cabinets buying guide 2021

Cabinets Buying Guide 2022

One of the major investments you will make for your kitchen remodel is choosing new kitchen cabinets. Before you begin looking, you should know a bit more about them. Kitchen cabinets come in many materials, styles, and finishes. The buying guide below should help you narrow it down to what you want.

Cabinet Types and Quality Grades

Cabinets come in four basic types: base, wall, tall, and specialty units. Depending on your kitchen design, you may need all four. The standard base cabinet has a depth of 24 (this can go up to 27 for custom or semi-custom cabinets) and a height of 34 1/2 inches. It usually rests on a 4 1/2 inch riser or toe kick.

The standard wall cabinet is from 12 to 17 inches deep. A tall cabinet is a single unit typically starting from 84 inches in height from top to bottom, usually used as pantry or utility storage. The specialty cabinet makes it easy to make full use of any extra space and organize your kitchen. These can be anything from corner cabinets to wine bottle racks.

You also have four quality grades from which to choose: ready-to-assemble (RTA), stock, semi-custom, and custom.

  1. RTA cabinets get to the customer in pieces. As the name implies, it requires some assembly. It is ideal for DIYers with some construction skills. They come in a narrow selection of sizes, types, and materials, but they are quite affordable.
  2. Stock cabinets come in a variety of materials and styles and are very affordable. However, they come in fixed sizes that may not maximize your space. They come in modules and are assembled on site. Installation is not usually included in the quoted price.
  3. Semi-custom cabinets are more expensive than RTA and stock cabinets, but offer more versatility and tend to be of better quality materials and construction. You can change the size and configuration up to a certain extent.
  4. Custom cabinets are made-to-order for your available space and according to your design. The sky is the limit for your cabinet choices, but so is the budget required.

Cabinet Frames

Cabinets are typically framed or frameless. A framed cabinet has a 1.5- or 2-inch border on the face for hiding the edges of the box. The additional support also makes the cabinet sturdier. Framed cabinet doors usually attach to the side and maybe inside the frame (inset) or on top (overlay). A frameless cabinet or European-style cabinet has no border. The doors attach directly to the box and fit precisely over the entire front of the cabinet box. Frameless cabinets let you maximize the available space because they have no frame

Cabinet Drawers and Glides

You might want to consider adding drawers to your cabinets or even have just drawers. Well-made drawers can maximize your space and make it easier to organize storage. When considering drawers, you want to consider two things: material and construction. Solid hardwood is traditional, but plywood and engineered wood such as medium-density fiberboard (MDF) are cost-effective options. Just make sure that the wood is at least 3/8 inches thick, particularly the bottom part. You can also choose melamine or metal. Avoid drawers made of flimsy particleboard.

If you have a small budget but want quality drawers, there is a workaround. Cut down costs by choosing solid wood for the front and engineered wood for the bottom and sides. As for construction, experts recommend dovetail joinery because it will not fall apart over time. Other types of joinery include tongue-and-groove, dowel, finger, dado, and biscuit. Do not choose drawers with stapled construction.

Drawers & glides (undermount / side glides)

Side glides are the less expensive types, but you can see them when you open the drawer. If you don’t mind that, then go for the side mounts. For even more savings, choose three-quarter extension glides with lower weight capacities for drawers intended for lightweight items. However, note that side glides tend to warp and sag more than under mount glides. Choose under-mount glides to handle heavier loads, such as pots and pans, for more frequently used drawers. You can also choose soft-close glides for that added feel of luxury.

Cabinet Doors, Hinges, Latches, and Catches

There are four basic types of cabinet doors.

  1. Slab – flat plywood or MDF with veneer flanks on either side
  2. Plank – solid wood that fit flush to the box, with or without decorative patterns
  3. Frame-and-panel – an arched, rounded, or squared central panel, either raised or recessed, with a frame
  4. Frame-only – frame for holding a glass, either single or divided into muntins.

In most cases, cabinet doors attach with a hinge for maximum access. The type of hinge will depend on the kind of cabinet. Framed inset cabinets require surface, wraparound, or butt hinges. Overlay and frameless cabinets require concealed hinges. Your cabinet doors may also be sliding, which allows access to only one side of the cabinet at a time. To keep doors closed, you can use either a latch or a catch. A latch attaches outside the cabinet doors and maybe lift, turn-style or slide-style. Catches attach to the inside of the doors and maybe magnetic, friction, or spring roller.

Cabinet Finishes

Cabinets come in a wide range of finishes, depending on your preference. In most cases, RTA and stock cabinets are available in unfinished and finished in the factory. Semi-custom cabinets are finished and painted, usually baked on. Custom cabinets get hand-applied finishes, topped with varnish.

Unfinished cabinets are cheaper, but you have to prep and paint them. Most manufacturers offer several types of finishes.

Types of finishes

  • Paint – baked-on, hand-brushed, or rolled
  • Stained – for wood cabinets, pigmented or clear to enhance the natural grain.
  • Glazed – semi-transparent layer over paint to give the surface more depth and highlight details.
  • Antiqued – hand-rubbed to give the cabinet character and simulate the look of age.
  • Distressed – the surface is scored, using several techniques to give the cabinet a weathered look.

Personalized Features

You can customize the look of your cabinets even if you don’t choose custom cabinets with personalized and decorative features. 

These include:

    • Knobs and pulls
    • Lazy Susans
    • Utensil dividers
    • Plate displays
    • Wine racks
    • Spice drawers
    • Integrated panel systems
    • Rollout drawers
    • Swing-out shelves
    • Pantry pulls
    • Tilt panels
    • Special lighting
    • Posts
    • Corbels
    • Pilasters
    • Valances
    • Wainscoting

Eco-Friendly Considerations

Do your part in saving the environment by choosing cabinets with the Environment Stewardship Program (ESP) seal of approval. These cabinets meet the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (KCMA) requirements for air quality, environmental stewardship, resource management, and community relations. You can do even more by ensuring that you:

Use paints with no volatile organic compounds

Choose custom cabinets that come from sustainable materials

Use eco-friendly materials for floors, backsplashes, and counters to complement your new cabinets

Ordering and Installation

It is best to order all your cabinets and accessories from a reputable supplier to get good quality products. You can expect to receive your order in as little as one day for RTA and stock cabinets. Semi-custom and custom cabinets take longer to arrive, as much as eight weeks in some instances. Once they come, make sure it matches the bill of sale. Inspect each piece to make sure there is no damage, and report any missing or damaged pieces to the supplier.

It is a good idea to have a professional install your cabinets unless you are confident in what you are doing. Preparing the walls to ensure they are good can be a difficult process. Your supplier may be able to recommend a competent installer, or you can check online for contractors with good reviews. Ask for several quotes before choosing a contractor.