Do you need space to store a complete dinner set for 24, but need to stick to a tight budget? Do you want to display your grandmother’s cookbooks, but can’t stand the look of exposed shelves? Do you prefer the minimalist look of slab cabinets, or would you rather have a more traditional shaker-style?


Cabinet types

Start with the basics. First, determine if your kitchen will include all or some of the four basic types of cabinets: base (under the counter), wall-mounted, tall (often standalone, can be used as a pantry), and specialty units like corner cabinets, hutches, or bottle racks.

You’ll also need to choose a cabinet quality grade. Budget will be a determining factor here. There are four cabinet grades available, based on construction quality:

  • Ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets are found at big box retailers like Ikea. RTA cabinets can save you money, but they will be less durable. Building and installing cabinetry isn’t as simple as building a shelf or bed, so even skilled DIYers may need to hire professionals for the installation.
  • Stock cabinets are bought directly from the manufacturer. You have less flexibility with these since they are sold in specific sizes that can not be changed, but you can find stock cabinets in a wide range of materials. They are generally an affordable choice, with a higher quality than RTA.
  • Semi-custom cabinets hit in the middle in terms of price. These could be stock cabinets made with custom doors and shelving or made-to-order units from a manufacturer. You can specify size and choose from a broader selection of materials.
  • Custom cabinets are at the highest end of the spectrum and offer unlimited options. They are completely made-to-order, and you can dictate all of the materials, hardware, style, and construction.

Choose the construction

There are two types of cabinet construction. Framed cabinets have rails and stiles that form a 1.5-inch face frame at the front of the cabinet box that is attached to the door front to give extra strength and dimension to the finished cabinet. With this construction, you have more flexibility with door types; it allows for standard, full overlay, and inset cabinet doors (more on door types below).

Frameless construction is a European method of manufacturing cabinets that has become increasingly popular with American homeowners. It offers a more contemporary look and better interior access by excluding the face frame, relying on denser box construction for stability. “Only full overlay doors can be used, with hinges attached directly to the sides of the cabinet box,” notes Turner.

You should only use open shelving if you are perfectly organized.

The term overlay means how much the door overlays the face frame. Standard overlay doors (aka traditional or partial overlay) are less expensive and do not require hardware. Because they have more exposed face frame (roughly 1 1⁄4-inches on all sides of the doors and drawers), there is enough finger space to open doors or drawers without a knob or pull.

Full overlay cabinets have a more custom appearance, and the doors cover the entire face frame. Double door cabinets with full overlay come with an added advantage: They do not have a vertical face frame stile between the two doors, so you can easily fit large items like serving platters and pans.

Inset cabinets have the door set inside the face frame to be flush with the front of the cabinet instead of having the door on top of the cabinet box. Special hidden or decorative hinges are used to precisely fit the door inside the frame opening.

“Inset cabinets create an elegant look with clean lines. They are ideal for larger kitchens, since they take slightly more space away from the interior of your cabinets since the doors and drawers sit inside the frames,” says Turner. “These are typically more expensive as construction is more challenging, but if your budget and space requirements will allow, they are a luxury worth the investment.”

“Both can look updated and contemporary, but the flush inset appearance can undoubtedly give off a more traditional look and the frameless full overlay lends itself to a more contemporary style.

Style glossary

There are dozens of different cabinet styles, but choosing a construction and door type will help narrow the options. “I tend to prefer modern to transitional cabinet styles,” says Turner. Transitional cabinets, like a transitional kitchen, are considered a blend of traditional and contemporary styles.

“Depending on the architectural style of the home and taste preferences of my clients, I typically will select from slab, flat panel, shaker, raised panel, or beaded door styles.” Other popular styles include glass inset, mission, and arched cathedral.

Arched cathedral: The door panel is shaped like an arched window. The shape can be recessed or raised within the door frame. This style is typically reserved for upper wall cabinets.

Beaded: The interior panel features stripes created by a single or double groove (these are known as beads in woodworking). Beaded panels can be combined with other styles.

Flat panel: Exactly what it sounds like—the door has a single flat panel surrounded by molding. It’s the preferred style for transitional kitchens.

Glass inset: The doors are essentially windows into the cabinet. Not recommended for the unorganized.

Mission: Mission cabinets are a type of flat panel doors. They have a square frame molding with simple, clean lines. They are typically made of oak and stained so the wood grain is highlighted.

Raised panel: Cabinets with raised panel doors are more traditional in style. The center panel is slightly raised by a contoured groove around the molding.

Shaker: These look similar to mission cabinets, but they have a narrower frame molding. The focus is on function and durability.

Slab: The most minimalist of options, slab cabinets feature no panels, molding, or ornamentation. They can have hardware pulls, but the ultimate minimalist will opt for a finger ledge or push-to-open mechanism to eliminate hardware altogether.