducted once the electro-magnetic coils beneath the hob's surface come into contact with a suitable pan. If you're not sure whether your pans are compatible, take the magnet test. If it sticks to the bottom of the pan, it's suitable to use. Induction is perfect for high heat cooking - some manufacturers also offer wok induction hobs - as well as low temperature cooking for sauces and melting chocolate.
Gas is still popular, as it's familiar and offers instant heat and there are some gorgeous gas-on-glass hobs available, which offer touch controls and an easy-clean finish.
If you love entertaining and have an open-plan kitchen, why not go for a domino hob? These slimline modular hobs enable you to mix and match fuels to create a customised cooktop. There are gas, ceramic and induction models to choose from, as well as deep fryers, steamers, wok hobs and lava stone grills for that authentic BBQ taste.
Every kitchen needs efficient extraction and whilst it's easy to get carried away by style and design alone, it's important to choose the right extraction rate for your room. This is measured in cubic metres per hour (m3/h) and you can work this out by multiplying the volume of your kitchen (length by width by height in metres) by ten - this gives you the minimum extraction rate your kitchen needs, as the air needs to be changed ten times an hour.
Look for a model with a low decibel (dB) rating too, especially if you have an open-plan scheme, as you don't want a noisy cooker hood drowning out your conversation. Anything between 50dB and 60dB is considered quiet.
The latest trends are for downdraft extractors that sit behind the hob, rising effortlessly from the worktop when needed, while ceiling mounted extractors offer a flush-fit look perfect for contemporary schemes.
You can create more cooking flexibility by adding a microwave to a bank of built-in appliances. Many manufacturers offer a compact collection of microwaves, steam ovens, coffee machines and wine coolers with a 45cm height instead of the traditional 60cm.
If you're unsure which oven would best complement a single or double oven, a combination microwave will allow you to bake, grill and roast and can be used to supplement the main oven when entertaining or cooking on a large scale.
Steam ovens also offer a versatile way to cook, as they can be used for all sorts of dishes from fish, vegetables and rice to cakes, puddings and sauces, retaining food's nutrients and vitamins for a healthy lifestyle.
Contrary to popular belief, dishwashers use less water than washing-up by hand and the latest models offer a range of water-saving features to conserve water and energy, too.
Think about your needs in terms of how many place settings you want, which programmes would be useful and whether you would benefit from adjustable baskets and racks. Most full sized models offer 13 place settings though you can find larger capacities and for smaller kitchens, there are slimline models that are 45cm wide instead of 60cm with nine place settings.
Freestanding dishwashers largely come in white, black or stainless steel while a semi-integrated model is mostly hidden behind a cabinet door with only the control panel on show. A fully integrated design is completely concealed behind the cabinet for a seamless finish.
The two things to look for when it comes to refrigeration are capacity and energy efficiency. Think about your storage needs - do you buy more fresh or frozen food? This will determine whether you opt for a 50:50 two-door fridge-freezer, a tall larder fridge and separate freezer, a three-door French style model with double door fridge on top and pull-out freezer drawers below or an American-style side-by-side model.
Refrigeration is rated for energy efficiency with A+++ being the most efficient. Remember that your fridge is switched on 24/7, so it's important to choose the most efficient model for your budget.
Other features to look for include humidity controlled drawers to keep meat, fish, vegetables and dairy fresh for up to three times longer; antibacterial linings to prevent mould growth; multi airflow cooling, which electronically adjusts the flow of cold air throughout the fridge to keep food at a safe temperature and for added convenience, an ice and water dispenser.