Rustic wooden cabinents
Tria Giovan

Learn the Basics

From finishes to function, here's everything you need to know about the most important element in your kitchen. Learn your way around the sometimes confusing world of cabinet construction.

Blue coastal kitchen
Jean Allsopp

Traditional or European-Style?

Cabinets are the key element in kitchen storage. They set the tone of the room's decorative personality and form the backbone of its organization. For this reason -- and because they represent the largest single investment in a new kitchen -- it is important to study the many options available before making a decision.

The two basic cabinet construction styles are frame and frameless.

Light cabinets are highlighted by a bright rug
Alec Hemer

Flush-Framed Construction

Traditional American cabinets mask the raw front edges of each box with a 1-by-2 "faceframe." Doors and drawers then fit in one of three ways: flush; partially offset, with a lip; or completely overlaying the frame.

The outer edges of the faceframe can be planed and shaped (called "scribing") according to individual requirements. Since the faceframe covers up the basic box, thinner or lower-quality wood can be used in its sides -- somewhat decreasing the cost. But the frame takes up space and reduces the size of the openings, so drawers or slide-out accessories must be significantly smaller than the full width of the cabinet -- somewhat decreasing storage capacity.

Bright white cabinetry brings to life the sky blue tile backsplash
Tria Giovan

Frameless Cabinetry

Europeans, when faced with postwar lumber shortages, came up with "frameless" cabinets. A simple trim strip covers raw edges, which butt directly against one another. Doors and drawers often fit to within 1/8 inch of each other, revealing a thin sliver of the trim. Interior components, such as drawers, can be sized practically to the full dimensions of the box.

Another big difference: Frameless cabinets typically have a separate toe-space pedestal, or plinth. This allows you to set counter heights specifically to your liking, stack base units, or make use of space at floor level.

The terms "system 32" and "32-millimeter" refer to precise columns of holes drilled on the inside faces of many frameless cabinets. These holes are generally in the same places, no matter what cabinets you buy, and interchangeable components (such as door hinges, drawer guides, shelf pins, and pullout baskets) just plug right into them.

Muted green cabinets give the kitchen a cozy feel
John Granen

Stock, Custom, or Semi-Custom?

Custom cabinetry creates a unique look in this Seattle kitchen.

Cabinets are manufactured and sold in three different ways. The type you choose will affect the cost, overall appearance, and workability of your kitchen.

Ikea cabinets give this bungalow kitchen a roomy feel
Lisa Romerein

Little Bungalow

The island is made from Ikea cabinets set into a frame of high-grade plywood.

Stock cabinets: Buy your kitchen "off-the-shelf" and save -- if you're careful. Mass-produced, standard-sized cabinets are the least expensive way to go, and they can be a good choice if you clearly understand the cabinetry you need for your kitchen. As the name implies, the range of sizes is limited.

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