Kitchen buying guide

What to look for and how to stay on budget.
Learn more

01 .Introduction


About $20,000 (including appliances and installation) will buy you a basic kitchen, using laminates and middle-of-the-road appliances.

Adding natural stone, two-pack polyurethane doors and an island will bring costs up to about $25,000, while about $35,000+ includes natural or reconstituted stone or stainless-steel benchtops and European appliances. (Structural changes, such as moving plumbing or door and window openings, will eat into your renovation budget.)

This large – and growing – cost outlay reflects the increasing importance of the kitchen in open-plan living but kitchens also need to be practical, so today’s kitchen designer must balance functionality and aesthetics.


Vital questions to ask yourself

  • Do you cook a lot? Are you a passionate cook? What type of meals do you generally prepare? These considerations will influence your choice of equipment, materials and layout.
  • How many people in your family use the kitchen? Besides preparing food, will you be eating here, or entertaining? Will the kids be doing their homework at the kitchen table? These activities will influence both the layout and floor space requirements.
  • How much storage space? Whether you buy mainly fresh or packaged foods and shop daily, weekly or monthly in bulk will influence how much storage you need.
  • Heavy or light duty? Some surfaces and finishes can take more wear and tear than others, but they each have their pros and cons.
  • Do you really need it? Extra cupboards to house rarely used appliances can reduce the budget for other items such as benchtops or taps, so why not get rid of that waffle-maker and other items that rarely see the light of day?
  • Which appliances are best for you? While you’ll want style and whizz-bang features, you’ll also need reliability. Always check the product’s energy ratings, too.
  • What do you recycle and how often? Recycling bins built into the joinery don’t take up much room. Use small bins that you empty often, rather than big ones that need more space and can get too heavy when full.
  • Are you keen to reduce energy? Looking to be water-efficient? See Part 3 of our Greener Living Challenge on page 18 of the August issue for tips from the experts.
  • Will accessibility be an issue? Or is it likely to become a problem in the future? Accessibility issues will affect bench and cupboard heights, and possibly the kitchen layout itself.



Sign up to our free

Receive FREE email updates of our latest tests, consumer news and CHOICE marketing promotions.


Kitchen designers customise to your needs but may not be so focused on aesthetics. Conversely, interior designers and architects rarely work on kitchens alone, so practicality could be a casualty of style. Check each designer’s credentials and ask to have a look at their last project before hiring.

The kitchen has to be in the right place – located as part of the living space and possibly requiring access to an outdoor area. It also needs to be functional, but the last stage is where you can really chew through the money when it comes to fittings and fixtures.

The right layout

Your kitchen layout will be influenced by the size and shape of your space, as well as existing doors and windows. You have four choices:

1. Single line Occupying just one wall, this is ideal for lean terraces – but if it’s long, you may need skates to reach each end.
2. Galley For storage, this is arguably the best option because cabinets run along both sides. It’s compact and open on both ends, which is good for ease of movement, but it might also turn into a passageway, which should be avoided.
3. L-shaped kitchens team well with an island, which can double as a second food preparation area. You can enter this kitchen layout from both ends − a huge bonus if more than one person is using it.
4. U-shaped kitchens can incorporate a breakfast bar on one arm of the U. The big downside is that you can only enter from one end, so it may be a bit too cosy if two people are using it, and corner cabinets may be hard to access.

Single-line and L-shaped configurations are ideal for open-plan living. An island facing the living area means the cook can chat with guests while preparing the meal; in addition, it can house a sink and cooktop. About 120cm is the minimum length – any less and it will be little more than a food preparation space. A depth of 120cm can incorporate a 30cm overhang for informal seating.

Siting the work zones

The fundamental design principle for a kitchen is an uninterrupted path between the fridge, sink and cooktop, with just a couple of metres between them. Thus forming the classic "golden triangle" for ease of movement. The skew of this triangle will be influenced by how you use the space.

“Cooks generally spend the most time in the vicinity of the sink, with the second-most important area being the cooktop work zone,” says the Housing Industry Association (HIA). “The majority of movement within the kitchen is between these two work zones. The other major traffic route is between the refrigerator and the sink.”

With the kitchen’s changing functions, perhaps two or more people cooking in it at the same time, and the addition of new appliances and fittings, a golden rectangle may well be a more appropriate layout.


A recent HIA survey showed an increase in the use of engineered stone, solid surface and granite for kitchen benchtops, and a decline in stainless steel, concrete and timber. Our sister US organisation, Consumers Union, recently tested and rated kitchen benchtops (known as “countertops” in the US) for resistance to stains, heat, cutting, abrasion and impact. In Australia, benchtops are measured and priced by the lineal metre – 1000mm x 600mm deep (the depth of the average benchtop. The typical family kitchen will require about 6m of benchtop material.

  • Engineered stone (also known as stone composite or stone quartz) offers stain and heat resistance and low maintenance, but can chip along the edges.
  • Granite is hard and durable in everyday use, but can chip and show stains if it’s not properly sealed – and it needs sealing about once a year.
  • Concrete can be customised with dyes and various textures, but is very porous and will need frequent resealing. It also has to be poured onsite and requires a strong framework to support its weight.
  • Laminate A huge selection of colour and pattern options is available. It’s hard-wearing and stain-resistant but can scratch and chip. The more expensive high-pressure options are tougher than the low-pressure melamines. 
  •  Resin-based solid surfacing comes in many colours and patterns – it can even mimic stone or timber. It is seamless, so avoids dirt traps. Because the material is uniform, nicks and scratches can be buffed.
  • Marble’s biggest drawback is porosity – red wine and olive oil can stain even when the marble’s sealed, which you’ll need to do often. It also scratches easily and is not very heat-resistant.
  • Stainless steel is hard-wearing and doesn’t rust, stain or discolour. It does scratch, though a matt finish is more forgiving.
  • Timber needs frequent oiling and scratches easily, although sanding back removes any marks. Choose recycled or plantation-sourced Australian hardwoods such as blue gum and ironbark.
  • Toughened glass is a relative newcomer to the benchtop. It is heat-resistant and tough, but can scratch easily and costs between $1000-$3000/m.


Joinery options include glass doors, two-pack polyurethane, vinyl wrapped/vacuum-formed doors, high-pressure and low-pressure laminates, natural timber and timber veneer.

Two-pack polyurethane is best avoided if there are children in the house, as it can be brittle with less impact resistance than, for example, a high-pressure laminate. Solvent-based two-pack is best avoided because of its toxicity, not only in its application, but also in possible out-gassing; newer water-based acrylic two-packs avoid this.

Check joinery materials for possible volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Cheap imported kitchens can include high levels of formaldehyde and PVCs. Some manufacturers have their laminates, particleboards and veneers certified by Good Environmental Choice Australia which bases its assessments on criteria such as sustainability and levels of noxious chemicals that can create out-gassing, such as VOCs. If you opt for timber benches or joinery, it should come with a certificate outlining the material’s origin.

For a cupboard with a standard-size door, expect to pay $300-$500 for laminate; $400-$600 for solid timber and timber veneer; $500-$800 for two-pack polyurethane; $700 for glass and $1000 for stainless steel.


Water efficiency is the key issue. Look for a rating of at least 4.5 stars out of 6 for taps and at least 3 out of 5 for dishwashers.

The sustainable kitchen

Michael Mobbs, author of the book Sustainable House, offers the following suggestions on how to make your next kitchen kinder to the environment.

  • Benchtops “Buy local – avoid buying imported and buy stuff that’s simply made. These two things cut down the energy required to make and transport them, and the difficulty of checking product [environmental] claims. I’d buy Australian-made stainless-steel benches first or timber benches based on the criteria above.”
  • Joinery “Cabinetry is the most difficult to source from local, clean and non-toxic sources. Secondhand timber, or stainless-steel cupboards and benches as used in commercial kitchens, are better than glue-based timber and other composite products.”
  • Plumbing and tapware “Kitchen taps should not run faster than five litres a minute – this cuts down on water wastage.”
  • Equipment “Dishwashers use less water and energy than hand-washing for most households.” Gas or electricity? “Gas is better than electricity, except for the induction cooktop, which is more efficient than gas but requires special cooking pots.”


Already ready to buy a fridge? Check out our Refrigerator What to buy recommendations and compare models using our comprehensive interactive tables.
Take a look at our fridge buying guide to find out what styles are available and what to look for.


Already ready to buy a dishwasher? Check out our Dishwasher What to buy recommendations and compare models using our comprehensive interactive tables.
Use our buying guide to find out what to look for when buying your next dishwasher.


Gas cookers are popular and efficient, but because CHOICE has not tested them for a long time, we can’t recommend any reviews here. Instead, you might consider our recommendations of induction cooktops, or find out what to look for when buying an induction cooktop.


Already ready to buy an oven? Check out our What to buy recommendations and compare models using our comprehensive interactive tables for:

Ovens priced between $850 -$1900

Duel fuel 90cm ranges

Ovens priced between $1500 - $4800

Double ovens

Check out our buying guide to find out what to look for and the pros and cons.

Tradesman survey results

In July 2009, CHOICE surveyed our members to find out whether they paid more or less for services provided by tradespeople (electricians, plumbers, tilers, builders, plasterers, painters and cabinet-makers) in the past six months, as well as satisfaction with the quality of their work and whether they found sourcing “tradies” difficult. Members who had renovated their kitchens in the past two years also took part in the survey.

  • On average, members spent $25,000 for a full renovation of their kitchen, with cabinets accounting for 40% of the average cost.
  • When selecting new kitchen appliances, members are six times more likely to go by CHOICE recommendation than those of their friends.
  • About 40% of members chose to use a specialist retail store to help them design their new kitchen, and 55% were “very satisfied” with the results.
  • About 55% of members were “very satisfied” with their tradies’ services.
  • The cost of and satisfaction with the quality of work rendered by most tradies were “about the same” compared with two years ago, although 70% of members said they pay more for builders now.


Your say - Choice voice

Make a Comment

Members – Sign in on the top right to contribute to comments