The durability debate

Bob Andrew of Elfin Kitchens, discusses the importance of using durable materials in kitchen refurbishments and the benefits of thinking small

A recent report by the charity Shelter revealed that tens of thousands of families are being forced to wait more than a decade to move into social housing, with the number of homes dwindling to a record low. Consequently, it is no surprise that the private rented sector is continuing to grow and landlords are having to provide affordable, practical accommodation. With many properties rented on a temporary basis for short tenures, there is an inevitable cycle of maintenance. Consequently, it is vital for landlords to equip a studio, apartment or house with items that are durable and built to last. One area that can be at risk of damage is the kitchen, which can often bear the brunt of constant use. This can lead to continuous, costly and time-consuming maintenance. However, the wider, underlying issue to consider is that traditional timber-based kitchen cabinets are not always built with durability in mind. At the lower end of the market, doors and drawers are regularly manufactured from low grade materials, such as chipboard, making them highly susceptible to damage and water ingress. Furthermore, in many rental properties, space is at a premium, and traditional cabinetry is restricted, often requiring fixed cabinets to be adapted to fit a space correctly. These factors can quickly translate into spending a disproportionate amount of time designing, developing and maintaining individual properties, which adds extra, unnecessary costs to an overall budget.

Consequently, landlords and social housing managers would be wise to look at pre-built compact kitchens as an excellent alternative. This type of kitchen offers a combination of style, flexibility and practicality, as well as an integrated robust design, that is created to last far beyond the term of a tenancy. This is certainly the case with models manufactured from powder coated steel which have been specifically designed to withstand even the toughest environments. Such a specification is essential in properties with a high turnover of tenants which need to be ready for new occupants at short notice. Compact, mini kitchens can also be conveniently delivered to a site in one piece and quickly installed thanks to a ‘plug and play’ design which simply requires an electrical supply, water and drainage to be connected. Of course, for any kitchen to work in a rental property, it needs to be practical and provide all the necessary levels of cooking, storage and food preparation facilities. So, for any compact kitchen to truly work, needs to have a well-conceived design – and companies that are experts in the pre-built compact kitchen market will be able to offer units that provide the right balance of appliances and cabinets. A clever design also allows private landlords and social housing managers to specify units that offer the correct amount of facilities for the property. So, for a larger apartment, 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, which might even be deemed as ‘temporary accommodation’, a pre-built kitchen could simply consist of a sink, hob and fridge. In both scenarios, the kitchen area must be designed to suit the occupants’ needs as well as the available space, while remaining balanced against an expected rental yield from a property.

With demand in the private rented sector growing, many landlords are also looking at alternative approaches to create new rental accommodation, often reconfiguring garages or annexes. This is also being taken to an even more impressive level by the social housing sector, with some councils turning to innovative ways of offering accommodation. Indeed, Elfin has recently supplied 34 ‘Economy Plus’ kitchens with safety timers to Marston Court in Ealing, London. The site consists of re-purposed shipping containers, which have been converted into apartments for emergency hostel accommodation. These specially designed studio, one and two-bedroom dwellings offer a sustainable, robust, affordable and flexible option for an urban infill site, which was previously occupied by largely disused 1970s garage blocks.

With so many thousands of families waiting for social housing to become available, there will surely be a continuous need for private rented properties to fill the void. And with a potentially high number of tenures, landlords and social housing managers need to consider the long-term durability of the fixtures and fittings within their portfolios, not least of all the hard-working kitchen. For this reason, using robust, well-conceived products is vital to not only reduce maintenance costs but also ensure a property remains fit for purpose year on year.

Bob Andrew is the managing director of Elfin Kitchens