Skip to content

How To Be a Smart Shopper When Selecting Kitchen Cabinets

When renovating or remodeling a kitchen your choice of kitchen
cabinets might be the most important selection you make. Cabinet
selection is important for two reasons.

First, the cabinets you
choose for your new kitchen will be the items having the greatest visual
impact. In the average kitchen cabinets are mounted on or against at
least two walls (or the equivalent), and perhaps more. Cabinets will
also create the base for an island, whether designed for cooking or for
casual dining. The cabinets you select will establish the design of your

Second, the cabinets you select will account for about
half of the total cost of your kitchen renovation or remodel. Although
you can find and purchase cabinetry in a wide range of price categories,
this is an almost universally applicable rule of thumb. Good cabinetry
in not inexpensive. Most contractors and kitchen designers will agree
that kitchen cabinets are not the place to scrimp when designing a new
kitchen. Your cabinets will outlast your kitchen floor, your appliances,
and possibly your countertops (depending upon the material you choose).

Characteristics of good kitchen cabinet construction:

  • Avoid drawers held together with glue, nails or staples
  • Avoid drawers made with thin particle board
  • Test the drawers before you buy to be sure they will support about 75 pounds when open
  • The case or cabinet box should be made of wood that is 1/2 inch thick or more on all sides
  • All surfaces of the cabinet should be finished, even the back and the interior sides
  • Kitchen cabinets should have adjustable shelves (this is a clear indication of construction quality)
  • All shelves in kitchen cabinets should be 5/8 inch thick or more, otherwise they will bow
  • Check the quality of the hinges (most should be invisible from the
    front, no squeaks and no metals that will rust easily) and ensure that
    doors open completely
  • The very best kitchen cabinets are made entirely of solid wood
  • A plywood box or case with solid wood frames and doors can still be a good quality product
  • Some reliable kitchen cabinets are available at lower cost because
    they are built with plywood supports and use medium- to high-density
    particle board for door and drawer fronts. Others use laminate over the

Cabinet design installs the cabinet
doors in one of two ways. Frameless construction was a very popular
adoption from European design in the 60s. The style continues to be very
popular in contemporary kitchens. In this style, the door covers the
entire box or case of the cabinet. Alternatively, in framed
construction, the doors are installed in a way that leaves a frame
around the outside of the door. Framed construction is the norm in
traditional, country, cottage, and many eclectic kitchen styles.

Ways to purchase kitchen cabinets:

  1. Knock-down
    cabinets can be purchased and taken home the same day. Many homeowners
    can install these units themselves. These are the least expensive types
    of cabinets and can be the perfect choice if you are on a tight budget.
  2. Stock kitchen cabinets are available only in standard sizes and
    limited styles and finishes because they are mass-produced by the
    manufacturer. These are also a good option when the budget is tight.
  3. Semi-custom cabinets are also available only in standard sizes.
    There is a larger selection of styles, finishes, accessories and
    options. These provide somewhat more flexibility in designing your
  4. Custom cabinets, although available from some cabinet companies, are
    most often purchased from local cabinet makers. These cabinets are made
    to order and are thus built to the exact specifications of your needs.
    They are more expensive, but they offer the largest variety in wood,
    finish, style, size and special and unique details.
  5. Hybrid approaches are also very popular. By working with a
    cabinetmaker to select the kitchen cabinets you like from a
    manufacturer. The cabinetmaker then installs the standard size cabinets
    and customizes others for special sizes and needs, as well as adding
    personal touches and special features.

Many inserts
and built-in features are also available to provide for organization and
ease of access to items stored within your kitchen cabinets. From
pull-out work surfaces, to drawer fronts for refrigerated drawers, to
door covers for nooks for small appliances to wine racks, you can
customize your cabinetry in a variety of ways to meet your needs. It is
possible to create an appropriately designed cabinet or work surface for
every need.

There are also a number of features available or
customizable to meet the needs of persons with disabilities. These
include lower work surfaces that pull out or that are stationary and
leave open space beneath. Pull-out organizers, Lazy Susans and other
enhancements to make items readily accessible.

This basic
information should help you begin to make decisions about your new
kitchen cabinets. Keep in mind when shopping that the appearance of your
kitchen renovation will be established to a very large extent by the
cabinets you choose. Your cabinetmaker will be able to help you consider
the vast range of ways you can customize your cabinets and create a
unique kitchen design.