Sorting Through Kitchen Cabinet Choices

Before you spend a big chunk of your remodel budget on cabinets, make sure you're choosing wisely. Here's how to pick the best cabinets for your kitchen.
By: Alicia Garceau

Cabinets usually devour the bulk of a budget during a kitchen remodel. Because they are a major investment (and one that's not likely to be made again anytime soon), you'll need to sort through the available options and make choices with confidence. Here's how:

Freshen Up

If existing cabinets are of good quality, are in excellent working condition and the layout functions well, the most affordable option is to freshen them up by restaining or painting. Another alternative, refacing, involves installing a new veneer on the exterior of the cabinet box and replacing the doors and drawer fronts, and should be handled by a professional. The process is much faster than installing new cabinets because the cabinets remain intact and the work is done onsite. However, be forewarned that when it comes to cabinets, doors and drawer fronts account for the greatest expense.

"Sixty to 70 percent of the cost of the cabinet is the door," says Jeff Cannata, past president of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA) and president of Designer's Showcase Kitchens & Baths Inc. in Carol Stream, Ill. "So, if you're paying for someone to put a new door or a new drawer in ... it might be more affordable to shop new."

And with new cabinets, there's an added bonus: the freedom to explore different layout possibilities.

New and Improved

The decision has been made to install new cabinets, but there are other choices ahead. Are custom cabinets required, or will stock cabinets fit the bill? Custom cabinets are built to exact specifications and offer endless options with regard to materials, designs, finishes and accessories. Choosing custom cabinets requires the longest lead time and is the most expensive route.

Semi-custom cabinets are just that: semi-custom. While the cabinets are made to the homeowner's size requirements, the manufacturer produces them in predetermined increments. Often a spacer may be needed to conceal unused wall space, and that sacrifices storage. The range of materials, designs, finishes and accessories will not be as broad with semi-custom cabinets, but they cost less than fully custom cabinets.

Stock cabinets, which are the least expensive of new cabinet options, are pre-made and come in standard sizes. Though stock cabinets often get a bad rap in terms of quality of construction, there are many on the market that are made of solid wood.

"I will say that eight out of 10 kitchens could probably be done with stock cabinetry. And what I mean by that is a good designer can design with any line," Cannata says. "Anyone can say, `Oh, I need this cabinet to be 21 ½ inches.' But a good designer should be able to design using a 21-inch cabinet."

No matter what type of cabinet is selected, it's important to evaluate the quality of hinges, doors, drawer systems and finish. Homeowners should choose cabinets that offer at least a five-year warranty, according to Al Pattison, president of NKBA.

Construction and Style

Next, consider the construction type and door style. Framed cabinets, which are popular in traditional kitchens, have a front frame around the cabinet opening. The door attaches to the frame. Frameless, or European-style cabinets, have no front frame. The door attaches directly to the side of the cabinet. Frameless cabinets, which are often used in contemporary kitchens, offer an advantage over framed cabinets. Because there is no front frame, there is open access to the cabinet interior.

When it comes to door styles, there are several choices. Traditional-overlay doors cover some of the frame, full-overlay doors cover the entire cabinet frame and inset doors sit inside the cabinet frame.

Accessorize

After giving thought to the cabinets' exterior, turn some attention to their intended use and interior features.

"It used to be that we would place cabinetry in the room and make it functional," says Pattison. "[Now] every cabinet has a purpose." Pull-out drawers for pots and pans, oversized drawers for baking sheets and designated cabinets for trash and recycling are some examples. Accessories like lazy Susans, built-in spice racks, drawer organizers and other cabinet extras make the kitchen a much more efficient and enjoyable place.

Hardware

As a finishing touch, add pulls, knobs and handles to cabinets. Hardware comes in a wide variety of styles at all price points and contributes to a truly customized look.

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