Maximising kitchen space

With appliances often taking up the majority of floor space in a traditional kitchen, Bob Andrew of Elfin Kitchens explains how the right use of products can help to maximise kitchen space in rented accommodation.

A report earlier this year revealed that the private rented sector in the UK is set to grow 24 per cent by 2021, which will mean that one in four of the population will be renters rather than owner-occupiers. This reflects a general trend during the last 10 years, which has seen the sector double in size due to conditions in the housing and labour markets. Younger workers in particular are attracted by the flexibility of renting, while the chronic shortage of affordable housing is reducing home ownership.

Interestingly, the trend for rental properties is consistent across the housing spectrum. Large scale, professionally managed high-end rental accommodation is proving just as popular as houses of multiple occupancies (HMOs), which are often at the more economic end of the market.

Regardless of the rental cost of a property, there is usually one aspect of development that connects them all. This is maximising space to offer flexible living areas, ensuring a studio or apartment feels modern and comfortable, while also providing a good level of practicality and open space. Achieving this balance requires careful planning by a housebuilder or developer, with the specification of products, fixtures and fittings considered at the earliest design stages.

Unsurprisingly, there are a couple of key areas that create challenges, including the bathroom and kitchen. For the bathroom, the industry has seen significant growth in pod designs, which allow a complete room to be ‘dropped’ into an apartment and simply connected to services. These designs are an excellent option for larger builds, but it is important to ensure the durability of components.

The challenge of long term durability in kitchens is common, where there is arguably a greater need for robustness than in the rest of the house. For this reason, it is no surprise that developers are looking for kitchens that not only offer a combination of style, flexibility and practicality, but are also able to last longer than the term of a tenancy. For this reason, traditional kitchen cabinetry is often an unattractive option. The main restriction with this type of kitchen is the level of adjustment required to ensure fixed sized cabinets fill a space correctly. This can quickly translate into spending more time designing and developing each property which, essentially, layers additional cost to the overall budget. Consequently, housebuilders and developers are looking more frequently to pre-built compact kitchens.

The benefits of pre-built kitchens are several. They can be delivered to a site in one piece and installed in a property quickly, as there are very few onsite requirements, other than connecting up the electricity supply, water and drainage. They truly are ‘plug and play’ products. Furthermore, the durability of well-made pre-built kitchens is unrivalled, certainly when they are manufactured from powder coated steel. This allows housebuilders and developers to install units that have been specifically designed to last and withstand even the toughest environments. Such a specification is especially important in properties that have a high turnover of tenants and need to look attractive to prospective renters all the time.

Of course, a pre-built kitchen is only as good as the practicality it affords the tenants. After all, a kitchen should be capable of storing, preparing and cooking food, so a compact unit needs to offer all of these facilities in a restricted floor space. In order to do so, it requires a well-conceived design. It is this aspect that separates quality manufacturers from the competition, the more established of which are able to offer a wealth of options, not only in the size of a unit but also the configuration of appliances. Whether it is extra cabinets for storage, larger worktops for food preparation or a choice of cooking appliances, these are all options available to developers.

For larger properties, a pre-built kitchen could comprise a built-in combination microwave oven and grill, ceramic hob, dishwasher, sink and integrated fridge. Alternatively, in a smaller studio space, a pre-built kitchen could simply consist of a sink, hob and fridge. The most important consideration is for the final kitchen to suit the target audience and available space, while remaining proportionate to the expected rental yield from a property.

A final note on compact living relates to design. Just because a property is small doesn’t mean it can’t be stylish. A simple way to achieve a more impressive finish is to integrate colour into a scheme. By opting for vibrant colourways, or even an RAL finish, housebuilders and developers can easily create a focal point to a living environment and offer a more contemporary feel overall.

For a developer building properties designed for multiple occupancies, there are a number of challenges. Maximising space is always key to a successful project, especially when it comes to the kitchen areas. Consequently, it is worth considering the wider options available, especially the pre-built compact kitchen. After all, they offer flexibility in design, high levels of practicality and, crucially, superb durability. When faced with such a compelling combination, it is hard to argue against them.

Bob Andrew is managing director at Elfin Kitchens