Cabinets (Kitchen) Buying Guide

Cabinets (Kitchen)
  • Getting Started

  • Kitchen cabinets are functional and aesthetic. The design of the cabinets and the color will create an environment conducive to meal preparation, and entertaining, if so desired. Functionally, the cabinets store the items necessary for food preparation, cooking and eating. When choosing cabinetry, keep in mind the purposes of the room, and the needs and desires of those using the kitchen! Factor in the appliances, their sizes and locations in the area, when deciding on cabinets.

  • Types

  • Base cabinets sit on the floor and form the basis for the kitchen — holding the sink, cooktop, and countertop; used for storage or larger items.

    Wall cabinets are hung from the wall and function as storage of food and serving pieces or for displays.

    Pantry cabinets stand among the appliances or along the wall and are tall for maximum storage.

    Framed cabinets are created with a panel, or frame, that covers the framework of the internal box. Door hinges are attached to the frame and cover the opening but leave part of the frame visible.

    Frameless cabinets are constructed with maximum accessibility to the internal box. Doors hinges are attached to the inside of the door and the box, making the hinges invisible. 

  • Styles

  • Stock cabinets are mass-produced in basic styles and sizes to be combined into configurations that fit the room size and various functions. Styles and colors are limited with units ready to ship or in stock. Most frequently made of particle board or MDF covered with laminate or melamine; they are less expensive. A 34.5-inch height base cabinet is standard; with the countertop installed it will reach about 36-inches high. Widths range from 9-inches to 48-inches, expanding about every 3 inches. Wall cabinets are measured 12-inches high (for installation over the refrigerator or in combination with others), 36-inches and 48-inches high. Widths are sized like base cabinets. Cabinet depths are 24-inches for base cabinets, and 12-inches to 24-inches for wall cabinets. Tall pantry cabinets come in 84-inches high or 96-inches high to fit into a standard 8-foot high room. Widths are 12-inches, 24-inches or 36-inches wide and 12-inches or 24-inches deep.

    Semi-Custom cabinets are manufactured for more variation in materials, architectural styles, and sizes. Adjustment in widths, increasing every 1-inch, and depths permit greater design configurations. These include stock cabinets with custom designed doors or accessories. Semi-custom cabinets usually offer more individuality in designing the kitchen.

    Custom cabinets are created upon placement of an order on specific sizes, styles, wood and accessories. Custom cabinets are the most expensive since they are made to order. Since they are prepared upon specifications, these must be measured carefully and will take longer for delivery and installation. Hand-crafted, the box and drawer corners will be dove-tailed for strength.

  • Materials

  • Particle board: cabinet boxes and shelves may be made with this engineered wood product. Chips and pieces of wood are fused with adhesive and formed into sheets that are cut to be assembled into the box walls and shelves.

    MDF: Medium Density Fiberboard is an engineered product of finer wood fibers and adhesive fused to create panels for cabinet doors, box walls and shelves. MDF will be covered with a laminate or melamine for color and texture.

    Plywood: Sheets of wood are fused together in various grain directions to provide a strong, wood-grained panel for cabinet doors, box walls and shelves. Plywood can be stained, providing greater variety in usage.

    Solid Wood: Using the same wood species, cabinets will be constructed for staining.  One species may be used for the frame and doors, while a lesser expensive species may be used for shelving. The box on cabinets may use a veneer of the wood applied to a lesser wood species or plywood for staining.

    Stainless Steel: Offering a unique design, stainless steel cabinets give the impression of a commercial kitchen.

    Laminate: A plastic fusing a picture of wood graining or solid color is created into a thin film then applied to the box, drawers and doors of cabinets.

    Melamine: A plastic with an image of wood or solid color is fused over particleboard boxes and doors/drawer fronts.

    Thermofoil: A thin vinyl film that is fused onto the box, door and drawer substrate of MDF or engineered wood product.

  • Price Consideration

  • Construction styles will affect the cost of the cabinets. Corners on the boxes and drawers impact the strength of the cabinets. Joinery methods that permit the pieces to interlock with each other will cost more than stapling or screwing the pieces together.

    Custom, Solid Wood will be the most expensive option, with metal such as stainless steel also pricy. Custom with plywood will be less expensive and custom MDF or particleboard even less expensive, but custom cabinets are the most costly of the options. Measuring, specification and installation should be done by a professional because mistakes in any of these areas will be pricy. Units that do not fit properly into the space must be re-made, affecting time and cost on finishing the area. Note the difference in All Wood and Solid Wood. Solid wood says what it means. All Wood can mean engineered wood products, such as plywood, with solid wood on the frame and door/drawer fronts. Prices will vary.

    Semi-Custom Wood cabinets are less expensive than custom, but still more so than stock cabinets. Choosing wood for staining will provide for more customization, but melamine or laminate finishes provide an easy-to-clean surface that will stand up to wear and tear. The box, door/drawer finishes will affect the cost as well as the box and drawer construction material.

    Stock cabinets are the least expensive in choosing cabinets. Using what is available and incorporating spacer bars to create the layout will produce a quick and easy solution for kitchen design and construction.