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A Guide to Choosing the Perfect Kitchen Cabinet

American or European? Framed or frameless? Full overlay or
overlay? Ready-to-assemble or custom? Inset or reverse bevel? What wood
species? What color? What size? These questions, and many more, will
come up when you start looking for new kitchen cabinetry. They can be
overwhelming if you’re just getting started and your kitchen design
ideas are still stewing in your mind. All these questions are only
compounded when you look at the price tags and see the wide price
variance in kitchen cabinetry. You might ask yourself then, “what makes
this cabinet different from that one?” Read on to learn about the major
different kinds of kitchen cabinets and how to tell high quality
cabinets from others.

It is first important to know that there are
two main types of cabinets: framed and frameless. Framed cabinet design
is associated with the American school of kitchen design. Bordered by a
1 ” piece of wood, framed cabinets have doors that “lip” over the
frame. These doors can come in standard overlay (partial overlay over
the frame), full overlay, and inset (situated within the frame so that
the door is flush).

Frameless cabinets, on the other hand, are
often used in European cabinetry design. These cabinets do not use the 1
” piece of wood for a frame – the doors and hinges are directly
attached to the walls of the cabinet, which have to be slightly thicker
than their framed counterparts for this reason. Frameless, or European,
doors tend to have a wider opening and are more accessible since the
frame doesn’t impinge.

Framed cabinets are often installed in more
conservative kitchens for their traditional aesthetic. Doors on this
type of cabinet are usually more ornate and may feature crowned molding.
Frameless cabinets are better for smaller spaces and fit in well with
modern style kitchens. Whichever type of cabinet you end up choosing,
you should also keep in mind that some appliance makers design their
products to fit only one type of cabinet. For example, high-end European
designers like Gaggenau and Fagor streamline their cabinets for
frameless cabinets, while other companies like GE and American Blue Star
build for framed cabinets with wider flanges.

But what makes some
of these cabinets more expensive than others? What determines a kitchen
cabinet’s quality? The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA)
says there are a number of features
related to quality, form, and function that determine a cabinet’s
price. These variables include construction quality, door styles
(molding adds substantially to the cost), the joints, hinges, drawer
glides, hardware, storage options, and materials and finishes.

Once
you decide if you want to go with frameless or framed kitchen cabinetry
and start looking at the different lines of kitchen cabinets, you might
start to ask yourself what, if any, other differences there are. The
NKBA recognizes multiple grades of kitchen cabinet quality, based on
these factors:

  • Construction system
  • Material specification
  • Hinge hardware
  • Finish system
  • Interior accessories
  • Styling
  • Guarantee
  • Relative cost
  • Degree of customization available

Recognizing the tangible and intangible differences
between the different levels of kitchen cabinet quality will help you
understand the wide price variance in the kitchen cabinet market and led
you to a wise final decision as you work your way through our kitchen
design process. So, you ask, what are the most important kitchen
cabinetry features to compare? The most important features when you look
at kitchen cabinets are undoubtedly style, quality of the finish, and
type of drawer action.

Look for cabinet drawers with a smooth
slide and a positive closure. A good drawer guide, like the Blum
Smartrac FX, will be strong enough to hold 75 lbs while still sliding
smoothly. Besides weight capacity, your choice of a cabinet with a good
drawer action will mostly come down to a question of feel.

The
primary reason most Americans begin a kitchen remodel, after failure of a
major appliance, is the deterioration of the finish on their kitchen
cabinets. The natural oils on our hands can deteriorate a lesser quality
lacquer finish on a cabinet door and eventually leave a visible
discoloration. This is in addition to common spills and cooking residue
that over time can wear out builder-grade and shop-built finishes.
Determining a high-quality wood finish on a kitchen cabinet can take a
practiced eye. The best wood cabinet finishes use a multi-step process
of sanding, sealing, hand-wipe staining, finish coating of conversion
varnish and baking in specialty ovens. If you look closely at the
cabinet door you can see these flaws in lower quality kitchen cabinets:

  • Stains in the crevices
  • Dirt particles trapped under the finish
  • Rougher areas to the touch where it wasn’t uniformly sanded
  • A murky look where the natural grain has been masked – the result of poor toner stain
  • And other flaws that your kitchen designer can point out

An interesting fact that you might find counterintuitive
is that local cabinet shops that advertise custom cabinetry do not
always produce higher quality custom kitchen cabinets since they rarely
have the capital to invest in the state of the art finishing equipment
that manufacturers who deal exclusively through kitchen dealers have
invested in. When you’re going through our kitchen design process, make
sure to keep the importance of a high-quality finish on kitchen cabinets
in mind.