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The cabinets are the main elements in any kitchen design; they allow you to personalize your decor and define the room's style and identity.
Since new cabinets represent a sizeable expense, it is important to understand their various types and features. While the look and style of your cabinets is of course an essential aspect, it is not the only point to consider. Materials and construction methods are also very important factors. This buyer's guide is designed to help you choose the kitchen cabinets best suited to your needs and style preferences.
What is your budget for the project?
What look do you want to achieve?
Is the kitchen an irregular shape?
What are your storage requirements?
Do you need to integrate universal design features?
There are three main types of cabinets:
Base cabinets rest on the floor and support the countertop. Their standard height is between 34 ½" and 36" and their standard depth varies between 24" and 30".
Wall cabinets hang on the wall and do not touch the floor. Wall cabinets can be 12", 15", 18", 30", 36" or 42" high. Their depth varies between 12" and 18". They are typically installed 18" above work surfaces and 54" above the floor.
Tall cabinets, for example pantries, are 84" to 94" high and come in standard depths of 12" to 18".
While cabinets are always manufactured to a certain standard regardless of their type or size, the customer's choice will be influenced by budget, delivery deadline and chosen design. Cabinets are either stock (prefabricated), semi-custom or custom.
Sold ready-assembled in home improvement stores or kitchen centres, stock cabinets come in standard sizes.
Semi-custom cabinets come in standard sizes but are made to order and offer more personalized options in terms of design, storage and style.
Custom cabinets are made by kitchen designers according to the client's specifications.
1- Face frame
Framed cabinets have a frame around the front of the cabinet box made of the same material as the drawers and doors. The frame stabilizes the box. Here, the hinges are visible and are attached directly to the frame. Framed cabinets work well in a traditional decor, and the doors can be replaced easily.
Frameless (or European-style) cabinets have no frame around the cabinet box; the doors and drawers cover the box's edges. The side panels of the cabinet box are thicker to provide stability. The door hinges are attached directly to the side panels, which offer greater storage space. Over time, the doors may become misaligned, however, and the hinges may need to be adjusted. Frameless cabinets are well suited to contemporary-style kitchens.
The sides of the cabinet are usually between ½" and ¾" thick. They are generally unfinished and are typically made of one of the following materials:
3- Back panel and bottom of cabinet
The back panel and the bottom of the cabinet are key structural components. They support and ensure the rigidity of the whole cabinet. A back panel made of ½" plywood will prevent the cabinet from warping over time. However, a back panel of just ¼" thick is sufficient for a base cabinet, since it is not used to hold the cabinet to the wall.
There are two types of cabinet doors – those made from a single piece of material, and those built from a frame and an inner panel. The latter is the most popular style and comprises a wood frame with a central panel made either of wood or of MDF covered with the chosen finish. Solid wood doors are more prestigious but may bend or warp over the years due to humidity fluctuations. However, the surface of solid wood will not peel and its colour will not fade.
When it comes to cabinet door designs, the options are practically limitless, though they can be grouped into six main categories to help make the choice easier:
In addition to the size of kitchen drawers and their intended purpose, it is also worth considering how they are constructed, for this affects their durability. First, it is important to know that the sides of solid wood drawers are 5/8" to ¾" thick. Drawers made from particleboard are only ½" thick and are more susceptible to warping, so they may not be the best long-term choice. For drawer bottoms, ¼" plywood is the best option.
Though wood drawers are the most popular option, some manufacturers make models with metal sides. These are well suited to frameless cabinets.
The mortise is a square hole made in one part and the tenon is the protruding peg on the other part that fits into the mortise at right-angles. For an extra-sturdy structure, the tenon may pass all the way through the mortise, although the finished look may be less aesthetically pleasing.
Strong, high-quality joinery technique with superior resistance.
This technique uses round wood dowels (pegs) fitted into holes to join two parts together. Dowels can also be used to strengthen a mortise and tenon joint.
These joints are made by slotting a thin wafer of wood, called a biscuit, into slots on the adjoining parts. When the biscuit comes into contact with glue applied in the slots, it swells and stays wedged in place, creating a strong bond. This quick and straightforward technique is increasingly used in cabinet joinery.
For this joint, a channel or groove is cut along the length of one piece and the projecting edge or tongue on the adjoining piece slots into it.
Similar to tongue and groove, frame and panel joinery consists in machining two parts into shapes (stiles and rails) that fit together. Since there is a large surface area for gluing, this type of joint is very strong.
Shelves are available in fixed or pull-out versions. They are typically made of plywood, MDF or particleboard covered with a layer of another material such as wood veneer or laminate. Shelf thickness can vary from one manufacturer to another, or depending on the customer's requirements, but the standard measurements are ½", 5/8" and ¾" thick. The thicker the shelf, the less likely it is to buckle under weight. Nevertheless, if the shelf is going to be used to hold heavy items such as cans and preserves, it's important that the sides of the cabinet be thick enough to support the load.
7- Toe kick
The toe kick is a recessed area for feet at the bottom of the base cabinet, allowing you to stand closer to the countertop when preparing meals. It is generally 3" deep and 3 ½" high, though it can be made up to 10" high for wheelchair users. Elements such as a central vacuum inlet or even additional drawers can be built into the toe kick. Decorative feet can also be added at the end of a line of cabinets to enhance the appearance.
8- Decorative mouldings and fillers
You can choose from a variety of decorative mouldings, corbels, mosaics or columns to match your cabinets. These enhancements add a touch of elegance and class that can totally transform the look of your kitchen.
9- Pulls, knobs and pendants
Drawer and cabinet pulls, knobs and pendants unify and enhance the overall look of the kitchen.
There are many types of cabinet hinges. Your choice will largely be determined by the type of cabinet you have and its construction method. Some hinges are fitted with soft-close mechanisms, which a practical feature for families with small children; the door closes gently and slowly, no matter how hard it is pushed.
11- Drawer slides (glides)
Drawers run on slides, and this hardware should also be chosen carefully. Some slides offer "full extension", meaning that the drawer can be pulled out fully, allowing easier access to contents. Length of extension will depend on the type of slide chosen. Some slides are fitted with a handy soft-close mechanism, which allows the drawer to be closed smoothly and gently.
Drawer slides can support loads of up to 75-100 lb. Choose the strongest slides for drawers that will hold pots and pans or small appliances.
The material you choose for your cabinets will have a huge impact on your kitchen's finished look and is a key consideration in terms of quality and durability. Whether it is designed in a rustic, modern or traditional style, each type of material has its own specific characteristics that must be given careful thought.
The most popular species:
Sensitive to humidity
Made from a thin layer of wood adhered to plywood
Less costly than solid wood
Less resistant to scratches than solid wood
Decorative paper impregnated with resin, glued to pressed wood
Wide range of colours and patterns
May chip under impact
Made from thin sheets of resin-impregnated paper, heat-sealed together
Much more durable than melamine
More expensive than melamine
Enamelled or lacquer board
Fibreboard coated with lacquer
Allows sleek or sculpted designs
PVC (thermoplastic or thermofoil)
Fibreboard covered with a PVC sheet
More durable than laminate or melamine
More expensive than laminate
Look good in modern decors
Resistant to humidity and temperature changes
Shows scuffs, scratches and fingerprints
Clear, textured or frosted, glass reflects the light and brightens the room
Makes room look larger
Shows fingerprints and clutter
The finish applied to a cabinet door enhances its beauty and its characteristics. There is a finish to complement every decor style and design. Choose from:
Natural wood stain lends a genuine, homey look. Colours range from clear to dark; all are designed to bring out the wood's natural beauty.
Glaze is applied to softly highlight corners and other parts of the cabinet door, adding texture and warmth to the room.
Paint is available in an infinite variety of colours and finishes, from transparent to opaque and matte to gloss. Paint can also be used to distress cabinets and give them an aged or rustic look.
Heirlooming is a type of distressing technique that uses selective sanding to give cabinets a naturally worn look.
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