Avoid Disappointment When Choosing Cabinets for Your New Kitchen
Your Kitchen Design Partner-recommended kitchen designer will work with you to ensure that the selections you make for your new space will bring you joy for years to come.
When you remodel your kitchen, the cabinetry you choose will be the most expensive item. That’s why you should know what to look for when making your selections to avoid disappointment after the cabinets are installed.
What goes into crafting a beautiful, well-built cabinet that has lasting power is much more than the finish and door style.
Cabinets are available at various price points to accommodate every budget.
Hand-crafted custom cabinetry represents the premier level of cabinets. They rank among the highest quality custom cabinets available. Custom cabinetry is warranted for a lifetime so you can love your cabinets for as long as live in your home.
Semi-custom cabinets offer a cost-effective alternative to full custom. Not all custom features are available in a semi-custom line, but you will still get handsome, well-made, beautifully finished cabinets with lots of options for customizing.
It can be difficult to distinguish between quality levels of cabinetry using words alone. The best way to tell the differences is to compare cabinets side-by-side. See the wood characteristics, touch the finishes, and compare cabinet box construction.
What Should You Look For In Custom Cabinetry
1.) Cabinet Box Construction
Everyone wants a cabinet that will withstand the demands of daily use, that looks good in your new kitchen and will continue to look good for years to come. Other than that, you probably don’t know – or truthfully, care — how a cabinet is made. But it’s an important consideration.
Cabinet boxes are constructed of plywood. Custom cabinetry typically uses 3/4″ thick plywood for its boxes, while semi-custom cabinet uses 1/2″ thick plywood. Both are well made and will withstand the stresses of daily use and safely hold your heaviest stoneware dishes.
2.) Flush Finished Sides / Near Flush Finished Sides
Custom cabinets are made with what is called flush finished sides. This means the sides of the cabinet slide together so there is no protruding edge where the sides meet. In semi-custom construction, the edge may be noticeable, but for a small charge, it can be sanded flat, depending on your preference. In all honesty, the small edge (or “reveal” in cabinet-talk) is not obvious.
3.) Cabinet Interiors
The plywood used in cabinet sides determines what your cabinet interiors will look like. Typically, they are Maple or Birch veneer. When you open a cabinet door, you will see a light natural finish that looks good and is easy to clean with the swipe of a sponge.
Shelves in both custom and semi-custom cabinets are made using 3/4″ plywood. You want shelves to be 3/4″ so you can load them up with dishes without fear of warping or bowing. Cabinet sides are drilled and fitted with support pegs that let you adjust the height of your shelves to accommodate your largest serving platters.
Some custom cabinets give you the option to choose the shelf edge — another nice feature of custom. You can choose a square edge that matches the shelf, or you can get a solid wood edge. The solid wood edge says “quality” and “true custom” – it’s the first thing you see when you open the cabinet door, or what you see through the glass of a glass front cabinet.
5.) No Nails
Did you know that no nails are used when building custom cabinets? Wood pieces for floors and sides are cut so they slide together and are secured by gluing and clamping.
When comparing cabinets, you do not want to see nails, screws or staples used in the box construction.
Most, if not all, of the cabinet brands you will see at home centers have frames and cases that are stapled together. This is something you should stay away from, if possible. The glue-and-clamp construction guarantees your cabinets are well made and will last.
6.) Wall Cabinet Depth
An additional construction feature to look for when considering custom cabinetry is wall cabinet depth. 13” deep is the minimum you should accept. Some lesser quality lines have wall cabinets with depths less than 13”. Think how upset you would be if you found out too late that your plates wouldn’t lay flat in your new cabinets.
Let’s recap what you should look for in a well-made cabinet box:
- 3/4” sides for custom / 1/2″ sides for semi-custom
- Flush finished sides for custom / near flush finished sides for semi-custom
- Natural Maple or Natural Birch veneer interiors
- 3/4″ thick shelves / optional edge selection for custom
- No nails used in cabinet assembly
- 13″ deep Wall Cabinets
How You Want Your Cabinets to Look When Installed: Framed vs. Frameless
If you like a kitchen with traditional styling, you will want framed cabinets, where the cabinet fronts have 1-1/2” wide stiles and rails. The doors and drawers either fit completely into this frame – what is called inset styling – or they overlay the frame for overlay styling.
Whichever one you choose, you will see a lot of wood when you look at the cabinet run. With inset, you see the frame all the time; with overlay, you only see the frame when you open the cabinet doors.
If you are a fan of transitional or contemporary styles, you will want to go with frameless cabinets. There is no face frame in frameless cabinets, and this creates a sleek, streamlined look. The door and drawer guides get attached to the cabinet sides, so you get a little more space in the cabinet interiors as well. That’s why you may hear frameless cabinets called “full access.” Frameless cabinetry is quite popular today because the contempo look is so fashionable.
Let’s recap what you should look for when selecting your construction style:
- Framed cabinets are built with a 1-1/2” face frame that creates a traditional look and provides cabinet stability.
- You can choose inset styling, where the doors and drawers are set into the frame, giving you a lovely line of wood.
- You can choose overlay styling, where the doors and drawers are laid over the face frame. You see the frame when you open the cabinets.
- Frameless cabinets do not get a face frame. Doors and drawer guides get attached to the cabinet sides.
- Frameless cabinets provide some additional interior space.
If you’re like most homeowners shopping for new kitchen cabinetry, your eyes are drawn first to the cabinet finish. The cabinet finish is its crowning glory, the face it presents to the world. It’s the first thing people notice when entering the room, it’s what you will be looking at for years to come.
Just like the cabinet box construction, there’s a lot more that goes into creating that lustrous finish than a little stain or paint. In fact, a beautiful finish has most everything to do with prep work.
Cabinet manufacturers who produce high quality products take great care with their preparation before finishing. Sanding is a critical step.
Cabinets get sanded several times before and during the finish process, using a belt sander, by hand, and with an orbital sander. Any cabinet part that will receive finish material gets sanded, including door and drawer edges. The sanding process progresses through different sandpaper grits, starting with low grit and moving through to high grit to ensure the best possible bond with the finish material and the exquisitely smoothest finish everyone wants.
Craftsmen take special care to eliminate undesirable cross-grain sanding marks. Cross-grain sanding marks will “telegraph” lines throu In addition to the dreaded cross-grain sanding marks, you don’t want pin holes or other naturally occurring “blemishes” in the wood showing through your finish. Custom cabinet companies carefully select the wood used so there are none of these issues. Semi-custom cabinets will have pin holes filled in and sanded before finish is applied. gh stained finishes, something you do not want to see. However, these marks are visible in lower quality cabinets, like the ones on display in the big box stores.
2.) Stained Finishes
Stain is sprayed on, then wiped off by hand. After the stain dries, a sealer gets applied. The fronts are sanded again. And then the final top coat, a diamond-hard conversion varnish, is applied.
3.) Painted Finishes
For painted finishes, the wood gets a coat of primer, which then gets sanded, to both smooth it out and “scuff” it up so it bonds with the paint. Then the paint, which is actually a pigmented varnish, is applied.
4.) Top Coats
You can choose the top coat gloss level. If you like to see a shine on your cabinets, choose the high gloss. If you prefer a matte finish, the low number gloss is for you.
Let’s recap what you should look for in a cabinet finish:
- Evidence of careful sanding – no rough areas, no cross-grain sanding marks
- Thorough prep work – no blemishes in the wood
- Consistent finish quality – few blotches
- Depth of finish – no chalky feel, no thin feel to painted finishes
Most cabinet companies offer a broad variety of door and drawer styles. Your biggest concern here will be making your selection. It all depends on the look you like and the style you prefer – traditional, transitional or contemporary.
Just as with cabinet construction, more goes into building doors and drawers than is initially obvious. What you want to look for is the quality of the wood used: no pin holes or other blemishes and the grain should match.
If you’ve decided on a painted finish, you want to find out what material is used in the center panel of your chosen door style. You definitely want an MDF center panel. This man-made material minimizes “movement” when wood expands and contracts – which it does naturally in response to seasonal changes – and will help prevent minor cracks in the painted finish at the joints.
Solid wood center panels are fine for stained cabinets because any movement at the joints is doesn’t show through the stain.
Other decisions you will have to make include the panel raise (how the center part of the door looks), the frame bead (the inside edge detail) and the lip (the outside edge profile).
Your Kitchen Design Partner designer will provide samples of doors and drawer fronts and the beads, raises and lips. He or she will also provide the guidance to get you to the ideal door and drawer for your personal taste and style preferences.
Custom Cabinets and Design Expertise
You need an experienced kitchen designer to guide your selection process. As we’ve shown, a new kitchen requires many decisions!
The designer that comes to you from Kitchen Design Partner has expertise that reaches beyond what most other designers offer. They have extensive experience in material selection, space planning and lay-out, installation and care after the job is completed. They will get you the most for your investment, with expert recommendations to keep your remodel within budget. They provide options and ideas to make your project a true standout and the envy of all who see it.
Kitchen Design Partner’s designers will make your dream kitchen come to life — with an eye for detail that’s bound to exceed your expectations.
KDP exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.