Best types of kitchen units to choose for your space (2024 guide)

Find out how to choose the best kitchen units for your redesign—from durable doors and drawers to what’s behind them—with our in-depth guide

By Rachel Ogden

October 19, 2023
Gray and wooden kitchen with cupboards, close up

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Jump to: How to pick the right kitchen units | How much do kitchen units cost? | Best kitchen unit materials | Standard unit sizes | Door styles | Hardware | Rigid vs flat pack units | Our recommendation | FAQ

Kitchen units are usually the first thing that comes to mind when you begin planning out a kitchen renovation. By units, we mean the cabinets and cupboards that store all of your dinnerware, cutlery, pots and pans, and other kitchen gadgets. They’re usually composed of a door or drawer attached to a carcass, though in some instances they might also be shelving units or cupboards designed to house integrated appliances. What’s important to note is that the colour, style, construction, and configuration of your units have a huge impact on the look and feel of your fitted kitchen.

Although the doors are the most visible aspect of kitchen units, the carcasses are potentially more important when it comes to the construction and materials used. Solid and durable carcasses will ensure a longer lasting kitchen with less chance of sagging shelves and warped drawers over time. But how do you choose the best kitchen units for your project? In this guide, we’ll go over everything you need to know about the materials available, as well as their upsides and downsides, and provide some tips to create your ideal kitchen.

How to pick the right kitchen units

Classical kitchen design, closed blue kitchen unit, sink in front of the window, decor on a wooden countertop. 3d rendering
Consider how you use your kitchen and the space you have available, alongside style, as well as your budget. Image credit: Adobe

It’s easy to focus on colour and style when choosing the best kitchen cupboards for you—especially if you have your heart set on white kitchen cabinets, for example. Ideally, consider how you use your kitchen and the space you have available, alongside style, as well as your budget. We’ll explore each of these elements more in depth.


How much you have available to spend on a kitchen often dictates where you buy it from, as well as the range selected. This is why many retailers offer kitchen ranges at different price points, usually a trio of “good, better, and best” options, to suit their customers’ budgets. The differences among ranges usually lie in the variety of cabinet sizes and designs available as standard, colour choice, door finish, and sometimes construction and carcass thickness. 

Space and use

If your kitchen is on the compact side, units that provide plenty of flexible storage space is key. Choosing internal solutions—such as wire racks within corner cupboards or pull-out larders—is one way to maximise your space but will add to your kitchen’s price tag. Opting for full-extension drawer units over cupboards is another way to increase your access to available space. Again, the cost tends to be more, but being able to see the contents of a drawer, instead of having to poke around at the back of a cupboard, tends to make the expense worth it.

It’s worth remembering that there’s no need to fill a large kitchen with units. Instead, buy just what you need for storage, and think about using any leftover budget for coordinating units in other areas, such as built-in seating, media units, and living area storage in an open-plan room. 

And you don’t need to stick to runs of standard wall and base units either. Larders for housing dry goods and small appliances are popular, as are breakfast cupboards that contain everything you need for the morning meal. Similarly, worktop-mounted units with tambour, bi-fold, or pocket doors are ideal for hiding away clutter when you have guests.


Choosing your kitchen’s colour and style is the fun part, but it still pays to look closely at the units you’re thinking of buying. Some door and drawer finishes will be more durable than others, and some lend themselves well to being repainted, meaning you can makeover your kitchen later down the line. For a low-maintenance life, look for units with minimal detailing to keep clean.

How much do kitchen units cost?

The price you pay for your individual kitchen units depends on the material you choose, where you live, and your kitchen company. In the table below, we’ve broken down the average cost of standard-sized kitchen units, not including installation or door handles.

Cabinet materialCost per unit

Melamine-faced chipboard (MFC)

From £50

Medium-density fibreboard (MDF)

From £130


From £200

Timber-faced MDF or chipboard

From £300

Solid wood

From £350

What are the top 5 kitchen units available?

What your cabinet is made from can affect its durability, maintenance, and cost. Here are some of the most popular types.

Solid wood

Modern kitchen in the loft style. Kitchen island with a hood over it. Kitchen of fashion solid wood. 3D render.
Certain woods work better than others for kitchen cabinets due to the potential for warping. Image credit: Adobe

If longevity is an important factor in your kitchen buying, then choose solid timber cabinets. Made using traditional construction methods of mortise-and-tenon or dovetail joints, they’re usually delivered fully assembled and rigid—much like pieces of furniture—rather than flat-packed. Certain woods work better than others for this type of cabinet. This is because some timbers are prone to warping and shifting in a humid kitchen environment, whereas hardwoods—including oak, tulipwood, maple and ash—are durable, strong, and stable. In-frame construction, where the door fits into a frame rather than being hung directly from the carcass, is common. This type of cabinet also can be easily repainted to freshen up its look.

Steer clear of harsh cleaners for solid wood cabinets and instead clean them using mild dish soap and hot water with a soft cloth. Alternatively, use diluted vinegar with lemon juice to lift stickiness, or a baking soda paste to remove ingrained grime. Prices for solid wood cabinets vary but start at around £350 per unit.

Upsides of solid wood kitchen unitsDownsides of solid wood kitchen units

Durable and long lasting


Eco-friendly material

Vulnerable to harsh cleansers and acid

Easy to paint for a new look

Certain types of wood can warp in humid kitchens


Dark home interior in blue with open kitchen and dining area with round table
MDF is more affordable than solid wood cabinets. Image credit: Adobe

MDF, or medium-density fibreboard, is made from wood fibre mixed with resin and wax and formed under high pressure and temperature. Stronger and denser than chipboard (below), MDF is an ideal kitchen material, being stable in a humid environment, with a smooth knot-free surface that can be painted easily. In the past, MDF has had a reputation for being flimsy, but if you invest in a good-quality thick carcass, this shouldn’t be an issue. MDF can also be a sustainable choice, as it’s often made from recycled wood fibre. 

One of the main reasons to choose MDF, though, is the price. While it should last just as long, MDF is more affordable than solid wood cabinets—although thicker carcarsses will cost more than their slimmer counterparts. In terms of maintenance, warm water and a microfibre cloth should suffice for cleaning, with diluted mild dish soap for any stubborn spots. Diluted white vinegar and hot water works well for removing grease, especially if the MDF is unfinished or unpainted. Prices for MDF start at around £130 per unit.

Upsides of MDF kitchen unitsDownsides of MDF kitchen units

Less expensive than solid wood but can last as long

Thin carcasses can be flimsy

Resistant to warping and sagging in humidity

Prone to warping under heavy weight

Usually made from recycled materials

Poor heat resistance


A stack of plywood boards ready to be turned into kitchen units.
Plywood is used by bonding together thin layers of wood, making it a sturdy material for kitchen units. (Image credit: Adobe)

Made from thin layers of wood bonded together with adhesive under high pressure, plywood is very durable. This is because each layer is sandwiched together at up to 90 degrees with the next, giving it strength in all directions, as well as reducing expansion and contraction due to heat and humidity. The number of layers is usually uneven, which is why you might hear the terms 3-ply or 5-ply: More layers means stronger, thicker plywood. It’s also resistant to moisture, so burst pipes and leaks shouldn’t damage it. Plywood is heavier than chipboard, though, so be sure not to skimp on hinges and runners for doors and drawers.

In terms of finishes, plywood can be lacquered, veneered, waxed, laminated, or painted; but in all cases, clean it gently, avoiding harsh or abrasive products. You can keep it clean much like solid wood, with dish soap or a vinegar solution. Prices for plywood cabinets start at around £200 per unit.

Upsides of plywood kitchen unitsDownsides of plywood kitchen units

Highly durable

Can be heavy, so the right hinges are vital

Stands up to water damage better than solid wood

Finish is less smooth than other materials, so it can be difficult to laminate or add veneers

Less expensive than solid wood

Can have gaps or knots between layers


A melamine-faced chipboard kitchen unit with a finish that replicates the look of real wood.
The melamine foil on MFC kitchen units prevents moisture from getting to the chipboard core. (Image credit: Adobe)

MFC, or melamine-faced chipboard, is the most affordable of the carcass materials. It’s made from chipboard or particle board—which is a mix of waste wood chips, sawdust, and resin or another binder—that’s pressed together with heat, and then covered in melamine. The melamine foil prevents moisture from getting into the core, and it’s scratch-resistant, creating a surface that’s easy to clean with a quick wipe and requires little else in the way of maintenance. 

Much like MDF, quality makes a difference. While there are some durable and sturdy MFC cabinets available, poor-quality MFC at the budget end of the market can have a short life span, especially if there’s any water ingress from leaks, which can swell the core. Good-quality MFC will have a thicker skin that’s hard-wearing and should last for years, especially if it’s combined with a solid back instead of hardboard. MFC carcasses cost from around £50.

Upsides of MFC kitchen unitsDownsides of MFC kitchen units

Highly affordable

Can be flimsy and have a short life span

Moisture and scratch resistant

Melamine facing can chip, which leaves core vulnerable to water damage

Wide variety of colours and patterns available

Heavy material, so strong hinges are key

Timber-faced MDF or chipboard units

A person applying a red wood veneer to a piece of MDF kitchen unit.
Timber-faced kitchen units usually have a thin veneer of real wood glued to either MDF or chipboard. (Image credit: Adobe)

For the look of real wood without investing in a solid wooden cabinet, look for timber-faced units. They’ll be made from either MDF or chipboard with a veneer of timber such as oak, walnut, or ash applied on top. The veneers can be either varnished, oiled, or painted, so the carcass is more durable, and they can sometimes be combined with solid wood doors or coordinating veneered doors. 

Choose timber-faced MDF, and besides being more affordable than solid wood, it should also be more stable when temperatures and humidity fluctuate. Veneers need the same sort of care as real wood. However, unlike real wood, if the surface scratches or dents, there’s only so much wood to sand and refinish before the veneer wears away. Because of this, look for cabinets made with a thick veneer of wood, such as 18mm, and expect to pay from £300 per unit.

Upsides of plywood kitchen unitsDownsides of plywood kitchen units

Highly durable

Can be heavy, so the right hinges are vital

Stands up to water damage better than solid wood

Finish is less smooth than other materials, so it can be difficult to laminate or add veneers

Less expensive than solid wood

Can have gaps or knots between layers

What are the standard kitchen unit sizes?

If you’re buying ready-to-fit kitchen units, you might be wondering if there’s a standard size you should be aware of so you can get an idea of roughly how many cabinets you can fit in your space. While most units are made to fit a standard height and depth, there are different widths available. 

In the table below, we’ve broken down the standard kitchen unit sizes in the UK. Remember that for base units, you’ll have to add some height to the dimensions to accommodate the thickness of your kitchen worktops, which is usually 20 to 40 millimetres.

Type of unitHeight (in millimetres)Depth (mm)Width (mm)Plinth height (mm)

Base cabinet



150, 300, 350, 400, 450, 500, 600, 800, 900, 1,000, or 1,200


Corner cabinet



900, 1,000, or 1,100


L-shaped corner cabinet



910 for each section


Wall-mounted cabinets

360, 575, 720, or 900


300, 400, 450, 500, 600, 800, or 1,000


Shallow-depth cabinets





Tall cabinets

1,825, 1,950, or 2,150


300, 400, 500, or 600


Midi/studio height cabinets



300, 400, 500, or 600


Typical kitchen unit door styles

When we talk about kitchen units, there are two parts to consider—the carcass and the door. The carcass is the inside of the unit, and you will only see it when the door is open. On the other hand, the door is the part that adds style to the overall unit, and there are three main designs most kitchen companies will offer.


Nicely designed white and grey kitchen units with lots of greenery, wooden bar stools and hanging lights.
An example of shaker-style kitchen unit doors (Image credit: Christian Mackie/Unsplash)

Sometimes referred to as a “classic” kitchen style, Shaker cabinets feature doors with a framed central panel that is usually veneered. Shaker kitchens offer a timeless look and can be made with or without handles in a variety of colours. 


Modern slab kitchen units painted in matt black with white walls and black appliances.
An example of slab kitchen units. (Image credit: Sven Brandsma/Unsplash)

As the name suggests, slab kitchen units have doors that are smooth with no framed features. They are most suited to those looking for a modern design and come in a range of colours and finishes. Slab doors lend themselves to a handless design, though you can also opt for handles or knobs.

J-pull or integrated handles

A Magnet Integra Nova fitted kitchen in grey with integrated handles on the kitchen units.
Magnet Integra Nova kitchen units with integrated handles on the doors and drawers. (Image credit: Magnet)

Several kitchen companies are now offering J-pull kitchen units, which are sometimes referred to as integrated handles. The door fronts are smooth like slab cabinets, but they have a J-shaped curve built in to allow fingers to easily open the doors without adding handles. J-pull kitchens are becoming increasingly popular among those wanting a sleek, modern design.

What hardware will I need to buy for my kitchen units?

Many fitted kitchen companies will list guide prices for their cabinets without including the cost of door handles, so you will need to factor this into your budget. This is not the case if you choose a handleless or integrated handle door design, which is becoming more popular. 

Choosing your own handles is a great way to add another personal touch to your new kitchen, as they come in a variety of designs, colours, and finishes. You can choose bar, decorative, or cup handles, or go for knobs, which have a more classic and timeless look.

Your kitchen company may also give you a choice of hinges for all of your cabinet doors and runners for your drawers, including soft close and sprung hinges to stop doors and drawers from slamming shut. If you have opted for a solid wood or thicker door to front your cabinets, you’ll need to ensure the hinges you choose are strong enough to hold them to avoid damage further down the line.

Most fitted kitchen companies also offer a range of accessories and inserts to help you maximise the storage space in your units, such as pull-out shelves for corner units, integrated waste bins, drawer inserts, and plinth heaters for kitchens that don’t have space for a radiator.

Which is best—rigid or flat packed kitchen units?

When it comes to picking out your kitchen units, you will usually have two options depending on which retailer you choose—rigid or flat packed cabinets. Each has its upsides and downsides, so it’s important to consider these factors when designing your new kitchen.

Rigid kitchen units are made to order, assembled in a factory by your manufacturer, and arrive at your home pre-assembled for fitting. Due to the typical size of kitchen units, it’s unlikely your chosen company will have a stock of rigid units in various colours ready to ship, so your installation time will be extended while you wait for your cabinets to be made. However, pre-assembled units could save you time in the long run because they are less likely to have missing parts when they arrive.

Flat pack kitchen units, much like furniture of the same type, will arrive at your home broken down into boxes and will need to be assembled on site before fitting. Many kitchen companies, such as Wickes, Wren, and B&Q, now offer flat pack ranges, as they tend to be less expensive so appeal to those on a tight budget. The downside of flat pack kitchen units is they can be difficult to assemble, particularly if a component is missing from the box.

Our recommendation

For a good balance of value, choice of finish, and minimal maintenance, it’s something of a tie between MDF cabinets and plywood. Both are resistant to humidity, strong, and durable, without being too pricey. Buy the best you can afford, and your kitchen should stay looking great and working well for decades. 

If you are considering other materials, the same advice applies—thick carcasses with a solid construction are nearly always worth the investment. Try to see your carcasses in real life before you buy, so you can assess how well-built they are, and request quotes from different suppliers so you can make the best choice for your budget.

Kitchen unit FAQ

How can I save money on new kitchen cabinets?

If your kitchen retailer offers several ranges at different price points, mixing and matching is a great way to stretch your budget. You could, for example, include a few cheaper units with more expensive kitchen cabinets, or opt for simple white kitchen cabinets on the working side of an island. Another option is a few larger cupboards over several smaller units, which tend to offer better value for the same amount of storage space. Choosing cupboards over drawer units may be more cost-effective, as well as minimising internal storage solutions, racks, and inlays. Your kitchen designer may also be able to help by reducing the amount of gaps in your layout that require in-fills or additional slim cabinets.

What is the most popular kitchen unit colour?

Unsurprisingly, white kitchen cabinets continually come out as a favourite—partly because they suit all sizes and shapes of room, reflecting the light to give an airy feel, but also because they’re easy to accessorise with other shades. However, shades of green and grey aren’t far behind, as they can be equally simple to combine with other colours, yet add a warmer, more organic feel than white.

Should a kitchen backsplash be lighter or darker than cabinets? 

The colour you choose for your splashback often depends on the shade of your kitchen cabinets and the feel you’d like to create. In a light kitchen, a darker splashback will draw the eye into the room, while a lighter one will ensure that no one part of the kitchen dominates. Similarly, in a dark kitchen, you may want to let the rich shade of the cabinets shine, so a coordinating splashback, or continuing the worktops up the wall, would be a good choice. In either case, splashbacks are the perfect opportunity to add a shot of colour. They can be updated when you fancy a change and are a good way to include a shade you love but may not be brave enough to choose on a larger scale for the cabinets.

Are white cabinets going out of style in 2022?

While trends for most colours come and go, it’s unlikely that white kitchen cabinets will ever fall out of favour. This is because they’re a timeless choice, making kitchen spaces feel bigger and brighter, and working well alongside other shades. Neutrals offer the same kind of spacious feel but can be more of a challenge to coordinate with other colours, while organic tones of green and blue don’t feel quite as classic as white.In terms of trends for 2022, it’s the warmer, welcoming shades of white that are coming to the fore. Softer, matte off-white, bone, and chalky tones tend to be preferred over the white high-gloss that dominated for many years but can now be seen as stark and clinical.