The right kitchen cabinets can make or break a kitchen’s style and functionality. Cabinets are the backbone of a kitchen. The kitchen should be a place of inspiration and comfort, which means everything should be in the proper place to create a clutter-free and convenient space.
The secret to achieving a well-laid-out and functional kitchen is selecting the right kitchen cabinets.
Kitchen cabinets can be one of the most significant line items in a new build or remodeling project. Once you start researching, you can quickly get lost in all the details involved in choosing the perfect kitchen cabinets.
There are a near-infinite amount of styles, designs, and materials to choose from. The industry jargon can be hard to decipher, making it difficult to understand what you’re paying for. Once you start asking for quotes, you might notice a big difference in pricing from different cabinet makers.
The best thing you can do to move forward with confidence is to get familiar with the basic concepts. The more you know, the better prepared you’ll be to choose kitchen cabinets that you’ll love for years or even decades.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about kitchen cabinets, from grades, components, materials, and more.
Framed vs. Frameless Cabinets
Cabinet Core Materials
Cabinet Door Designs
Cabinet Door Overlays
Cabinet Colors and Finishes
Choosing the Right Kitchen Cabinets
Kitchen Cabinet Types
The first thing to know about cabinetry is the different types of kitchen cabinets available. It’s great to have choices, but it can get overwhelming without a basic understanding of the types of cabinets and their function.
There are three basic types of cabinetry: stock, semi-custom, and custom cabinets. Each type provides different advantages depending on our needs and budget. Stock cabinets are an entry-level price point with limited options. Semi-custom offers more styles, finishes, and features than stock.
Custom cabinets offer the widest range of wood types, finishing options, construction platforms, and modifications. Custom cabinets are designed and hand-made by craftspeople that can meet any need, whether it means working from an existing cabinet design or creating new custom pieces to ensure you get the exact cabinets you imagined.
Wall cabinets, sometimes called upper cabinets, refer to the cabinets hung on a wall, as opposed to the floor based cabinets. Wall-mounted cabinets are the workhorses of cabinetry, providing much-needed storage space for items that need to be easily accessed while standing or moving around the kitchen.
Base cabinets, sometimes called lower cabinets, are strong and sturdy. They provide a base for heavy countertops and can create the perfect kitchen island or window seating area. They also act as a bulk storage space for pans, cookware, and cleaning products. They can be designed with pull-out racks or roll trays for easy access to items and include features like recycling bins and wastebaskets.
Sometimes called pantry cabinets or full height cabinets, these cabinets work great for pantry and utility storage. They can accommodate large or unwieldy items, from bulk food supplies, mops, and brooms to jackets and boots.
Just like the name suggests, corner cabinets are cabinets found in the corner of your kitchen. Corner cabinets can be some of the most creative and space-saving cabinets in your kitchen. You can incorporate a swing-out base, lazy susan swing, and pull-out, diagonal cabinet, or even curved cabinets to eliminate corners completely.
Aside from a clean and unique look, mounting a cabinet on the wall provides more floor space which gives the appearance of a bigger, more spacious room while streamlining the cabinet look.
Framed vs. Frameless Kitchen Cabinets
Framed cabinets have an overlaying frame or structure attached to the front. The frame can extend up to 2 inches over the cabinet opening, adding strength and sturdiness.
Frameless cabinets, or European style, lack a face frame. They are the most common type of cabinet in the U.S. People who choose frameless cabinets prefer the seamless line and sleek look that directly attached door and drawer glides make possible with this design.
Kitchen Cabinet Components
In its basic form, a cabinet is a simple wood box. However, there are a number of cabinet components that make each cabinet unique. Cabinets consist of doors, face frames, drawer boxes, drawer glides, hinges, and more. The way a cabinet is assembled will affect the quality.
These are the basic components of a cabinet:
Doors and Drawer Fronts
Doors and drawer fronts are the most prominent cabinet parts. Choosing a cabinet door style and color is one of the most exciting parts of the design process.
The drawer box should have solid wood or plywood sides, and a back at least ½” thick. The bottom should be fully captured, meaning it is set in grooves on all four sides. Build a drawbox to last to ensure it can survive heavy use.
Typical silverware drawers can contain up to 20lbs of flatware. Drawer boxes with glides that can hold at least 75 lbs are ideal. Soft-close, steel, undermount glides are best, although side mount glides can provide more flexibility for custom depth sizes.
The quality of cabinet hinges varies greatly. It’s important to choose cabinets with high-quality hinges so they can survive opening and closing (thousands of times).
Kitchen Cabinet Core Materials
The materials you use in cabinet construction will determine the look of the cabinets. Custom cabinets give you the most material choices.
- High-density Fiberboard (HDF) is an engineered wood made from hardwood and softwoods. HDF is the strongest cabinet material available.
- Medium-density fiberboard (MDF) is similar to HDF but engineered with less resin making it weaker than HDF.
- Plywood consists of thin layers of wood that are veneer glued together. The wood grain of each layer runs at a 90-degree angle to the grain of the layers surrounding it. Plywood is a strong and stable building material.
- Particle board or furniture board is a composite of reclaimed and recycled wood products bonded together with a synthetic resin or binder under heat and pressure. Stock and semi-custom cabinets often use particle board.
Kitchen Cabinet Door Designs
When choosing your cabinet door design, you can get nearly anything you want. You can choose from popular designs like raised panels or get a completely custom design.
Raised panel cabinet doors have a center portion of the door slightly raised higher than the surrounding wood. Raised panels come in a variety of designs and styles. These doors can have arches or square edges.
Recessed panel slab doors have the opposite feature of a raised panel cabinet door. The center panel is slightly lower than the surrounding door frame. The panels must be thinner than the rest of the door.
Slab / Flat doors are fully flat and can have a solid color or wood veneer. Wood veneer doors can be “book-matched” to allow the whole grain to be seen in full sections rather than individual pieces.
Glass-front cabinet doors are another option if you don’t want to hide the cabinet contents. Dividing bars called mullions separate the glass panes in the door. For many years, mullioned glass cabinet doors were the most popular choice among homeowners.
Custom cabinet doors can be custom designed. Choose the materials, color, finish, functionality, and accessories. Custom cabinet doors will work in any kitchen no matter how unique or challenging the space.
Kitchen Cabinet Door Overlays
Cabinet door overlay is the amount of frame visible on the cabinet. There are three types of overlays to choose from: partial, full, and inset.
Full overlays are the most standard and traditional overlay option. They provide cabinets with a custom look without the cost and they cover most of the cabinets’ face frame. Full overlays do require additional cabinet hardware because there is only ¼” of space between the doors and drawers, making them more difficult to open without the hardware.
With a partial overlay the cabinet door sits on the cabinet face leaving 1 to 1 ¼” of the face frame exposed.
Inset cabinet doors are set into the cabinet frame and fit flush with the face of the cabinet when closed. The hinges can either be hidden or exposed. This type of cabinet provides less storage space, but for some people it’s worth it because they love the look.
Kitchen Cabinet Colors and Finishes
The color and finish of your cabinets is just as important as the construction. When choosing a color, think about your overall kitchen color scheme, personal preferences, and amount of natural light the kitchen receives.
- Stained cabinets enhance the woodgrain and change the color, giving the finished cabinet a unique look and feel. A clear finish is best for showing the natural beauty of the wood.
- Painted cabinets allow you to customize your cabinets to your liking. Semi-gloss, gloss or satin finish paint are best as they are easier to clean. Paint grade cabinets can also be delivered primed if they are being painted on site by others.
- Acrylic finishes are a popular choice for kitchen cabinets because they are heat and water resistant.
- Laminate metal finishes give cabinets a metal look while providing the heat and water resistance of laminate.
Kitchen Cabinet Accessories
Cabinet accessories can breathe new life into your current cabinets or take new custom cabinets to the next level of beauty and function.
- Custom Drawer Inserts help you get the most out of every inch of your cabinet drawers. Add a knife block insert, utility tray, spice drawer, and more.
- Pull-outs, pull-downs, and pull-ups are accessories that make accessing what you have stored in your cabinets easy and convenient. They’re a great solution for frequent-use items like cutting boards, glassware, and pots and pans.
- Flip-up doors, retractable doors, or “pocket doors” are a way to get the cabinet door out of the way. These doors have a hinge that flips open and retracts out of view like a garage door. The opening allows for easy access to contents and keeps the door from getting in the way.
- Custom lighting can make finding items in your cabinet a lot easier. You can get your drawers lined with lighting, cabinets with downward shining lighting, or really anything you’d like. A custom cabinet maker can design your cabinets with nearly any lighting option.
Choosing the Right Kitchen Cabinets
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to choosing kitchen cabinets, it’s a personal choice. You will need to work within the space you have, but even then your options are abundant. Working with a fully custom, large-scale shop can make your new build or remodel an enjoyable experience.
Although working with a custom cabinet shop can come at an initially higher cost, the cost can outweigh the limitations and potential pitfalls of using standard off-the-shelf cabinets.
Segale Brothers is a Bay Area custom cabinet shop that’s been helping homeowners and builders with their cabinet design, build, and installation since 1976.
Make sure you love your kitchen cabinets.