How to Choose Kitchen Cabinets

By Jan Soults Walker

Choosing storage is one of the most crucial decisions you'll make for your kitchen to bring in great function and flair, but at no small expense. Here's a brief rundown on cabinet anatomy and some options to help you make a happily-ever-after selection.

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To furnish a 10x10-foot kitchen with upper and lower cabinets, you can spend anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 and upward—likely a good chunk of your kitchen budget. To get the most for your money, weigh these cabinet considerations.

More Than Looks

Take a look at cabinets in a store display and you'll easily see the basics parts: the body, called the box, and the door or drawers. Better quality cabinets feature a box made of ¾-inch plywood rather than MDF (medium density fiberboard) or particleboard. Top-quality drawers feature dovetail joints rather than staples, securing the front and back pieces to the sides, as well as full-extension glides for stability and complete access to the back of the drawer.

Keep in mind that fasteners, rather than dovetails, don't necessarily mean you should rule the cabinet out for consideration. Instead, it's always a good idea to check the quality first-hand by opening and closing the doors and drawers to see if they feel well made and solid. Do joints meet without gaps and feel secure? Do doors or drawers wobble when you open and close them?

You'll also note that cabinets come in two different types—framed and frameless—and each brings a different look to your kitchen.

Framed cabinets feature a face frame that's attached to the front edge of the box. Doors attach to this face frame.

Inset-style, framed cabinets locate doors and drawers so they set flush within the surrounding face frame. As an alternative look, partial overlay framed cabinets feature doors and drawers covering only part of the face frame. This leaves wide portions of the frame visible between the door and drawer fronts.

Frameless cabinets lack a face frame so the doors and drawers secure directly to the box and completely cover the box edges, side-to-side and top-to-bottom. This look is known as full-overlay or Euro-style.

Three Options

  • Stock cabinets, which are the least expensive, come already assembled in basic sizes and configurations that you select to best fit the available space and create your desired kitchen layout. Filler boards span gaps between cabinets or between the cabinets and walls to create the illusion of a custom fit, but without gaining storage. RTA (ready-to-assemble) cabinets are basically stock cabinets that you put together on-site.
  • Semi-custom cabinets are usually about twice as expensive as stock cabinets but they offer more sizes and configurations so you can create a look and layout closer to custom, making better use of space for more efficient storage.
  • Custom cabinets can cost as much as double the cost of semi-custom cabinets but are made specifically to fit your kitchen space so storage is maximized with all the bells and whistles you care to include.

Extras to Love

As you shop online and in the aisles, check out the abundance of special features that boost the look and function of your cabinets:

  • Soft-close drawers and doors
  • Glide-out shelves behind doors; tray styling or rails keep items on the shelf
  • Lighted cabinet and drawer interiors
  • Decorative glass panels
  • Flip-up shelf with heavy-duty hinges for holding a bulky small appliance, such as a stand mixer or juicer
  • Special inserts for organizing drawers to hold utensils, knives, spices, and other common items
  • Pullouts and rollouts for cooking gear, pantry staples, or waste disposal and recycling
  • Vertical dividers for organizing trays, lids, platters, and baking sheets
  • European-style (hidden) hinges
  • Racks for making plates or wine bottles easily accessible
  • Corner helpers, such as a lazy Susan, swing-out shelving, or angled drawers
  • Extra-deep drawers for pots and pans
  • Extra-deep drawers with pegs for holding dishware

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