A kitchen can be one of the most expensive fit-outs in the house, but modular systems that are cost-effective and can be configured to most spaces are a proving a hit with budget-conscious home renovators.

Available off-the-shelf and designed for easy assembly, flatpack kitchens are becoming an increasingly popular option in the DIY market, flourishing on the back of television lifestyle shows and internet forums providing a trove of information and step-by-step demonstrations for the novice.

This environment is giving DIY renovators more confidence and the know-how to tackle bigger projects like kitchens says the manager of Mitre 10 Mega store at Beenleigh, Lawrence Heron. “Initially people were a bit nervous about modular systems, but because they see what others have done they are more confident and the market has really grown over the past two to three years,” he says.

In-store services such as complimentary design assistance also have created momentum with customers bringing in measurements and sitting with a team member to plan and design a layout. Customers are spoilt for choice with colours and finishes, he says, but still about 80 per cent opt for white and use benchtops and colourful splashbacks to create their own “wow factor”.

Heron adds that “Rolls Royce” finishes include stone benchtops and high-gloss, two-pack cupboard doors and drawer fronts. However, laminates available in hundreds of colours and textures also can create a designer look and are cost-effective. Vinyl wrap, an acrylic finish that looks like two-pack, is another less expensive but good-looking alternative well-suited to families because it is easy to clean and doesn’t chip. He says less expensive finishes can achieve the look and save a lot of money to provide a new kitchen for about $5000 excluding appliances.

Mitre 10’s kitchens are made locally with melamine-lined particle board components and have high moisture resistance, a key consideration for installations in potentially wet areas.

While ‘L’ and ‘U’ shapes are popular configurations, Brisbane architect Emma James says renovators can save money by building a single-sided kitchen and use a trolley with open shelving as an island bench. James says that as well as using standard module sizes or flatpack cabinetry to keep costs low, a well-designed layout is crucial. For example, put tall utilities together at one end and use spaces such as the fridge recess to make up the difference between the module dimension and the actual room dimensions.

Another tip is to use off-cuts of reconstituted stone, granite or marble available from stonemasons on smaller benchtops or inlaid into a longer one as an affordable way of incorporating expensive finishes into a kitchen design.

Flatpack kitchens are also available in stainless steel for those seeking a more utilitarian contemporary look and steel rails on splashbacks can be used for hanging utensils and even small pots of herbs to create interest. James also advises would-be renovators to mine online decorator websites for creative ideas and practical information, and says one of her favourites is Apartment Therapy. “It’s a good design blog with very good ideas, particularly for making use of small spaces, and lots of renters use it.”

When Bridget O’Dea wanted a kitchen for her beach home on the NSW north coast she opted for her $6800 flatpack kitchen supplied by C and C (Coast and Country) Homemakers after obtaining a second quote of $13,800 (for the same design) from a custom cabinet company.

O’Dea paid an additional $450 for the assembly and installation and $400 to a stonemason to install a black stone benchtop, but even with extras bringing the total to $7650 she is still thousands of dollars in front with her flatpack option.

Other add-ons included black pendant lights bought on eBay to hang over the benchtop and “funky drawer knobs with a black-and-white flower pattern” from a local antique shop to further complement her colour theme. Appliances, such as a free-standing $2500 oven, $850 dishwasher and a $950 refrigerator were additional expenses.

“Plan, plan and plan,” is the advice from national kitchen and appliance buyer at Bunnings Andrew Opdecoul. Careful preparation is important to avoid mistakes and the need for costly changes.

More and more the first step of that planning can be done online. For example, Bunnings’ free online planner program designs 3D kitchen layouts using simple drag and drop options and interactive kitchen brochures to provide inspiration and a preview of the final result. Once completed, the plan can be sent electronically to the nearest store and a staff member will help with the next stage of ordering the kitchen.

Bunnings’ Kaboodle kitchen range also offers a flexible system of mix and match cabinets, doors and benchtops for the budget-conscious DIY market but Andrew Opdecoul cautions that it is still important to use qualified professionals for specialist jobs such as electrical and plumbing work.