By Alan McGovern, Chippendale International School of Furniture

The kitchen is the one room that can make a house a home. It’s the beating heart of many homes, the place where families come together every day.

It’s the reason why so many people want their kitchen to echo that importance in their lives, and to create a space that is uniquely about them and their unique family.

Making that dream kitchen come true shouldn’t therefore be left to chance. It should be meticulously planned and carefully thought through, because you want something really special, and not somewhere you’ll be disappointed in.

The first step in creating your perfect kitchen is to work out how you use the space. Where, ideally, do the saucepans live? Where is the ideal place for glasses or cutlery? Where do you want electrical sockets or USB ports – particularly important if the kitchen is also a workplace or used for school homework.

The fact is that the kitchen can be so much more that simply a functional space in which to cook and eat. It can be everything from a workplace to a family gathering place – a place for functional use, celebrations with friends and family, or a room for quiet contemplation.

Once you’ve thought through the practicalities of how you want the space to be used, it’s time to choose a woodworker or woodworking company that, you feel, will best translate your thoughts into detailed plans, an agreed budget – and a timetable for getting it done.

From long experience in making fine furniture and kitchens, there are a few tips you should follow, because the world of kitchen design and making is filled with the good, the bad and the ugly – and you deserve to have the best.

Installing a bespoke kitchen is quite possibly the biggest cost you’ll ever make on your home. You want it to last a lifetime, and you want it to add value to your property.

So here are my 12 tips for choosing the right woodworker:

Have a look at woodworkers in your region, and carefully look at their websites to see how much experience they actually have in designing and making kitchens. Woodworkers, particularly the bad ones, will claim all sorts of things to win your business.

Draw up a shortlist and, don’t be shy, go and see their premises. Do they have a well-equipped workshop? Does it look professionally run? Can they show you a portfolio of kitchens they’ve designed, made and installed?

Ask them if they’d mind if you spoke to one or two of their previous clients. You’re going to be spending a lot of money with them and you really can’t afford to choose badly from the start. At that initial meeting, also discuss your outline plans with them. Do you get the impression that they share your vision for your home? Is there a bit of creative chemistry between you? Or do they simply want to push their tried and tested ideas on you?

There’s another reason for going to their workshop and seeing first-hand what goes on there, because it’s always a good idea to see their dovetails. Sounds an odd thing to ask, but hand-made dovetails are always a little different one from another. Yes, the dovetails on a drawer should be perfect, but they should also be irregular – a sure sign that your kitchen will be absolutely bespoke, rather than one partially bought in.

While you’re at their workshop, ask about the kinds of woods they like to work in. If you want the best, it has to be woods like beech, oak or sycamore. And where do they source their woods from?

An absolute no-no is if your shortlisted designer suggests mdf or plywood for the carcassing of your kitchen. This may save a bit of money, but it will compromise the integrity of your dream kitchen from the start. It saves the woodworker a lot of time and effort (which is why they may suggest it), but it will utterly detract from the quality of the finished kitchen.

Another clever, if slightly odd, question to ask is what wood widths they use to make their drawers and cabinet doors from. Cheaper kitchens, where quality is compromised, use wood in 18mm widths. In our workshops, we work with 25mm. It’s stronger, gives a better feel and exudes quality.

An even odder question is to ask about cabinet doors. If they just give you a couple of designs that they prefer to use, then best exclude them from your thinking. To me, every kitchen is bespoke, so every bit of the design should be bespoke. You want your kitchen to be uniquely yours – not a copy of someone else’s kitchen.

After all that, it’s probably best to invite a very small shortlist to visit your home, to discuss the project in more detail and for you to explain precisely what you want to have done. At this stage, ask them to go away and come up with design options. And don’t forget to ask about the hardware they’d recommend – everything from door handles to hinges.

A good kitchen has to balance form and function in a space that is aesthetically pleasing – and, if they’re good at their job, they should have lots of good ideas to make your vision come to life. Do you really want wooden work-tops? Would granite work better? How will that work in ambient and artificial light? So, look very carefully at the designs they come back with. Have they taken on board everything you’ve told them? Do their designs look slipshod and amateur? Does it look like they’re giving you a stock solution?

At this point you’ll want reassurance on budget. Many woodworking companies will ask for a proportion of the contract fee up front. This is perfectly legitimate as raw materials cost a great deal of money. But do ask for a itemised budget covering every aspect of the job. If problems arise later, you have a detailed budget to wave at them.

Timetable is a bit trickier because it depends on how much work is involved, and whether the woodworker has to work around other trades-people such as plumbers or electricians. But beware anyone who tells you that it “should only take a few weeks.” A large investment like this should not take a few weeks – a more accurate timetable is three or more months. A few weeks will get you a quick kitchen – and a bodge you’ll regret.

Good woodworkers are professionals who take great pride in their work. They shouldn’t therefore mind being asked lots of questions. Therefore, and most importantly:

Tip Number 13: Don’t be shy about making sure that your dream kitchen lives up to your dreams. Ask those questions! Remember, you want to end up with the kitchen you’ve always, always wanted, so why settle for less.