When it comes to choosing kitchen cabinets, it is important to consider consider both form and function. The cabinets provide the kitchen with a large measure of visual impact, and the look of the cabinets helps determine the overall aesthetic of the space. There are several types of cabinets that each achieve similar looks. So how to choose?
- Face Frame or Frameless
There are two major types of cabinetry. The first is the face frame, in which the face of the cabinet box is constructed with a 1.5” frame on the front of the cabinet box, to which the cabinet doors are mounted. The spacing between the doors is called the “overlay” and a narrow, or “full” overlay achieves a more contemporary look.
The second construction method is frameless, sometimes called European by the old-timers, harkening back to an age when American beer was yellow and everything imported had instant cachet. Frameless cabinets are constructed from the panels alone, and the doors mount directly to the box, using concealed hinges. This style of cabinetry can provide a more contemporary look, but can also be a bit more expensive. They are generally preferred by most kitchen designers, since there is no frame to obstruct the opening, giving greater storage per linear foot and providing more options for storage accessories.
- Cabinet Quality
Not all cabinets are created equal, and just as in every other area in life, you often get what you pay for. Cabinets must be durable – able to withstand fifteen to twenty years or more of opening, closing, slamming, leaning upon, some contact with water and heavy cleaning. Add a couple of teenagers into the mix, and you could be looking at some serious wear-and-tear. The telltale sign of a poor quality cabinet line is a drawer box held together with staples. These cabinets aren’t worth the cost of shipping.
Most often the box is constructed of plywood or MDF, and a thin sheet of real wood veneer is added to the exteriors, with melamine (white or with maple print) adorning the interiors. Don’t be afraid of composite materials like MDF. They are actually better at resisting the natural temperature and humidity changes that all homes experience. Soft-close hinges and drawer glides are quickly becoming the standard, so they should be on every cabinet you’re considering.
There are four overall cabinet grades: Ready to Assemble, which are manufactured in a far-off land and assembled in a warehouse or on-site; production, which offer good prices within some limitations with box sizes, door styles and cabinet species and stain colors; semi-custom, the most popular choice because they offer a mix of customizability with a more affordable price; and custom, which are built to accommodate the home and are often of a very high quality.
- Wood Species and Stain
There are many different types of wood species used to make cabinetry. Although oak, maple and cherry are common, there are a huge number of species available. Woods like cherry and rift-cut or quarter-sawn oak demand a premium. The possibilities for stain are myriad, and the stain often can be a driver when considering the overall design aesthetic you’re trying to achieve. In the most economical brands the only species offered is maple, which is stained to look like other species. They lack the texture and graining of the real deal but can get you the look you want at a competitive price point.
Another option is sometimes called “solid-body stain” which is the technical name for a high-quality paint finish; in short, painted cabinets. While some less expensive cabinets are, in fact, painted, the preferred method is to color the wood in the exact same way that a traditional stain is applied. The only difference is this stain is completely opaque so that the wood grain is no longer visible. It is important to note that all painted cabinetry will eventually show cracks or lines at the points where the stiles (the vertical parts of the cabinet door and drawer construction) meet the rails (the horizontal sections of the door) and the center panels.
- Door Style
The actual style of the cabinet door is a large factor to consider when thinking about the look of the kitchen. Cabinet doors and drawer fronts with a lot of detailing, such as raised panels and inside and outside routes on the stiles and rails, can lend a little more of a traditional feel, while the simplicity of flat panel and slab-type doors leans a little more modern or transitional.
- Cabinet Hardware
The final factor to consider when selecting your cabinetry is the hardware. This is the “jewelry” and needs to be considered alongside the other product in your new kitchen! Do your handles jive with the appliance handles? How about the plumbing and lighting? It doesn’t have to match, just relate, compliment or work towards the particular look that you’re bringing together.
It’s important to consider all of these factors when choosing the cabinetry that’s right for your kitchen. A professional kitchen designer will have access to a variety of cabinetry brands at differing price points, and can help guide you through each choice, from frameless to frame face; stained to solid-body; rustic copper handles to sleek stainless pulls.