Framed vs. Frameless Cabinets – Pros and Cons
The debate of the pros and cons of framed vs. frameless cabinets might be confusing. What are the differences between framed vs. frameless cabinetry? Why does it matter which one you choose? How to decide?
The choice you make for the type of cabinet construction will affect several factors:
- The number of cabinets that can fit in the new kitchen,
- How much can fit in the cabinets, and
- Style options
Here’s what you need to know to make an informed decision regarding the type of cabinet construction that will work best for your remodeled kitchen.
Start with the Fundamentals – Cabinet Construction
Cabinet construction falls into two categories: framed and frameless. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages, and both provide design possibilities.
As the name says, frameless cabinets do not have a face frame. These cabinets look sleek and streamlined because their appearance is not interrupted by vertical face frames.
Frameless cabinets are known as “European” because this is how Europeans make cabinets. Face framed cabinets are typically known as American style; frameless cabinets are European or Euro style.
If you’re working with a small kitchen or bathroom, frameless cabinets will maximize the available storage space. There is no difference between framed and frameless cabinets in terms of outer space, but interior storage space is slightly larger in frameless cabinetry.
Frameless cabinets sometimes get a bad reputation for being less durable than those with a face frame. However, frameless cabinets built by high end manufacturers like Jay Rambo that use 3/4” material (plywood and melamine) for their boxes have no issues with strength or durability.
Frameless cabinets are constructed with four sides and a back. The top and bottom of the “cabinet box” are counted as sides. Most frameless cabinets can be flipped and installed either way, since neither top nor bottom is designated.
This illustration is a cross section of a frameless cabinet showing that the cabinet box is simply a back, bottom, top and sides. Well-made frameless cabinetry is built with 3/4″ thick plywood or melamine sides, and the cabinet has no front. The hinges and drawer tracks are attached to the sides on a frameless cabinet, as opposed to solid wood on a framed cabinet. However, without the frame, the roll-outs, drawers and pull-outs are not size-restricted because of the face frame.
Frameless cabinets are among the most popular and most requested cabinet elements, according to a trends report from Woodworking Network, based on their survey of cabinet manufacturers and other industry leaders.
Their survey revealed that cabinet manufacturers are focused on promoting their frameless lines. In addition, these industry experts reported that their face framed cabinets with full overlay doors are being ordered more often. Face framed cabinets with full overlay doors mimic the clean, sleek appearance of frameless cabinets.
Advantages of Frameless Cabinets
- Frameless cabinetry is sometimes called “full access” because without the face frame, more interior space is available. You get a larger opening to store dishes and cookware.
- It’s easier to adjust shelves in frameless cabinets since there is no face frame to work around.
- Flush exterior sides are standard on every frameless cabinet, while they are an upgrade on framed cabinets. 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”).
- The Full Overlay of a frameless cabinet completely covers the entire box, leaving only a 2mm reveal that creates a seamless appearance.
- Frameless construction allows for great flexibility in design and styling. A frameless cabinet can be used in a Traditional, Transitional, Modern or Contemporary design.
- Since there’s no frame around the cabinet openings, the doors of a frameless cabinet can be omitted completely to provide open shelf storage.
- 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.
- Frameless cabinets don’t have a center stile coming down the middle of the two cabinet doors. Without the center stile, access to the items inside is easier, as well as more storage space. (In fairness to framed cabinets, cabinets less than 36” wide don’t get a center stile, either.)
Disadvantages of Frameless Cabinets
- Standard overlay and inset construction are not available. Full overlay only.
- More fillers are necessary to meet minimum clearances for door and drawer openings.
- Hinges mounted to the sides of the cabinet may need adjusted to keep the doors straight and the cabinet fronts looking symmetrical.
Framed cabinet construction is an American tradition. It’s even called “American style”.
As the name suggests, framed cabinets have what is known as a face frame that is attached to and covers the front of the cabinet box. You can see the face frame in the photo.
The actual face frame looks like a picture frame. It’s composed of solid hardwood with two horizontal pieces called rails and two vertical pieces called stiles. Both stiles and rails are 1-1/2” wide and 3/4″ thick. Cabinet doors get attached to the face frame (also visible in the photo). The face frame helps to reinforce the horizontal strength of the cabinet at the front opening.
The illustration at right is a cross section of a framed cabinet. Notice the front frame on the cabinet. The drawer passes through the frame, and the hinges and hardware are attached to the frame. Better made framed cabinets are built using 1/2″ thick sides and solid wood face frames with horizontal and vertical stiles and rails that are 1 1/2″ wide x 3/4″ thick. All roll-outs, drawers and pull-outs must pass through a reduced size opening created by the face frame.
Advantages of Framed Cabinets
Framed cabinets have been around for generations, and they will continue to be built for many more. And for good reasons.
- They create a classic look familiar to us Americans. We like to see wood when we open the cabinet door.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Disadvantages of Framed Cabinets
Nothing is perfect, right? Framed cabinets have a few disadvantages, but not many.
- 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” is removed by sanding it down.
- Drawers and roll-outs have less interior space than those in a frameless cabinet because of the frame. (More on this issue below.)
Comparing Framed and Frameless Cabinets
Face frame cabinets are considered more traditional, and they can accept almost any door and drawer front. The door and hinge type define the style of face frame cabinets.
Frameless cabinets go with any room décor. Although they are best known for modern, contemporary designs, they can look traditional and/or transitional when using painted Shaker doors or stained Shaker doors in quarter sawn oak.
The full overlay door style for frameless cabinetry is simple and sleek. Doors can be made from a variety of materials that create different looks. Painted Shaker doors, of course, but high-gloss lacquer, high-gloss acrylic and wood-grained thermally fused laminate slab doors all create unique looks. The trend today is for highly personalized kitchen spaces, and frameless cabinets will allow homeowners to get creative.
Face framed cabinetry works with all three door overlay types, so if you want doors with moldings and raised panels, go with face framed.
Frameless cabinets offer slightly more interior space because there is no face frame overhang that takes up cabinet space.
The larger opening allows for a wider drawer box in the frameless cabinetry compared to the framed cabinets of the exact same width. For example, a 15” wide four (4) drawer base cabinet in framed construction will have a 12” opening width, while the frameless cabinet of the same size will give you a 13.5” opening width. That additional 1 1/4” per drawer adds up when you are trying to maximize your storage space.
Did you know? Custom closets are built using frameless cabinets.
Concealed European-style hinges are the most common for frameless cabinetry.
Any hinge type will work for face frame cabinets. A decorative hinge creates an even more traditional American cabinet style.
Frameless cabinets offer full access to the interior of the cabinet without any obstructions, which is good for storing large appliances.
Sometimes, the center stile and frame of face frame cabinets can block access to the interior and make it difficult to fit large serving dishes in past the stile.
Are Framed or Frameless Cabinets Better?
The answer to this question will be different for everyone. Both options are sturdy and strong.
The structural quality and durability of both framed and frameless cabinets are equal, so this shouldn’t factor into your decision.
Are Frameless Cabinets Less Sturdy?
No. While framed cabinets have an additional layer of hardwood and frameless cabinets are usually manufactured from engineered wood, frameless cabinets are just as sturdy as framed cabinets because they rely on a thicker box for strength and stability.
Some custom frameless manufacturers offer all plywood construction.
What Do Frameless Cabinets Look Like?
Frameless cabinets don’t have a face frame at the front of the cabinet box. Doors and drawers are attached to the cabinet box directly. These cabinets use less material which also means that you won’t see any center style coming down the middle of a frameless cabinet.
Do Frameless Cabinets Cost More Than Ones With A Face Frame?
The cost comparison between framed and frameless cabinets is virtually the same.
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 design flexibility for any look you want, 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.