The pros and cons of a custom-made kitchen

A kitchen created to suit your style, needs and space – we explore the benefits of custom kitchens with this stylish real-life example, along with tips and pointers from kitchen design expert Philly Lyus

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 Who lives here? 

Pippa Cuthbert – food stylist and writer.

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 You installed a new kitchen as part of a larger renovation. What did you want your layout and design to achieve?

As a food writer/stylist and a mother of three young children, my kitchen is an integral part of our home. I often find I spend the majority of my day in it so it was very important for me to get it right. We employed Customtone Kitchens in Otorohanga to help design and build our kitchen. However, I took the lead in determining the layout – it had to work for me.

Layout and functionality were key. Simple things like a large 50-litre rubbish bin and storage areas for all my Tupperware and trays were among some of the most important requirements. A large walk-in pantry allows me to store all my equipment and overflowing piles of cookbooks. An additional Dishdrawer as well as a dishwasher makes life much simpler with the number of dishes we create, as does the extra sink in the island. My husband and I were also very set on having a concrete benchtop. It is quite porous but we love the imperfections and the stories it tells.

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Where have you saved money?

We saved by going with a Melteca finish for our cabinets rather than timber. This was more for practical reasons, having young children racing around, and we are very happy with the finish.

What were your splurges?

Blum soft-close drawer hardware is a definite luxury but money well spent. Another big splurge was on our Rocket coffee machine. Being at home a lot with young children was the deciding factor in this purchase!

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Pros of your kitchen design?

Space, layout, functionality, storage and the fact that it is a very social space.

Best lesson learned?

Work with the professionals but go with what works for you.


  • Cabinetry design and installation $23,000
  • Benchtop $7000
  • Appliances $11,000
  • Rangehood $2000
  • Tiles $2000
  • Plumbing/electrical/ building etc approx $8000

TOTAL: approx $53K

Fact file: Cabinetry and concrete benchtops – Customtone Kitchens, Otorohanga. Rocket coffee machine and KitchenAid – The Homestore. Dishdrawer and dishwasher – Fisher & Payke


Expert advice – Q&A with interior and kitchen designer Philly Lyus

What is a custom kitchen? A custom kitchen is built to your specifications. You can create anything you like to suit your style, needs and space.

When would you use kitset, semi-custom or custom cabinetry? It depends on the space. If it is a long galley space, for instance, stock cabinetry could be okay because the fit-out should be straightforward. If you have a smaller space, custom cabinetry (or at least semi-custom) may be better so you can get the most out of the design. It also depends on your budget and the look you are trying to achieve. Personally, I am all about 100 per cent custom.

Personally, I am all about

100 per cent custom

How much should you budget for cabinetry? Kitchen cabinetry could cost anywhere from $3000 to $80,000. This would depend on what materials you use, who is designing/making it, whether you install soft-close mechanisms and what handles you go for.

How much should you allow for other items? Appliances range from $5000-$60,000, depending on the brand. If you’re integrating fridges or dishwashers, that costs more. Sinks cost from $200-$2000 – you can get under-mounted, top-mounted, stainless steel, Corian or porcelain. Benchtops cost anything from $500-$20,000, and taps $150-$3000.

How do you charge for your design services?  I charge an hourly rate and get a cabinetmaker to draw up my plans and then I price it up.

What’s your advice on selecting the right style of kitchen for a home? I think sometimes a kitchen can be a separate entity in itself and does not necessarily need to be in the same style as the home. In saying that, if you have an old character home you can still create a fresh, modern kitchen but just add a few elements to link it to the home’s style or era.

What is the most popular look at the moment?  Kitchen islands are huge right now. As homes are opening up and walls coming down, the island is the perfect accompaniment for today’s open-plan living. Black cabinetry is very popular, too, but I do wonder how enduring this will be. Black benchtops are hard to keep clean and smear-free unless they have a matte finish.

Which materials are popular in today’s kitchens? Painted ply, band-sawn timber and that good old favourite, MDF with a lacquer finish.

What kitchen elements in particular would increase the resale value of a home? Don’t try too hard. People love simple, clean lines and functionality. High-spec appliances never go amiss, either, because they last and are wonderful to work with. A fresh, new kitchen will always add value to a home as long as it is not full of someone else’s personality.

Words by: Annick Larkin. Photography by: Emma MacDonald.