The best kitchen cabinets for your kitchen project are those that meet your needs for function, style and budget. They may not be the same as the ones your neighbor or your sister-in-law installed, as those people have different needs; nor are they necessarily the ones promoted in the latest shelter magazines or internet ads. You’ll need to research what’s available to you and the pros and cons compared to your own situation, before you can decide.
There are several factors to consider when you’re trying to decide which are the best kitchen cabinets for your kitchen, whether you’re building a new home or remodeling an existing kitchen. The important thing to remember is that the cabinets should work for you, never mind the latest style!
Here are some different factors to consider:
Who makes them? Cabinets can be built using a variety of different systems.
DIY – build them yourself from scratch
RTA (ready-to-assemble): these are cabinets that you buy in flat pack form, and build yourself using the parts and instructions supplied. They are not usually very hard to build, but if you’re outfitting an entire kitchen with them it can be quite time consuming. Quality varies, as does price. Availability is usually instant: you go to the store, pick them up and take them home.
Stock cabinets are pre-built by the manufacturer and delivered from stock in a warehouse. They are built in a limited number of sizes, so you may not be able to fill every inch of possible space in your kitchen – but they are reasonably priced and can be good quality if you choose wisely. They are normally available very quickly as they don’t have to be built just for you.
Semi-custom cabinets are manufactured to order, and come in a much wider range of sizes than stock cabs, but are not made exactly to fit your individual kitchen space. You can usually get a better fit and finish than with stock cabinets, and you’ll have a wider choice of finishes that may include more trendy ones as well as classics.
Custom cabinetss are exactly that – made to fit your exact space, and finished in the exact way you wish. You can get a unique look, excellent quality, and exact fit. Everything depends on the quality of your cabinetmaker’s work, though, so be careful choosing who you want to do the job! It sometimes happens that getting a small local shop to build custom cabinets for you works out cheaper than buying semi-custom cabs from a manufacturer, so don’t assume that custom is automatically out of your price range.
How are they made, and using what materials?
There are two main construction methods for cabinets: face-frame, where the cabinets have a structural frame of (usually) hardwood filled in with thinner sheet materials, or frameless, where the panels are thicker and stronger and make up the structure without needing a separate frame. European cabinets are almost always frameless, whereas North American cabinets can be either. Face frames give you the option of having inset doors, which you may want for historical accuracy in an older home.
Materials for the cabinet box vary but apart from the frame in face frame construction, consist of sheet materials like particleboard, MDF or plywood, with masonite used for some parts like backs or drawer bottoms. You’ll see some talk that plywood means better quality, but that’s not always the case: good quality MDF can hold its own in the quality stakes. One issue to be aware of when choosing sheet materials is the glue used to create the sheet, whether plywood or MDF. Glues containing formaldehyde can “off-gas” into your home’s air which may be bad for your family’s health. You can choose to buy cabinets which use only materials with no formaldehyde, and even panels made from wheat straw instead of wood.
Door materials include solid wood (stained, clear finished, or painted), and particleboard or MDF which has been covered with thermofoil, laminate, paint, or lacquer.
Many internal fittings and attachments are available, and you’ll want to know exactly which ones you can use in the cabinets you choose, and which ones you’ll need to make your kitchen function well. There’s a huge range of interior fittings for both base and wall cabinets. Most important are corner base fittings, if you have a corner in your design.
Ah, now we come to the fun part – the door and drawer style and color. Currently, the most common finishes are wood (medium light tone, usually, but sometimes dark) or white painted. That doesn’t mean you can’t get other finishes, everything from glossy bright orange to heavily distressed and antiqued moldings, but white and wood are the two biggies at the moment.
Freestanding or built-in: one fashionable look is of separate pieces of furniture, but often they are actually regular cabinets. This look is often meant to give the impression that the kitchen furniture has been built up gradually over the years, but you can also get freestanding pieces which match each other so they don’t have that look! It all depends on what you want. Obviously, even with freestanding-style cabinets, plumbing and wiring will attach at least some of them to their places.
For most people, the objective is to get the look and function they need, at a price they can afford. You can come at this from either end: set your budget first, then price out cabinets to see what you can afford: or price out several types of cabinets, then see how much you need to budget. Bear in mind that cabinets are harder to change than almost anything else – flooring, counters, backsplash, appliances can all be changed out while keeping the same cabinets, and the cabinets themselves can be refinished several times during their lifetime. So, don’t fall for false economy: get the best quality cabinets you can afford.
As you can see, there are many factors to consider as you work out which are the best kitchen cabinets for you. But you won’t regret the time spent researching and checking, when you get to spend many years getting full use and enjoyment out of your kitchen.