When we started planning our new kitchen we knew that it wasn't going to be so much fun that we would want to do it again in a hurry. To be fair, this wasn't entirely down to the fitting of the units as we were having the house extended so that we could have a larger kitchen. Anything that involves having the bottom half of the end wall of your house removed is going to be fraught. It did mean though that we decided that everything in the kitchen would have to stand the test of time, both in terms of quality and design. I would have loved a Smallbone of Devizes kitchen. Each one is custom-made and they are beautiful, but they were out of my price range. To extend the house, including planning permissions and building work, install new electrical and lighting circuits, fit the kitchen complete with appliances, fully tile and then lay new flooring I had a budget of £50,000. This would barely have covered the cost of the Smallbone kitchen alone! At the other end of the scale our previous kitchen had been a flat-pack which was then assembled and screwed into place. Such kitchens are not designed to last and after ten years it was showing its age. After twenty it was falling apart. We decided to opt for a kitchen which came ready-assembled, as the units tend to be stronger. I also wanted a local supplier as experience has taught me that it's easier to get problems put right if you're just around the corner. Our choice settled on SieMatic after seeing the range displayed by Arcade Kitchens in Ilkley. As this opinion is about the kitchen units rather than the installer or the vendor I will restrict my comments about Arcade Kitchens to saying that they planned my kitchen well and never worried about all the changes I wanted to make. They worked well with my builder and problems were frequently solved without my having to become involved. I was more than satisfied with them. The world's first fully-fitted k itchen was installed in the nineteen-sixties by a company in Westphalia. That company was SieMatic and their first range is still in production today. They operate through a network of dealers and you'll be able to find your nearest showroom via SieMatic's site at http://www1.siematic.de. At present the ranges fall into four main categories ? practical, modular, modern classics and country style. There's something there for everyone, whether you live in a minimalist loft or a country cottage. The choice of units within each range is excellent too. I was lucky in that I was able to just about build the new extension around my planned kitchen, but at no point did I feel that I couldn't have what I wanted because of size constraints. For each range there is a choice of cabinets ? the largely unseen body of the unit, if you like. On to these are fitted the doors and work-surfaces of your choice and finally the choice of handles is made. It's possible to build a very individual kitchen from the choices available. My choice of unit was from the practical range mainly because it lacks much in the way of superfluous detail. I had originally set my heart on a kitchen with wooden doors, but the designer pointed out that our two large dogs would eventually mark the wooden surfaces unless we had elm, which I felt looked rather plastic. On his advice I settled for a membrane-pressed laminate with a textured finish. In plain English this means that it looks rather like wood which has been treated with a matt paint. I was nervous that this would look dirty very quickly, but after two years every mark has wiped off quickly and easily. I've never needed to use more than a damp cloth, even for tomato sauce and curry stains which can be the very devil to move. Those areas which the dogs touch as they move around have only needed the occasional wipe. The insides of the units stay remarkably clean as the doors clos e against a rubber seal. The interiors of this range are all plain white. Shelves are adjustable and are very substantial at almost 2cm thick ? even those which carry heavy loads are not struggling! Once again a wipe with a damp cloth has been all the cleaning that's been needed. Drawers slide easily and close cleanly. There is a wide range of fittings for the inside of the drawers available, but I have settled for simple cutlery inserts. These are white and although some cutlery marks them they can be cleaned quite easily. All together there are twenty five units in the kitchen. Many of these are simple drawer or shelf units, but some are more specialised. Four of the drawers are designed to take pans. They're deeper than the other drawers at 28cm, but they easily accommodate all my pans. There's a rubber mat in the bottom to stop the pans moving about. I thought that this would get dirty but I've found that like everything else in the range it cleans easily. There's a metal rail around the edge of the drawers which allows for easy accessibility and would stop taller pans falling over. Two of the corner units have fitted carousels. I was expecting that these would struggle to take much weight but this hasn't proved to be the case. One unit takes all my casseroles and baking dishes, whilst the other has all those small pieces of electrical equipment which otherwise clutter up working surfaces. The great benefit of these units is that they rotate completely in either a clockwise or an anti-clockwise direction, so it's possible to get to what you want very quickly. I've found only one minor snag here and that's that the bottom of the unit is difficult to access when you want to clean it and I've had to be quite ingenious! Several of the doors are fixed to appliances. They do so very firmly and have a reassuringly solid feel. One was tested almost beyond the call of duty earlie r this year when the drum on the washing machine collapsed and the machine (which is sandwiched between two other units) moved. Considerable force was applied to the door and the surrounding units but none were even marked. The larder unit is the only one to have given me any problems. When the door is opened the shelves slide out to bring the contents into view and reach. Within the first week one of the bearings gave way and at one point I thought that the shelving unit and contents were going to fall on top of me. The bearing was replaced quickly and I have had no further difficulty, but I'm left with the nagging reminder that something could go wrong. The working surface I chose is granite. As you would expect it's exceptionally hard wearing and looks beautiful. It's a mixture of browns, beiges, greys and even the occasional fleck of gold. The only problem here is that I have to be very careful when I go into someone else's kitchen. It's easy to forget that you can't put pots straight from the oven or the hob directly onto the ordinary working surfaces! Even after two years I still have a feeling of delight when I look at the kitchen. The cost of the units, inclusive of VAT, was just short of £16,000. On top of this there was a charge for fitting and the cost of the appliances. It still seems like money very well spent.