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Too Many Cabinet Choices

Updated: Mar 6, 2020

Kitchen Designer

Define your space properly and it will help you organize your life.

Some of the topics covered that should be a part of your total vision for the finished kitchen are listed below:

1. DIY or work w/a kitchen designer

2. The Renovation

3. Cabinet doorstyle

4. Appliances

5. Countertops

6. Countertop backsplash treatment

7. Flooring

8. Lighting

9. Hiring the General Contractor

10. Plumbing Fixtures

Each topic is covered and can be used as your source of reference. Other important topics will be covered as well, because to renovate your kitchen successfully you must have this knowledge. Use this book as a step by step instructional guide or simply as a list of terms.


The number of cabinet manufacturers is plentiful. First, let me begin with the three different categories: European (sometimes referred to as frameless) and then there is also traditional or framed and the inset door. What makes them different is basically the way they are constructed. Trends change and cabinet door styles have gone from wood products to engineered wood called (MDF) with plastic laminate or thermafoil or wood veneers, then back to solid wood in different wood species. In the late 80s thermafoils and lacquer materials came on the scene and New Century we see exotic wood veneers. One trend we saw in cabinets for the last ten years is the comeback of the dark espresso finish on cabinets.

I have been designing kitchens since the late eighties in my early 20s. Now in 2020 I see the revival of that High gloss white look, ( it used to be hi-gloss Laminate) but now, with a two tone look that is now so popular, using textured laminates.

Frameless cabinet box construction originally adopted from European cabinetry is simply a square or rectangle box that consists of two sides, top, bottom and back. The doors are then attached to the box with hinges that are concealed from view.

Traditional construction or Framed is a square or rectangle box that consists of two sides, top, bottom and back, but has a frame similar to a picture frame secured outside the frameless box to attach the hinges. The doors are then attached to the frame with hinges that are either visible or concealed.

Before the contemporary European style of frameless cabinetry came on the scene

a traditional style was it, but these days we have more choices.

Whether the construction is frameless, traditional framed or inset the door comes in a variety of styles from traditional to retro from hi tech to minimalist. What ever your style you can find you particular taste.

Inset Door is a door of any style that is set into the framed box of the cabinet. The hinges can be either visible or concealed. This style became popular several years ago and has its place in the market.

Now within the categories, frameless, traditional, and Inset we have three separate price points to consider; Stock Line, Semi Custom Line and Custom Cabinets Line.

Stock Cabinets Line

You will find stocked cabinets in the large retailer home centers. This means you can usually buy them right in the store. They are known as RTAs or “Ready to Assemble”. They come un-assembled. This means that they must be assembled on site by the cabinet installer. A stocked line of cabinets have limitations on width, height and depth with no options to change. If you need to customize your cabinets you may have to upgrade to a semi custom or custom cabinets.

Chinese Cabinets

I included the Chinese cabinets here under stocked cabinet lines, because the market is flooded with them. The Chinese cabinets that hit the market are all “Ready To be Assembled” better known as RTAs or what is called flat box, Thousands of cabinets can be shipped this way in containers from China to the USA. What is nice about the Chinese cabinets is that they are all wood cabinets. The cabinets are usually in stock and are in a stained or painted finish. Compared to American cabinets they are the less expensive, but if quality matters, look carefully. The fact that they are all wood is a plus, because we love wood cabinets. The quality is not inferior, but damage in the shipping and assembly is possible . This lends to damage from stains to scratches and dents. In most cases the entire cabinet is stained the same finish inside and out, so there is no need to finish an exposed side. This lends to a reduced sale price and bargains can be found. The stains and finishes is one area where the Chinese cabinets need improvement. Look carefully at the finishes as you may not be happy to redo your kitchen again in five years. Your contractor will charge an extra fee because he has to spend the time to put the cabinets together. Ask your contractor if he has ever worked with RTAs. The down side is if they run out of stock of a cabinet size you need to wait for the next shipment from China. Also be careful that if the cabinet Manufacturer does not assemble the cabinets they Void their WARRANTY! Always have the company you purchase the cabinets from assemble the cabinets.

Semi- Custom Cabinet Line

The semi-custom line can be modified in the width and depth usually only in three inch increments. Optional upgrades are dovetail drawers, soft close drawers and doors, full extension drawer glides, all wood construction and a full line of accessories. In a semi-custom line of cabinets the cabinet box can be particle board which is less expensive then wood. Upgrades can affect your budget too by at least 25% depending on the choices of your upgrades.

Custom Cabinets Line

The custom line of cabinets is the most expensive of the three because they offer the most options. There are more choices of door styles, options and upgrades to choose from. The special wood species available are maple, oak, birch, pine, cherry, hickory and walnut, bamboo or teak. The wood finishes are endless, such as antiqued, distressed and glazed with worm holes, just to name a few. The best part is you can customize any cabinet width, height and depth in any way. This will give your new cabinets a custom fit and a better look, without the use of fillers.

Whether frameless or traditional, the construction of cabinets can affect the price and I’ll explain why:

Cabinet boxes are sometimes made from particle board with the interior and exterior laminated with a melamine low pressure laminate. This is a man-made material of fiber from wood particles, saw dust and wood chips. A resin of glue and formaldehyde hold it together. Particle board is an acceptable material used industry wide by cabinet manufacturers today.

The overall feeling by the public interested in purchasing cabinets is that particle board is out and all wood cabinets are preferred.

Some American cabinets are all wood and some cabinet manufacturers consider all wood an upgrade. Upgrades to an all wood cabinet box made of plywood can increase the price anywhere from 10 to 20 percent. The reason for such a rise in the price is because furniture grade plywood is more expensive than particle board.

The interior of the cabinet box can be either finished in melamine, low pressure laminate or a wood veneer. Most American manufacturers use a natural maple color melamine that will depict a wood grain and call it an easy wipe interior. This may or may not match your wood doors, but the benefit of a low pressure laminate interior is that it does clean up easily and is less expensive.

The wood veneer interior can be finished to match the wood finish you choose for your doors and can increase the overall price. The downside to an all wood interior is an oil bottle or sticky jar can easily damage the beautiful wood veneer, so here is where to calculate the costs and tweak your budget.

In the past, particle board has gotten a bad rap because if it got wet in a flood or a leak from the sink it would implode. Today, particle board is made so dense that it would take more than four hours in standing water to penetrate the surface. Plywood can also warp in certain humid climates or if soaked in water also, so neither is infallible, but some homeowners just must have wood.

Common Materials used for cabinets are:

Solid Wood - stained or painted plywood - Wood with a veneer, MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard) Laminates – plastic material glued to medium density fiberboard (MDF) Thermafoil - plastic laminate that is heated with pressure to a medium density fiberboard Lacquer Paint - A Gloss or Matt finish on medium density fiberboard. Acrylic Paint - A High Gloss finish on medium density fiberboard. Both Lacquer paint and Acrylic Painted finishes are not allowed to be manufactured in he USA. The reason is that there is no way to dispose the paint because it is Toxic to the environment. Below see the popular slab doorstyle with a white acrylic paint.

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