What You Need to Know about Period Kitchen Cabinets Now

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Moving into a brand-new house has its advantages, at least when built properly. All the pipes and wirings are up to the latest codes. And you are starting with a clean slate with all the rooms. However, if you are a fan of old homes and period pieces, you can still get that vibe in a modern home. You can do this most easily in the kitchen.

Many manufacturers offer retro-style appliances. You are sure to find marble or granite countertops and sinks that fit into the period you hark back to you without sacrificing modern conveniences. However, creating the look of authenticity with kitchen cabinets takes a bit more work.

Kitchens have evolved greatly over the years. Back in the day, kitchens were very much out of sight, a closed space inhabited by servants and the scene of domestic labor. Today, kitchens are open to everyone, where much work still goes on. But in full view and access for family powwows or social gatherings. Modern kitchens must look good and function well in equal measure.

Kitchen Appliances

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In addition, kitchens used to house just a two or three appliances and cookware. Today it is the repository of many miscellanies, from coffee makers to gadget chargers. All these additional trappings require much more space and storage than before. If you want your kitchen to look authentic to the 1890s or so, you cannot simply put in more kitchen cabinets.

The fact is the 1890s kitchen rarely had built-in cabinets, or islands for that matter. They had perhaps one or two freestanding cabinets or cupboard used as a pantry. The kitchen sink did not repose in base cabinets. Since the kitchens of yore did not have to be decorative, the space under the sink was open storage for everything. Plates and cutlery were stored in spaces between the dining room and kitchen.

It was only after the 1910 when builders began putting fixed cabinets in houses, and they used solid wood 1×4-inch pieces. The sizes were standard, and the boxes and doors were face-framed. This means rails and stiles made up the box front, usually connected by half-lap or butt joints, glued, then nailed.

Cabinetmakers back then rarely used dovetail joints, although it is a sign of expert quality today. Cabinetmakers fastened the stiles and rails using mortise-and-tenon joints, much like how Lego blocks connect.

Generally, cabinet doors were of the inset type, which means the door fits precisely within the face frame of the box. Drawers use the same type of construction using panels, stiles, and rails, with the drawer face added on after completion of the box.

Types of Cabinets

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Cabinetmakers use these types of cabinets when making restoration or period cabinets for kitchens. They use common materials and finishes such as quarter-sawn oak with a deep finish. They duplicate the surface details such as face-frame doors and boxes and flat panels but use “modern” methods of joinery such as dovetail, which these types of cabinets simply did not have back in the day.

Ironically, new technology such as CNC (computer numeric control) has made it much easier to construct cabinets with precise measurements. But harder to make them seem authentic. Such exact measurements would not have been possible at the turn of the 20th century, so this is a case of more is not always better.

Handcrafting cabinets in their entirety is obviously the best way to recreate period pieces. However, the labor cost would drive the products out of the market.

The alternative is to use modern methods of construction in the back end while employing traditional cabinetmaking techniques in the front end. This would cut down considerably on labor costs on the parts that people don’t see.

The idea is to concentrate on the details, such as using rough wood for cabinet doors and drawer faces and using a wood joiner to flatten it. Beading and rabbeted moulding are also examples of details that can sell the authenticity of the cabinets.

While they use modern technology to cut the materials precisely, cabinetmakers still choose the wood. They also put them together and finish them by hand. The material is also an issue with creating period kitchen cabinets. Solid wood was the standard material for kitchen cabinets. But it tended to contract and expand with fluctuations in humidity and temperature. That is not a problem with modern materials such as medium density fiberboard (MDF) or veneer plywood.


Creating the right conditions for authentic period kitchen cabinets is often an exercise in compromise. You are not likely to find them in ready-to-assemble (RTA) or stock cabinets. So, you need to find a reliable supplier of top brand semi-custom or custom cabinetmakers. It may cost you a bit more, but you will be able to achieve exactly what you want for your kitchen.

Cabinet Land Kitchen and Beyond serves Chicago land and have the expertise and resources to complete virtually any type of kitchen cabinets, including custom period cabinets.  – ON TIME and ON BUDGET with top quality craftsmanship that will exceed your expectations.
We offer free estimates for any cabinet style you choose from our showroom in Schaumburg, Illinois. So, you get exactly what you expect from your purchase. We work only with the best cabinet brands at the best prices compared to our competitors such as Advance Cabinets and Handsome Cabinets.
Call or visit us today and see how we can help make you achieve the authentic period look for your kitchen!