Framed or Frameless Cabinets – the Basics

framed or frameless cabinets for your kitchen remode

Framed or Frameless Cabinets – the Basics

Since framed or frameless cabinets represent the most expensive item you’ll have to choose for your new kitchen, plus they form the backbone of your kitchen design, it’s important to have as much information about them before making any decisions.

Start with the Fundamentals – Cabinet Construction

You might not think the method used to build your new cabinets is something you need to know about. However, the choice you make will affect how many cabinets you can fit in your new kitchen, how much you can fit in your cabinets, how long they will last and your style options. 

Cabinet construction falls into two categories: framed and frameless. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and both provide design possibilities.

If you’ve never remodeled a kitchen before, you are probably asking: what are the differences between framed and frameless cabinetry? And what are the advantages and disadvantages of each? Why does it matter which one I choose? How can I decide?

Here’s what you need to know to make an informed decision regard which type of cabinet construction will work best for you and your remodeled kitchen.

illustration showing framed and frameless cabinets

Framed Cabinets

Framed cabinet construction is an American tradition, and you may hear it called “American style”. 

Just as the name suggests, framed cabinets have what is called a face frame that is attached to and covers the front of the cabinet box.

The actual face frame is made up of two horizontal pieces of solid hard wood that are 1-1/2” wide and 3/4″ thick, called rails, and two vertical pieces — also 1-1/2” wide and 3/4″ thick — called stiles. The frame looks like a picture frame.

Cabinet doors get attached to the face frame, creating stability for the cabinet box. You get a strong, sturdy cabinet.

Advantages of Framed Cabinets

The face frame is clearly visible in this cabinet
It’s easy to see the frame in this cabinet

Framed cabinets have been around for generations, and they will continue to be built for many more. And for good reasons.  

1. They create a classic look familiar to us Americans. We like to see wood when we open the cabinet door.

2. They are very sturdy because the frame provides a flat, strong area to hang the cabinet doors. The hinges are solidly attached to the hardwood face frame.

3. The frame prevents the cabinet from getting “out of square.” If the cabinet does not stay square, i.e., keep its 90-degree angles sharp and true, doors will stick and drawers may not open properly.

4. When compared to frameless cabinets, framed cabinets provide more sizes and modification options.

5. Since framed cabinets can accept any type of door and drawer front, they offer lots of style flexibility. The way the doors and drawers are attached to the face frame create different looks.

  • In partial overlay, the face frame can be seen between the doors and drawers.
  • In full overlay, the doors and drawer fronts cover the frame completely. You only see it when you open the doors and drawers. Full overlay can be used in both traditional and transitional styles.
  • In inset, the doors and drawers fit inside the face frame. When you look at a run of cabinets, the doors, drawers and face frame form a smooth, flat surface.
Framed cabinets installed as partial overlay, full overlay and inset

Disadvantages of Framed Cabinets

Nothing is perfect, right? Framed cabinets have a few disadvantages, but very few.

1. The frame forms a slight “lip” inside the cabinet that some people don’t like and consider it as an obstacle. If you want to be able to slide your plates out of the cabinet without lifting them, then you will not like the “lip”. But most people don’t notice it because we’re used to seeing it. In high end custom cabinetry, the “lip” s removed by sanding it down.

2. Drawers have 1-1/2” less interior space than the drawers in a frameless cabinet because of the frame.

Frameless Cabinets

Frameless cabinets are your other option when choosing the type of cabinets for your remodeled kitchen.

Frameless cabinet construction

As the name suggests, frameless cabinets do not have a face frame. The cabinet door creates the “face” of the cabinet.

They’re also known as “European” because this is how Europeans make cabinets. This construction method has become popular with homeowners who want a contemporary cabinet design.

Further, frameless cabinetry is sometimes called “full access” cabinetry because without the face frame, more interior space is available, and it’s easier to access what’s inside the cabinet.

Advantages of Frameless Cabinetry

1. There is more storage space. Without a face frame around the cabinet openings, it is easier to store large appliances such as food processors, juicers, coffee makers and/or blenders.

2. Frameless cabinets provide a contemporary, smooth look because the edges of doors and drawers come up against each other nearly flush (in cabinet terms, they “butt”).  

3. You can omit the doors and have open shelves inside the cabinet.  Since there’s no frame around the cabinet openings, the doors can be left off completely to provide open shelf storage. 

4. Drawers in frameless cabinets are slightly larger because of the space saved by not having a face frame attached to the front.

5. Frameless cabinets don’t have a center stile coming down in the middle of the two cabinet doors, providing easier access to the items inside, as well as more storage space. (In fairness to framed cabinets, cabinets less than 36” wide don’t get a center stile, either.)

6. Doors can easily be removed for cleaning without using tools.  All you have to do is push the quick release button on the back of the door hinge.

7. Flush exterior sides are standard on every frameless cabinet, while they are an upgrade on framed cabinets.

framed cabinet with center stile
frameless cabinets don’t have a center stile

Disadvantages of Frameless Cabinets

1. Hinges can be unreliable. They are mounted to the sides of the cabinet that are often made from MDF, as opposed to the hardwood frames of framed cabinets. These hinges may need adjusted constantly to keep the doors straight and the cabinet fronts looking symmetrical. 

2. Frameless cabinets tend to be less durable than framed cabinets because the cabinet door is hinged directly to the cabinet box. In framed cabinets, hinges are attached to the solid wood cabinet face.

3. When frameless cabinets get installed in older homes where you have uneven walls or floors, they may not fit properly. Door and hinge adjustments will be necessary to get the cabinets lined up and fitted properly.

4. Frameless cabinets have less options in sizes and modifications.

5. Because there’s no frame, there’s less lateral or horizontal strength. And less horizontal strength means frameless cabinets are not well suited for wider cabinets. The weight of items stored inside can actually warp the cabinet.

6. You may end up paying more for frameless cabinets because specialized equipment is required for construction. Also, installers may charge more to install them because of the adjustments needed for a perfect fit.

7. Frameless is not an option if you’re looking for traditional styling.

8. Your design choices are limited to full overlay doors only, since the doors can only be mounted to the sides of the box and must cover the entire opening. 

kitchen with frameless cabinets
A beautiful kitchen with framless cabinets

Conclusion

In the final analysis, the choice between framed and frameless cabinetry comes down to your personal preference and the style you want. The big difference between framed and frameless cabinets is the box construction; you simply have two different construction methods that offer two different looks.

Framed cabinets are the best choice if you prefer a traditional look, decorative hinges, flexibility for door options (inset, partial-overlay, or full-overlay). Frameless cabinets are a better option for smaller kitchens where every inch of space is needed. They offer a modern look, more drawer and cabinet space, and no center stiles that get in your way. 

Which is best for you? 


Kitchen Design Partner 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.