Raised panel. Inset panel. Dovetail drawers. Plywood box. The choices in cabinetry are endless. Hundreds of colors. Dozens of door designs. Several types of wood. Hundreds of combinations – and that’s just for one brand. Can you ever find the right one? And in the fog of brochures, sales pitches and big box stores, what really matters after all?
Navigating the choices in cabinetry is actually pretty easy once you understand the basics. Beyond that, it’s all about color and preference. Below is a listing of common cabinetry characteristics and what to look for to get the kitchen of your dreams:
The box is where it is at. More than any other feature, the box construction determines not only the durability of the cabinet, but also the price point. The most obvious detail is the wood product used to make the side, rear and bottom of the cabinet. On the lower side of the spectrum you’ll find cabinetry with sidewall construction from particle board. In mid-range to higher quality cabinetry, you’ll find durable and stable plywood in widths from ½” to ¾” thickness. In some cabinets you might even find pure hardwood sidewalls, although in most cases this is less a construction benefit and more of a way to justify a higher price point. Ideally you want a cabinet with ¾” plywood construction for sidewalls and the rear top rail from which it attaches to the wall. In some cases, particle board may be acceptable in cabinets without shelving or drawers, but for the most part, the higher the quality the more plywood construction.
In the box construction, it is also important to consider the side panels. While not all side panels may not show, those that do should mirror the quality that the front of the cabinets do. For this, look for cabinets with real wood side panels or wood veneer. Plastic veneer, or printed paper, will quickly undermine any beauty you hope to create with a new kitchen. In higher quality cabinetry you’ll even have options for flush ends, integral door panels or applied moldings. Often this can be a way to quickly create the illusion of custom built cabinets.
Another detail of box construction is the door reveal. Depending on your brand of cabinetry you may find that the reveal of the stiles (the vertical wood frame of the cabinetry) and the rails (the horizontal wood frame of the cabinetry) can vary from ½” to ¾” inches. And while this may not matter when you consider one lone cabinet, when you put cabinets in a line, these numbers double and soon you see gaps between each of the doors. The higher level the cabinet line, the closer the doors and the more custom they may appear.
From low to high, wood can vary from pine to solid hardwoods like cherry and even exotic woods. And while to a large degree this is a choice more subject to design than durability, the one exception is with certain woods like cherry. Darkening over time, not only is it important to consider the current color, but also review older samples to determine the future color of your selection.
Open any cabinetry brochure and you’ll immediately meet with pages and pages of door designs. This as well is largely a design issue, but there are some distinct characteristics that you’ll find in higher level cabinetry. First, look for all wood doors. Anything less and the door will warp or fall from its hinges. After that you’ll need to consider standard doors (doors that overlay the cabinet frame) or inset doors (ones that are flush with the cabinet frame). Lastly, consider a raised panel or applied wood molding. The higher the quality cabinetry, typically the more intricate the door profile. To enhance both the depth and give your cabinets an aged look, consider glazing or even rustic treatments.
This is the feature of any cabinetry sales pitch – and for good reason. Dovetail drawer construction should be the minimum in any choice cabinetry. This will not only ensure long term use of the drawers but will also bear the brunt of heavy silverware.
Consider doors with five-piece-headers instead of slab fronts. For this, you’ll find a drawer front that matches the cabinet doors, complete with a raised panel, applied wood molding and even more.
For true durability, look for cabinets with solid interior mechanisms. This applies to drawer rail hardware, solid plywood shelving (preferably with full-depth shelving to allow improved storage options) and lazy susan shelving made of solid wood construction.
Now comes the fun part – the options! If you’re still within budget, consider adding certain comfort options like soft close drawers, under cabinet lighting, crown molding, enhanced columns and glass doors – the options are endless. But for this, it’s more about looks than durability. But that’s what makes your dream kitchen. Have fun!