By: Andy Brown
OK, so cards on the table before I start here… I own a company that predominantly sells German kitchens, however I’m going to use my 25 years experience in the industry, designing, selling and installaing hundreds of kitchens from German and British manufacturers so will do my best to be as impartial as posibble when comparing the two.
Until recently, this wasnt’t a question that anybody would have asked because the difference between German & British kitchens was glaringly obvious… Inspired by the Bauhaus movement, the simple, straightforward & minimal design of German kitchens was always a stark contrast to the traditional raised panel doors and crown moldings seen on most British kitchens. This meant that your choice of whether to go for German or British was based purely on taste…
Recently however, the waters have been muddied by the introduction of the ‘German Style’ kitchen produced by most British manufacturers, giving consumers the option of acheiving a sleek minimal ‘Bauhaus’ look at a cheaper price… but… how do they stack up when compared to the real thing?
OK so let’s dive in… I’m going in deep here folks, comparing featues and aspects from three main categories, quality, design and reliability… I won’t be announcing a winner here because there just isn’t one! Instead, I want to give you an unbiased opinion based on my 25 years in the industry so that you can make an informed choice based on your individual needs.
It’s no secret that the Germans lead the way in manufacturing quality products. Ruthless efficiency and attention to detail means that even mass produced products are consistently manufactured to the highest standards possible. This isn’t to say that British manufacturers can’t produce kitchens to the same level of quality but when it comes to mass production, German companies are head and shoulders above.
So the Germans win right?… Well, it’s not quite a simple as that. When you factor in price the playing field starts to level out a bit because a mass produced British kitchen will always be cheaper than a mass produced German kitchen so let’s look at the reasons for this.
Market forces will always dictate how products are made and the quality of materials used to make them. In the last 30 years, demand for cheap, throw away furniture has sky rocketed in the UK and the big players in the market have had to find ways of cutting production costs to compete on price.
I know this from first hand experience… As a kitchen fitter for many years, I’ve seen the gradual changes as manufacturers swap their hinges and drawer boxes for cheap imitations, made in the far east. I’ve also seen the furniture board used to make the cabinets get lighter and lighter as the cost is driven down.
In stark contrast, German consumers have always placed a greater importance on quality than price. This means that German manufacturers will always use the best quality materials available and if production costs need to be lowered they will find a way of re-engineering the product to use less material or make the process more efficient.
So let’s disregard the mass produced British furniture for now and look similar priced products from either side of the channel. For this we need to look at smaller UK manufacturers who place a greater importance on quality and don’t look to compete on price with the likes of Howdens and B&Q.
Now the differences aren’t quite so obvious when we compare mass produced German furniture with that from smaller independent British manufacturers because with an emphisis on quality the British companies usualy look to emulate their German counterparts.
With German companies spending millions of Euros on research and development each year it makes perfect sense to copy what they do. In fact every UK based manufacturing plant that I’ve ever visited use German technology and production techniques, just on a smaller scale and a few years behind. With that in mind there are a few things that German kitchen manufacturers do as standard that you should look out for when shopping for your new kitchen:
Rigid Built Cabinets
2mm ABS Edging
Hob Cable Protection
Solid Wood Rails
Colour Match Assurance
Whenever I read articles discussing the difference between German and British kitchens, one subject rears it’s head more that any other, and that is the thickness of the cabinet back panel. The 18mm back arguement has raged on for quite a while now and the fact that most German manufacturers opt for a much thinner back does seem an odd choice so I’d like to settle the arguement right here…
On the face of it, an 18mm thick back panel does seem like a much better option giving added strength to the unit… but… the big difference is that the way most British cabinets are designed, they rely on the back panel for structural rigidity however, the back on a German kitchen is purely decorative. Even without a back, a German cabinet is super rigid so an 18mm panel really isn’t neccessary. In fact, once the 4mm back panel has been fitted into an already rigid cabinet it becomes almost indestructable!…
So, there you have it, it really doesn’t matter how thick the back is as long as it’s been engineered to be structurally sound when assembled.
As far as design is concerned there is still a significant difference between typical German and British kitchen aesthetics. There’s no doubting the typical German kitchen look… Sleek, simple yet functional layouts with no frills. However, it’s much harder to pinpoint and one style as being typically British. Let’s look at a few different styles and what German and British manufacturers have to offer.
The traditional ‘country cottage’ look has always been a staple of typical British design. with raised panel, framed doors, decorative cornice, pelmets and pilasters, real wood finishes and the classic Belfst sink… No one else quite does ‘traditional’ like the British.
Although design has moved on considerably in the past few years this traditional look still has it’s place in the right house and if this is the look you’re going for then I definitely wouldn’t think about going down the German route.
Whilst some German manufacturers do have traditional, or country style, ranges they are usually bought in and not manufactured in house which drives up the price.