Designing and Building Kitchen Cabinets

From on February 01, 2007 in Kitchen Remodel

Cabinets are the key ingredient in any kitchen. They will influence the look and feel of the heart of your home more than anything else because it?s not only the most visible part of the kitchen, but the “Meeting Place” of every home. Picking the right cabinetry is essential in creating your kitchen’s personality, but don’t let appearances mislead you. It?s what?s behind the door that will matter the most, every time you open your cabinet drawer or door.

Since cabinets represent the single largest investment in a new kitchen (about 60 to 70 percent of a kitchen’s cost), you should carefully explore all your options to avoid confusion and potentially costly mistakes. Here’s a little Cabinetry 101 to help you get started choosing the right products for your cabinet design.

Defining Cabinet Styles

Traditional is the most popular cabinet style, as it offers a timeless look that is more likely to appeal to a wide range of people regardless of current design trends. This style uses wood doors, typically in oak or maple, with raised panels on the front.

Traditional style kitchens rarely include leaded glass doors in the cabinets, as glass doors are considered more contemporary. Country is similar to traditional, but it has a more casual look. It uses recessed or raised door panels, typically in oak. It differs from the traditional style in that it has little or no ornate elements, such as crown molding.

Usually a country look is plainer, so you won’t find as many bells and whistles. You’ll see more knick knack’s, you see more personality of the home owner because they’re usually collectors of stuff that is then displayed around the kitchen.

Shaker—has a recessed panel and strips, often three-inches wide, running down the center of the doors and along the edges. This adds dimension and style in the center of the door panel. It also takes the design to a more traditional, conservative look.

Contemporary—typically has a flat door panel with a laminated style finish. Often the door is white. This type of style uses colors to make a statement, such as pairing white cabinets with black countertops or a floor with a black and white pattern.

Contemporary style kitchens often include doors that are created with a “full overlay.” The door is considered “frameless” because it covers the entire front of the cabinet so that very little of the cabinet base shows. This differs from the traditional style, which often shows one-inch or more of the underlying cabinet base around the doors.

Cabinet Style and Resale

The key to deciding which style fits your kitchen is to think about your personal style and how long you plan to stay in the house. Cabinets with traditional elements are viewed as better for resale value because they appeal to a wide range of consumers. The contemporary style is not as popular and is best used when resale value is not an immediate consideration.

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Stock, Semi-Custom and Custom Cabinets

When you think stock, semi-custom and custom, don?t think of these choices in terms of the level of quality, because fine cabinetry is available with all three - as is poor quality. These terms simply designate the type of production method used to make the cabinet. Simply put, stock cabinets are mass-produced, semi-custom are stock cabinets that can be slightly altered and custom cabinets are built to order to meet individual needs and specifications. All three varieties are available in framed (a box with a frame surrounding the front edge) and frameless (a box with no face frame) construction. The cost of having your kitchen cabinets can start around $7,000 to $9,000 for stock and $14,000 to $18,000 for custom. With the amount of styles, materials, brand names, accessories and hardware out there, the price can quickly escalate.

Stock Cabinets

These are the plentiful cabinets, because they?re produced in large quantities on a mass production scale. Cabinet manufacturers, dealers and home improvement centers stock pile large quantities of cabinet parts so cabinets can be assembled quickly. Not wanting to miss out on a piece of the pie, stock cabinet manufacturers have greatly improved and expanded their product lines to include a nice bounty of sizes, shapes, styles, wood species and finishes. The drawback to using stock cabinets is that you can?t make any modifications? what you see is what you get. You may also find you come up a little short in width and height (filler strips are used to fill the gaps). Stock cabinets still remain the most popular choice because they?re affordable and readily available.

Semi-Custom Cabinets

Semi-custom cabinets are a stock line of cabinets where simple modifications will be made at the time of production. Semi-custom also offers you more choices when it comes to style, construction materials and colors. You can be a little more creative when going semi-custom by choosing some unique built-ins like pullout bins, lazy Susan’s, matching interiors and inverted frames. Be sure to ask the manufacturer if this option is available. Be thorough with semi-custom because changes can be very expensive and increase delivery time (which is already a month or more) and they may not be returnable if they don?t fit.

Custom Cabinets

Don’t be fooled by the word custom or think that you will be able to draw a design and have it made to your specifications, because that is hard to find (and very, very costly). In the real world of manufactured cabinetry, custom can mean anything from slight modifications to elaborate add-ons. Most manufacturers start out with a basic product line offering cabinets in standard sizes and customize from there. The big difference between a semi-custom and a custom manufacturer is the number of changes they are willing to make to their product lines. Most manufacturers offer a large selection of finish options, trims and storage configurations and accessories. Be patient if you go custom because it can take 12 weeks or longer before your cabinets are delivered and in many cases payment in full is required when the order is placed.

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Cabinet Doors

You should enter the cabinet selection process through the doors. Their style, color, and decoration will contribute most to your cabinets? overall look. Be sure that your countertops, flooring, and other design elements complement the cabinets you choose. The first thing you need to decide is the material you want to use and how you want to finish it off.

Wood Cabinets

Wood doors remain the preferred entree, not just because they’re so plentiful but because they’re durable, beautiful and versatile. The top woods are oak, maple, cherry, hickory and pine. If you?re having a hard time deciding what natural wood you prefer, ask yourself what kind of grain you like.

Types of wood cabinets:

Wondering what wood to select for your cabinets? There are many options. Here are some details of the many species.

  • Oak—a mainstay of cabinet design, but not as popular today as maple and cherry. It has visible grains running through it. Red oak—has red tones, while white oak actually has a gray color
  • Maple—a white wood with a tighter grain than oak. It comes in a natural or blond finish, though the blond isn?t used as often as the natural. It also comes in a pinkish tone that can be difficult to match with floors and countertops.Maple includes some black marks, which are a natural part of the wood. In some cases you don’t notice them. If you see a large streak on a cabinet door, ask the manufacturer to replace the door.
  • Pine —has a yellow tone and many knots, making it suitable for an informal, country style kitchen. Pine also is used to make a cottage finish.
  • Cherry —a red wood that has a rich look. It is used with a light or a dark stain and typically is the most expensive wood.
  • Hickory —similar in color to oak, but has a finer grain and more gold tones in it. Its coloring is in between that of oak and cherry.
  • Ash —is similar to oak, but has a whiter color and a grain that is not as open

Looking for ways to save on your kitchen cabinetry purchase without sacrificing design? Stick with a stock cabinetry line and save $1,000 to $2,000. Then enhance the look by:

  • Adding crown molding to finish the tops. The cost? $250 to $500.
  • Buying a cherry finish on maple cabinets instead of splurging for real cherry. The cost? An extra 10 to 15 percent of your cabinetry costs.

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Shaping the Door - Slab, Raised and Recessed Panels

When it comes to deciding the shape of your cabinet doors you can choose to go flat, raised or recessed in a pattern that can be plain and simple or intricately carved. Slab is a flat door style that gives the appearance of a solid piece of wood with no raised or recessed profile. They?re usually made out of several pieces of solid stock lumber and joined with an adhesive. If you opt for laminate slab you’ll get a door made of substrate material and then covered with laminate. The best way to understand the look of a recessed panel is to think of a picture frame with a flat panel. The frame can be attached to the panel by using a mitered joint, tenon and mortise joint (similar to tongue and groove) or cope and pattern joint. These panels are easy to decorate and popular when made with a groove. A raised panel is constructed in the same manner as a recessed panel except it’s given an edge by cutting it dimensionally and then routing or shaping the desired edge profile, like square, Cathedral or arched.

Cabinet Hardware

Just when you think you’re done designing your cabinets, now you have to think about hardware. Hardware is available in every conceivable style and color, but you should pay close attention to the hinges, knobs, pulls and backplates, because these pieces can really make a statement in your kitchen.


The most important piece of hardware are your hinges, which come in several varieties like the self-closing, spring loaded barrel hinges, knife hinges and concealed hinges. Barrel hinges are fully exposed and provide a wide door opening. For a full 180 degree door opening you’ll want to use knife hinges. This hinge is usually screwed to the cabinet frame and partially embedded. Depending on the manufacturer the hinge may be either partially or fully visible when the door is closed. For a more European style where the hinge is hidden you’ll want to use concealed hinges. Most of them are self-closing but with a partial opening (110 degrees).

Drawer Suspensions

As far as abuse and daily wear-and-tear goes, your drawers are always at center stage. What will matter most over time is the style of drawer slides, which include full extension, ball bearing, track-and-roller and wood.

  • Full-extension slides attach to the bottom or the sides of the drawer and provide full access to the drawer interior. Their ball-bearing system adds stability and strength and is available in stronger versions to store heavier kitchen items.
  • Ball-bearing slides attach to the bottom of the drawer sides and offer smooth, quiet operation. Their concealed runners mounted to the bottom of the drawer don’t get as dirty as those mounted on the side.
  • Track-and-roller slides attach to the drawer sides. Their epoxy-coated steel tracks and nylon rollers offer quiet operation but are less stable than ball-bearing ones.
  • Wooden slides work as slots in the drawer sides or bottoms and move the drawer along a wooden runner. This option is no longer very popular because the drawers tend to stick as the wood expands and contracts.

Decorative Hardware - Knobs or Pulls

Now that you have your cabinets designed to your liking, you need to think about what you want to use to open and protect your new drawers and doors. Do you want knobs or pulls or a combination of both? When it comes to choosing colors, materials and finishes the list is endless. You got brass, chrome, gold, silver, pewter, nickel, porcelain, marble, glass, wood - and that’s just a sampling. Once you pick the material, you’ll have to choose from a selection of finishes - polished, antique, aged, forged, carved, enamel and more. Stay focused and remember that you’re looking for function and comfort from your hardware - not an ulcer.

Cabinet Design Trends

As cabinets continue to grow and change, consumers are left with a draw full of options and trends. Here are some trends that you might want to sample. There’s a new process called glazing, where a contrasting color stain is laid on top of a base finish to give it a more prominent look. If you want to show-off some of your kitchen gadgets or special china you can have a glass door installed.

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