The world, like the human body, is roughly two-thirds water. In the world of kitchen remodels, cabinets are like water on the Earth; they make up a large percentage of usable space. OK, so maybe that analogy wasn't exactly mind-blowing, but it exemplifies the importance of cabinetry in kitchen design.
In choosing cabinet materials and styles, the first step is choosing a cabinet type. Those overwhelmed by the many choices in cabinet styles will be happy to hear that there are primarily two types of cabinets. In general, cabinets are either face-frame or frameless. If you're ordering custom-built cabinets, that choice will be the first.
Face-frame cabinets are the most common design in American kitchens. This type has a frame built around the front of the cabinet box. Often, the cabinet box will actually encase several cabinets in a single run. The frames covering the edges of the box are typically 2.5" wide (3/4" thick) and the cabinet doors mount directly onto this face. The face facilitates a gap between doors of typically 1 to 1.5".
Face-frame and frameless cabinets also use different hinges and often different drawer slides. Hinges are usually mounted directly onto the face, so they're more decorative in appearance.
Frameless cabinets are also called European-style cabinets and are easily identified by the relative lack of a gap between doors. European cabinets don't come in one large cabinet box, but rather each cabinet is framed separately. So, the cabinet installer will install one cabinet at a time, affixing each frame to the frame before it. Instead of one 120" box, you'll get four 30" boxes.
The cabinet doors install directly to the cabinet box, so the hinges are concealed. Typically, a 1/8" gap between doors is maintained throughout. This gap, plus the concealed hinges, are really the only visible differences between face-framed and frameless cabinetry after installation.
There are cabinets that combine both face-frame and European cabinet types. The combination, somewhat non-creatively called Face-Frame European cabinetry, is made distinct by the type of hinge used. Manufacturers designed a concealed hinge that could be used with face-framed cabinets.
While the type of cabinet door does not necessarily define the type of cabinet, there are two types worth mentioning. By and large, the majority of cabinet doors are overlay doors. In other words, the door operates based on its impact with the cabinet frame. But there are also inset doors, which mount so that the outside of the door is flush with the outside of the cabinet face. Of course, a concealed hinge is used, but inset doors can be used with face-frame cabinets as well.
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