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Cabinet Buying Guide

Before purchasing your cabinetry, it is important to spend some time researching and learning about various cabinet types, styles, and designs as well as knowing how to identify the range of quality of cabinets on the market. It will help guide you towards making an educated decision on what cabinet features are important as well as give you an idea of what your budget can afford.

Cabinets can be a large expense when remolding and can account for up to 40% of your budget. Cabinetry is something you will want to last for years, so it’s important to consider everything from quality of the construction to how you will function in your kitchen to how it the look of the design will complement the rest of your home.

Understanding the contents of this guide will help you know what questions to ask, what features to look for, and what things to avoid when shopping for your cabinetry. Knowing your budget will help refine the scope of cabinetry you are looking for and will help eliminate a lot of the available options. Remember, eliminating options will make this process a lot less daunting. Focus on finding what qualities you find most important so you know how to divide your budget between the things you are more comfortable investing your money in and what things you might find less important or “extra”.

This guide will give you an overview of the vast industry of cabinet making, including:

  • Types

  • Styles

  • Quality

  • Design

  • Finishes

  • Configurations

  • Features

It may be helpful to bring this guide along when you go shopping. It includes defining helpful terminology so you can ask educated questions and understand what the vendors or manufacturers are referring to. Remember, buying cabinets is a long-term investment, so it is likely that you will have to make multiple trips to your vendor before you are ready to finalize the design and purchase your cabinetry.

Fully designing the kitchen before purchasing your cabinetry ensures that you will have the most functional and cost-effective layout that can last a decade, especially when investing on something as expensive as cabinetry.

Cabinet Type

There are three types of cabinets. Stock, Semi-custom, and Custom. The three types are also indicative of the cost investment associated with each type. The space you are working with may not require custom cabinets, but the variety that comes with semi-custom or custom options may be worth the extra investment.

Stock Cabinets

  • Start at $70 per Linear foot

  • Limited in colors and styles

  • Limited standard cabinet dimensions

  • Home centers (Home Depot, Lowes, etc.) sell pre-assembled cabinets, while some other stores may require assembly (The Container Store, Ikea)

  • Basic hardware & drawer slides


  • $150 - $250 per linear foot

  • Available in more size configurations

  • Larger selection of colors, styles, and design

  • Standard cabinet dimensions, but have more customizable options available

  • More precise fit for your kitchen

  • Some added features available

  • Choice of hardware quality

Custom Cabinets

  • Can easily cost $500+ per linear foot

  • Unlimited colors, styles, and design

  • Custom cabinet dimensions built specifically for your space and needs

  • Include many added features

  • Premium hardware & drawer slides

Cabinet Style


Also known as European-Style, the doors and drawers attach directly to the cabinet box, eliminating the face frame. This look is more contemporary and access to the interior is easier. However, the lack of the face frame can compromise rigidity/sturdiness.


Made of a box and face frame, to which the doors attach. On the interior, there is a small “lip” around the front of the cabinet, created by the frame. The frame is a more traditional look, but adds additional support to the cabinet.

In the large scheme of cabinet design, framed vs. frameless cabinets mostly comes down to which look you like the best. Frameless is a more streamlined, clean look, but a full-overlay framed cabinet can achieve the same look. Most cabinets that you must assemble yourself will only come in a frameless style. Most traditional cabinets come with a frame. Inset cabinet doors tend to be more expensive due to the precision in matching the cabinet doors inside the frame.

Quality of Construction

The quality of your cabinetry is a matter of longevity. Undergoing a kitchen renovation is long and laborious, so you want to select a level of construction that matches with your goals for how long you want the cabinetry to last within the budget that you can afford. Most reputable manufacturers, including stock cabinet manufacturers offer a limited lifetime warranty on their products, so be careful of manufacturers or cabinet lines that offer less. Here are some basics on what to look for in recognizing the level of quality of cabinetry components:

Premium Quality: Expensive

Solid Wood
Dovetail Joinery

Solid Wood Dovetail Joinery Full Extension Drawer Slide

Standard Quality: Affordable

Particle Board Veneer Nailed Joinery Integrated with Soft Close

Base Line Quality: Limited Budget

MDF Veneered Panel Stapled / Glued Joinery Integrated without Soft Close


Once you have selected the vendor / manufacturer for your cabinets, the most important thing to consider when buying your cabinets is not only the overall use and design of your kitchen, but the design of the individual cabinets and storage spaces. The details will determine the level of functionality and usability of your space.

Important things to consider when selecting your cabinet components:

  • *** Where are your appliances going?

  • *** What size are your appliances?

  • What do you need to store in your kitchen?

  • Will the cabinets / drawers be deep and wide enough to store the size of your pots & pans?

  • Do you need an area to store cleaning supplies away from food?

  • How many sets of dishes and cutlery do you have? Where do you plan on storing them in your kitchen?

  • Will any drawers or cabinet doors conflict with the refrigerator or dishwasher doors when opened?

  • How much space do you need for storing un-refrigerated food items, such as dried or canned foods, spices, condiments, and coffee & teas?

  • Do you need for storing large items, such as cookie baking sheets, casserole dishes, display dishes, serving dishes?

  • Where will you store your small appliances, such as your toaster, blender, food processor, coffee maker, etc.?

  • Will you have any small appliances that permanently take up space on your countertops, such as toaster ovens, blenders, or coffee makers?

  • Where and how will you store your Tupperware?

  • Are your dishes & cutlery stored close enough to the dishwasher that you can unload your dishwasher with ease?

  • Where will you store your finer dish items, such as wine glasses, china, special display platters?

*** You will need to know this before designing your cabinetry.

Door Styles

There are many options for door styles and finishes. Each company will have their own variation of door styles and finishes. Here are some of the basics:


An arch style door features a rounded arch at the top of the door panel, which may be either raised or recessed. Compare with a square style.


A square style door features a straight perimeter frame around the center panel, which may be either raised or recessed. Compare with an arch style.


A slab style door is a flat door without a raised or recessed panel.

Recessed Panel

A recessed panel door has a flat panel recessed inside the perimeter of a door. Compare to a raised panel door.

Raised Panel

A raised panel door features a more decorative center panel that rises in the center. Compare to a recessed panel door.

Wood Types


Commonly used for a rustic look with knotholes, burls and mineral streaks. Can also go with modern/industrial with a darker finish.


Medium-density hardwood with a distinct, moderate grain pattern. Versatile, useful for designs that are anywhere from casual to refined.


Cherry ranges from tan blonde to deep brown and darkens naturally as it ages, blending hues from golden yellow to deep red. Cherry adds elegance to any décor and can be taken back in history or forward in fashion.


The hardest wood with the widest color variation. Random burls, knots and mineral streaks give each hickory kitchen a unique sensibility.


Full of character, maple works well in many styles and finishes. It ranges from creamy white to pale reddish brown and has a subtle grain pattern and smooth, uniform appearance. It may include tiny "bird's eye" dots and mineral streaks.


Oak has a very strong, open-grain pattern and tawny patina, from salmon red to dark cinnamon. It may include random worm holes, mineral deposits, knots and wild-grain patterns. Oak is a durable hardwood suited to traditional, casual or rustic looks.

Rift Oak

Rift Oak is cut at an angle to the rings of the tree, so that its grain shows off interesting "flames," "flakes," and "rays." Its distinctly artistic look can be applied to any style and can look dramatically modern.

Finish Techniques

Each company has their own finishes, but here are a description of a few finishing processes:

Burnished Finish Process

Burnished finishes create a warm, traditional look, resulting in unique, fine-furniture detailing on cabinetry. This multi-step process includes an artistic over-sanding technique to create the aged look of fine furniture, randomly applied worm holes and compression marks to add additional distressing, and a dark burnishing stain artistically applied to all raised or profiled portions of doors and drawer fronts. The burnishing stain is followed by a base color stain, which is then hand-wiped to reveal the inherent beauty and natural characteristics of the wood. As a final step, an oven-cured topcoat is applied to provide a beautiful and durable furniture finish. Because this process features several different techniques, the detail and look will vary from piece to piece.

Suede Finish Process

Suede topcoat is a softened sheen that provides the same resistance to scuffs, dents, moisture, UV fade and household chemicals as our standard topcoat. The suede topcoat is standard on distressed finishes, and available on certain other finishes. Talk to your kitchen designer about the best finishes and finish techniques to get the look you love.

Distressed Finish Process

The distressed technique replicates the look of reclaimed wood. Using proprietary techniques, our skilled artisans carefully hand-distress and detail every door so each one is unique. A dark burnishing stain is carefully brushed onto corners and select raised areas. After the stain is hand-rubbed into the wood, a durable matte suede topcoat is used to complete the distressed look.

Highlight Finish Process

Highlighted finishes feature a standard stain that is "highlighted" with hand-applied glaze color in the recessed areas of doors and drawer fronts. This unique process does not alter the base color of the door, yet adds an additional highlight color to enhance the profiles and recesses of the door design. As a final step, an oven-cured topcoat is applied to provide a beautiful and durable furniture finish.

Glaze Finish Process

Glazed finishes add richness and warmth to wood surfaces. The base stain or paint finish is applied followed by the application of a glaze finish to the entire door or drawer front. The glaze is then hand-wiped to create a soft, light "hang up" in profiles and recesses of the wood. Each door design, wood species and glaze finish has its own charming character and will create a unique, one-of-a-kind look. As a final step, an oven-cured topcoat is applied to provide a beautiful and durable furniture finish.

Painted Finish Process

Painted finishes feature several coats of a heavily pigmented stain using an automated application process. These finishes are semi-opaque, meaning some of the natural beauty of the wood grain may show through the painted finish. As a final step, an oven-cured topcoat is applied to provide a beautiful and durable furniture finish.

Stained Finish Process

Stained finishes showcase the inherent natural beauty and characteristics of each individual wood species. The stain is applied and hand-rubbed to ensure full and equal color coverage. As a final step, an oven-cured topcoat is applied to provide a beautiful and durable furniture finish.

Thermofoil Finish Process

Available in white or soft cream, Thermofoil cabinet doors feature a flawless, silky-smooth surface. Thermofoil material is applied to medium-density fiberboard (MDF) using an intense heat and pressure-bonding process to ensure durability. Thermofoil finish is made of laminate and provides a uniform look from door to door.

Vintage Finish Process

Vintage finishes give the appearance of heirloom cabinetry that has been well-loved and used through the years. This multi-step process includes an artistic over-sanding technique to create the aged look of fine furniture, randomly applied worm holes and compression marks to add additional distressing, and the application of several coats of paint. The corners and edges of doors and drawers are over-sanded for a second time, revealing the beauty of natural wood. As a final step, an oven-cured topcoat is applied to provide a beautiful and durable furniture finish. Because this process features several different techniques, the detail and look will vary from piece to piece.

Kitchen Configurations

In an L-shaped kitchen layout, a natural work triangle is created from continuous counter space and work stations on two adjacent walls. The benefit of this kitchen floor plan is that it not only provides the cook with an efficient work area, but it typically opens to a nearby room, making it easy for the cook to talk with guests.

The U-shaped kitchen is the most versatile layout for kitchens of all sizes because the layout offers continuous countertops and ample storage that surround the cook on three sides. In larger kitchens, this floor plan is spacious enough to be divided into multiple work stations for cooks to easily prepare a meal together without getting in each other’s way. To maximize storage and keep countertops clutter free, store cooking essentials in a Lazy Susan.

The G-shaped kitchen is a version of the U-shaped kitchen layout, including a peninsula or partial fourth wall of additional cabinets. Depending on the size of the kitchen, G-shaped kitchens can seem cramped. To make the room feel more spacious, open up the wall in a nearby room and create a pass-through or breakfast bar for the family.

The single-wall kitchen floor plan is ideal for smaller homes. The work triangle in this kitchen layout is less like a triangle and more of a work line with all three kitchen zones along one wall. Add storage and maximize the space by stacking cabinetry such as the wall pantry pull-out above the base super storage.

The galley kitchen layout has a workspace large enough for one cook. In this kitchen floor plan, the work stations face each other on parallel walls, creating a small work triangle. Similar to the single-wall kitchen floor plan, you may opt to stack storage solutions to maximize space. If possible, add a pass-through to open up the kitchen, but keep the lower wall for base cabinetry.

Optional Features

Special features can be added to your cabinetry to make life easier, but they can increase the cost of your cabinetry by 20%.

Useful features include:

  • Trash and recycling pull-out

  • Built-in charging station

  • Roll-out shelving

  • Spice cabinet storage

  • Knife & cutlery storage

  • Cleaning supply storage

  • Plate storage

  • Coffee Station

  • Desk

  • Message Board

  • Snack zone

  • TV / Microwave

  • Adjustable drawer dividers

  • Bar Area

  • Under-cabinet lighting

  • Base pots & pans storage

  • Small appliance garage

  • Lazy Susan

  • Pantry

  • Glass-front storage for display

  • LED toe-kick lighting

  • Glass shelving

  • Oven cabinet

  • Cookbook Shelving

  • Tall pantry pull-out

  • Pull-out cutting board

  • Wine rack/storage


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