Cabinet construction falls into two categories: framed and frameless. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and both provide unique design possibilities. The main differences between the two can easily be unidentified by their names, with a frame, and without a frame. Framed cabinets have a frame on the front of the cabinet box, and frameless does not. This single variation leads to differences in the construction of the box and how each cabinet functions. Please see the images below for a visual difference.
As the name suggests, framed cabinets have a face frame attached that covers the front of the cabinet box. The actual face frame looks like a picture frame. It’s composed of solid hardwood with two horizontal pieces called rails connected with at least two vertical pieces called stiles. Both stiles and rails are typically 1-1/2” wide and 3/4″ thick. Cabinet doors get attached to the face frame, which reinforces the horizontal strength of the cabinet. This helps with the alignment of the box to the doors and drawers.
The frame cabinet door usually adds strength and durability, but sometimes that means the cabinet boxes themselves are made from inferior materials. Higher quality framed cabinets are built using at least 1/2″ thick sides and solid wood face frames with stiles and rails that are 1 1/2″ wide x 3/4″ thick. All roll-outs, drawers, and pull materials. Higheruts must pass through a reduced-size opening created by the face frame.
Advantages of Framed Cabinets
Framed cabinets have been around for generations, and they will continue to be built for many more for a good reason:
- They create a classic look familiar to Americans.
- They are sturdy because the frame prevents the cabinet box from getting “out of square” and provides a flat, strong area to hang the cabinet doors. The hinges are solidly attached to the face frame and help them stay aligned so the doors will not stick and drawers will open properly.
- Since the face frame cabinet can accept any door and drawer front with lots of style flexibility. The way the doors and drawers are attached to the face frame can create different looks:
- Partial overlay, the cabinet face frame can be seen between the doors and drawers.
- Full overlay, the doors and drawer fronts cover most of the frame.
Inset cabinets, doors, and drawers fit flush inside the face frame. When you look at a run of cabinets, the doors, drawers, and face frame forms a smooth and flat surface.
Disadvantages of Framed Cabinets
Nothing is perfect, and so the framed cabinets also have a few disadvantages:
- The frame forms a slight “lip” inside the cabinet, which may be considered an obstacle. If you want to slide your plates out of the cabinet without lifting them, you must face the hurdle. However, most people are used to it and don’t notice it. In high-end cabinetry, the “lip” may be removed on the bottom by planning it down.
- Drawers and roll-outs have less interior space (height and width) as the frame’s opening limits the space.
As the name implies, frameless cabinets do not have a frame. These cabinets look sleek and streamlined because their appearance is not interrupted by face frames.
Frameless cabinets are known as “European” because this is how Europeans make cabinets. Face-framed cabinets are typically American style; frameless kitchen cabinets are European or Euro-style.
If you have to deal with a small kitchen or bathroom, frameless cabinets will maximize the available storage space. There is no difference between framed and frameless cabinets in outer space, but interior storage space is larger in frameless cabinetry.
Frameless cabinets are constructed with four sides and a back. The top and bottom of the “cabinet box” are counted as sides. The cabinet box has simply a back, bottom, top, and sides. Most frameless wall cabinets can be flipped and installed either way since neither top nor bottom is designated. Since the frameless kitchen cabinet does not have a frame on the front of the cabinet. They also do not have a “lip” on the front exposed edges of the box are taped so that the visible edges are finished.
Well-made frameless cabinetry is built with ⅝” to ¾” thick plywood, MDF, or particleboard with melamine sides. The back of the cabinet typically has hanging rail(s) to give additional support. The hinges and drawer tracks are attached to the sides of a frameless cabinet, as opposed to the wood of a framed cabinet. Without the frame, the roll-outs, drawers, and pull-outs are not size-restricted because of the face frame.
Advantages of Frameless Cabinets
- Frameless cabinetry is also known as full access. Because without the face frame, more interior space is available, and there is no stile to get in the way. You have more space for storage.
- It is easier to adjust shelves in frameless cabinets since there is no face frame to work around.
- Flush exterior sides are standard on every frameless cabinet while upgrading framed cabinets. Frameless cabinets provide a contemporary, smooth look because the edges of doors and drawers come up against each other nearly flush (in cabinet terms, they “butt”).
- The full overlay of a frameless cabinet completely covers the entire box, leaving only a 2mm reveal that creates a seamless appearance.
- Frameless construction allows for great flexibility in design and styling. A frameless cabinet can be used in a traditional, transitional, modern or contemporary design.
- Since there is no frame around the cabinet openings, the doors of a frameless cabinet can be omitted completely to provide open shelf storage.
- Frameless cabinets don’t have a center stile coming down the middle of the two cabinet doors. Without the center stile, access to the items inside is easier, as well as more storage space. (Depending on the door type, not all framed cabinets have a stile in the center).
Disadvantages of Frameless Cabinets
- The only type of door available for a frameless cabinet is a full overlay.
- More fillers may be necessary if the walls are not square or uneven that allow the door or drawer to open properly.
- Hinges mounted to the sides of the cabinet may need adjustment to keep the doors straight and the cabinet fronts looking symmetrical.
Comparing Framed and Frameless Cabinet Style
Face frame cabinets are considered more traditional, and they can accept almost any door and drawer front. The door and hinge type define the style of face frame cabinets.
Compared to face frame vs frame cabinets, frameless cabinets go with any room decor. Although they are best known for modern and contemporary designs, they can look traditional or transitional when using painted doors or stained doors in any wood species.
The full overlay door style for framed vs frameless cabinets is simple and sleek. Doors can be made in a wide variety of styles and materials, which create different looks. Of course, there is the painted shaker door, but high-gloss lacquer, acrylic, and wood-grained thermally fused laminate slab doors create unique looks. Today’s trend is for highly personalized kitchen spaces, and both framed and frameless cabinets allow homeowners to get creative.
Storage and Accessibility
Frameless cabinets offer slightly more interior space because no face frame overhang takes up cabinet space.
The larger opening allows for a wider drawer box in the frameless cabinetry than the framed cabinets of the same width. For example, a 15” wide four (4) drawer base cabinet in framed construction will have a 12” opening width. In contrast, the frameless cabinet of the same size will give you a 13.5” opening width. That additional 1 1/4” per drawer adds up when you are trying to maximize your storage space.
Both framed and frameless cabinets have many organizational solutions and systems available to increase the storage space and accessibility of your items. Most pullouts will work in both a framed and frameless cabinet.
Concealed European-style hinges are the most common for frameless cabinetry. Any hinge type will work for cabinet face frames. A decorative hinge creates an even more traditional cabinet style.
In conclusion, the choice between framed and frameless cabinetry comes down to your personal preference and the different styles each cabinet offers. Both options are sturdy and strong. The structural quality of both framed and frameless cabinets are the same, so this should not be a factor in your decision. The cost comparison between the two is virtually the same.
The cabinet door framing is so common that every homeowner pays attention to it. The big difference between framed and frameless cabinets is the box construction; you have two different construction methods that offer different advantages and disadvantages.
Framed cabinets are the best choice if you prefer a traditional look with decorative hinges and flexibility for door options (inset, partial-overlay, or full-overlay). Frameless cabinets are a better option for smaller kitchens where every space is needed. They offer design flexibility for any look you want. You will get more drawer and cabinet space with no center stiles that get in your way. Which is best for you?