Choosing the Right Kitchen Cabinets

Are you trying to figure out how to choose the right kitchen cabinets? Are you planning a kitchen remodeling project? Then you need a quick, informative kitchen cabinet guide that can help answer questions like what’s available? Where to buy? And, who will install them?

Like any home or DIY project, kitchen cabinets can add style and value to your home. But if you don’t know what you’re doing, mistakes can be made. For instance, selecting inexpensive cabinets from the big box stores may look like a good idea, but what may look good on the outside, isn’t always good on the inside.

Inexpensive Now, Expensive Later

Selecting inexpensive cabinets from the big box stores or local cabinet shops may sound like a good idea, but like anything else, you get what you pay for. In the long run, using cheaply made and finished cabinetry will end up costing you more in repair, replacement and refinishing costs when the cabinets start falling apart and the finish starts to yellow or wear off. Many inexpensive cabinet lines find creative ways to cut corners and lessen the quality of their cabinetry while still appearing to be of quality when viewed from the outside. Typical ways that cabinet companies can reduce costs include:

  • Using particle board for the cabinet sides and backs
  • Using side-mount drawer tracks
  • Using single-step cabinet finishes
  • Using vinyl printed finished ends
  • Using thinner particle board material for drawer boxes
  • Using simplified construction methods for drawer boxes

In contrast, quality cabinet construction includes features like:

  • Using ¾” thick plywood for the cabinet sides
  • Using ½” thick plywood for the cabinet backs
  • Using full extension undermount drawer tracks
  • Using multi-step finishes that are baked on using infrared ovens
  • Using real wood veneer on finished ends
  • Using ⅝ – ¾” solid wood material for drawer boxes
  • Using tongue and groove corner construction for drawer boxes

When choosing your cabinetry, you’ll want to look well past the exterior door style and finish. You’ll want to make sure the rest of the cabinet is well made, using quality materials that will stand up to your day to day use and abuse.

Setting Your Budget

As mentioned previously in our post “Essential Kitchen Remodeling Tips”, setting a budget for any home improvement project is the most important step. Cabinetry is but one cost, albeit typically one of the largest costs, to any kitchen remodeling project. Budgeting is all about give and take. You may have to sacrifice in one area, like selecting laminate vs. quartz countertops, in order to afford better quality cabinets to meet your overall budget. Incidentally, if you actually had to choose the less expensive countertop option to afford a better quality of cabinet, that’s OK. It’s far easier to replace your countertop in a few years once you finally have the funds for quartz or granite than it would be to repair or replace a lesser quality cabinet with a better one.

Types of Cabinet Construction

There are two main types of cabinet construction today. Frameless and face frame. Frameless cabinets boxes typically consist of ¾” thick particle board or plywood sides tops and backs. The doors on frameless cabinets are full overlay, meaning nearly all of the cabinet box is covered by the cabinet door. This type of construction is very clean and sleek looking. Some would consider frameless cabinetry to look more modern than face frame cabinets.

Partial Overlay Cabinet Door Style
Partial Overlay Door Style. Photo

Face frame cabinet construction typically consists of ½-¾” thick particle board or plywood cabinet sides and tops. Cabinet backs are usually ½” thick particleboard or plywood. What makes them the most different from frameless cabinetry is that face frame cabinets also include a ¾” thick hardwood frame that is applied on the front of the cabinet. The doors of the face frame cabinets are then attached to this frame in either a full overlay or partial overlay style. While the full overlay door style looks very much like the frameless construction, the partial overlay style allows more of the face frame to be seen between and around the doors. Which style to choose is one of personal preference and budget. Partial overlay door styles are typically a bit less costly than full overlay styles.

Slab Cabinet Door Style
Slab Door Style. Photo: Designer: Nicolette Design + Build. Photographer: Beth Singer.

A third door style that is used in face frame cabinet construction is called inset. Inset door styles consist of a door that is set inside and flush with the face frame of the cabinetry. This particular style would generally be considered to be a more traditional look. Inset construction can be more expensive than the other styles, as the time and precision it takes to manufacturer is greater.

Inset Door Kitchen Cabinets. Photo: Designer: TruKitchens. Photographer: Ashley Avila Photography.

Door Styles and Finishes

When it comes to selecting your door style and finish, the sky’s the limit. There are literally hundreds of combinations. Here are some of the most common door styles:

  • Raised panel – framed doors with a raised center panel
  • Recessed panel – framed doors with a flat center panel
  • Slab doors – a flat slab of hardwood or engineered wood with hardwood veneer and edge-banded sides
  • Mullion doors – framed doors with vertical and horizontal wood bars that devides the center into panes. Typically used in combination with glass panels.
  • Open framed doors – framed doors with no center panel at all. Glass panels are usually inserted in the panel area.

Here are some of the most common door finishes:

  • Paint – Any color in the rainbow. Most often applied in a spray booth and baked onto woods like maple and poplar.
  • Stain – Unlimited tints available. Applied to wood species such as cherry, ash, maple, oak, hickory and walnut.
  • Thermofoil – a thin layer of vinyl that is vacuum applied to a cabinet door. They come in many different colors and wood simulations.
  • Laminates – The same material they’ve been making countertops out of for years. Hundreds of color and styles are available. Applied to slabs of engineered wood.

Where to Buy Your Cabinets

You may be tempted to buy your cabinets from one of the big box stores since their prices are typically less than your local kitchen and bath specialist. However, there are many other factors to consider than just the cabinet price. For starters, your local kitchen and bath contractor has access to cabinetry that is much better built, with far more door style and better finish methods. The best kitchen and bath specialists also have extensive education in design from the NKBA (National Kitchen and Bath Association.) Their CKD (Certified Kitchen Designer) courses ensure the highest level of professionalism in the industry. Working with a CKD will result in a kitchen that is more efficient and works with your family and lifestyle. Additionally, kitchen and bath contractors usually have their own craftsman on staff to simplify the installation of your new kitchen cabinets.


Today’s consumer have an overwhelming amount of choices to make when considering what types of cabinets to buy, where to buy them and who to have them installed by. If done incorrectly or with inferior materials, the costs of repair or replacement could easily outpace your original budget. Working with your local kitchen design specialist will help you determine the best type of cabinetry for your lifestyle and budget. And the peace of mind you’ll get knowing your new cabinetry will be installed properly and increase your home’s value is priceless.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *