Welcome to “Cabinets 101”
your basic information on choosing the right cabinets for your kitchen or bath renovation.
We’ve all heard in real estate that the three most important factors are: location, location, location. When it comes to your kitchen, think: design, design, design. Surprisingly, many people place little emphasis on the most crucial part of their project, the layout.
Do not work with someone that has not come out to your home to measure and address the structural or mechanical changes that may be necessary to come up with the best plan for your project. I’ve seen far too many disastrous results from people taking their own measurements over to a hardware or surplus store for a free evaluation and quote. Don’t do it, certainly you’ve heard, “You get what you pay for”. Design is the one place you do not want to compromise when planning such an expensive endeavor as a kitchen or bath remodel.
Unlike flooring, painting, roofing, and other improvements where expenses are derived by multiplying the cost of goods or services by the square foot, a kitchen needs to be designed to determine the required components necessary to establish a price. Will there be a built-in refrigerator. a pantry, double oven cabinet, or a host of other features that will make your dream kitchen come to life? Once the layout is completed you can then focus on which products are best suited for your budget, taste and home’s characteristics.
Cabinets are comprised of several different components:
- the box
- the fastening materials
- the face frame (unless they are “frameless”)
- the drawer(s)
- the door(s)
- the hinges, rail systems
- the finish
- accessories and hardware
Boxes are usually made of plywood or particle board. Plywood is my choice because of its sturdiness and the fact that it will not disintegrate when wet, but long exposure to moisture can lead to delamination which should be avoided. Furthermore screws and fasteners tend to hold better in plywood rather that particle board. Another feature is that plywood boxes are lighter and easier to install than particle board boxes which may require special hanging systems for the wall units. This being said particle board does have its place when it comes to slab panel doors and frameless cabinets that have a laminate, paint, or thermafoil finish because of its smoother surface and less propensity to warp or crack. Look for a higher density or furniture grade particle board over the loose fiber material used in cheap cabinets.
Fastening materials and techniques include: staples; nails; screws; pins; corner bracing (which can be made of plastic, wood or metal); glue; wafers, dovetailing, doweling , routed channels, L brackets and more. Discuss these systems with your cabinet dealer prior to purchase.
Face frames are what traditional cabinets use to secure the doors and drawers to the box and despite the box material used the face frames are usually made of solid hardwood. Contemporary “frameless” cabinets do not have a face frame and utilize the box’s integrity as the fastening point. This allows for a cleaner look and greater storage space.
Drawers: Look for solid wood drawer boxes with dovetailed side rails. This is much better than stapled fiberboard (one step up from cardboard) junk found in cheap off the shelf cabinets. Another thing to look for is a five piece drawer front which means that there is a 4 piece frame (like a picture) with a panel in the middle that matches the door front. A flat door front, even if it has a routed edge, is cheaper looking unless it is a part of a sleek modern cabinet design.
Door and drawer fronts are the most prominent feature of your cabinets. There are hundreds of choices when it comes to materials, styles and finishes so let’s focus on the different construction styles for right now. More traditional mitered doors are like a picture frame with 45 degree cut corners and a raised or flat center panel. Mortise and tenon are similar to mitered doors but the joints meet at a 90-degree angle such as a shaker style cabinet. A modern door has a slab front where there is no frame to the door just the panel. The doors can be inset (flush with the face frame or box) or an overlay door that sits on top of the face frame. There is a full overlay door which comes almost to the side edge of the cabinet and a standard overlay door where the face frame is more exposed.
Hinges and rails system are very important to the longevity and functionality of your cabinets. Soft close under mount, full extension rail systems are the best along with 3 way adjustable soft close hinges. Nothing worse than sticky drawers and misaligned doors.
There are numerous finishes available, the primary finishes are:
- Stain or paint
Stain and paint finishes are the most common. If you are choosing a painted or stained cabinet it is important to keep in mind that a 10 step factory finish is usually much more durable and appealing than anything that can be applied “onsite”.
Thermofoil is plastic material that is heat shrunk to the cabinet door or box. It is durable, good looking and inexpensive but toasters, ovens, dishwashers and any other heat source can delaminate it when exposed over time. For this reason I do not recommend it.
Melamine is an adhesive backed vinyl product like shelf paper. It is usually used to line the interior of a less expensive cabinet. I would never recommend melamine on the exterior of a cabinet…never.
Laminate is like Formica and is used to line contemporary cabinets and to face modern slab cabinet doors. It is glued to a flat surface and is extremely durable and comes in a wide variety of looks from wood to metal to fabric to high gloss finishes. It takes special machines to “edge band” the sides of the cabinet doors. The process of using laminate finishes can be more involved than other finishes which is why it can cost considerably more than other finishes but the results can be spectacular.
Veneer is like laminate only it is usually made of wood. Manufactured species can give you the look of dark walnut to zebrawood at a fraction of the cost of solid wood. The wood veneers can be a bit more fragile but the look is outstanding.
Last is accessories and hardware. This is the icing on the cake for your cabinets. Companies like Rev-a-Shelf manufacture slides, pullouts and organizers that complete any kitchen and can be bought separately at stores like Lowes. Go ahead and splurge when it comes to accessories.
Information provided by Michael Haley of The Cabinet Firm.