by Blake Herzog
Cabinets can dominate your kitchen to the point of making or breaking it, both in terms of appearance and functionality.
So when it’s time to replace them, think about the configuration to take advantage of all the space your floor plan allows, as well as durability of materials and finishes. Consider different options and how they’ll work for you now and down the line.
Once you’ve decided on what combination of fronts, backs and hardware will work for you, now might be a good time to take the plunge. Since the pace of remodeling tends to slow down in winter and around the holidays, you may be able to get your materials at a better price and have an easier time fitting into your chosen contractor’s schedule.
Base cabinets usually end up doing most of the heavy holding in terms of storage, while their wall-hanging counterparts are considered more as design elements, and as such are often sacrificed for other showpieces like windows and backsplashes. But there are designs and sizes that can make both more functional.
Drawers have become bigger and more important for the base cabinets, sometimes replacing all doors below the counter because they’re more accessible to more people and eliminate the need to get down on the floor to go digging around in the back.
Use fewer, larger drawers so they can hold bigger items, and dividers or containers can organize dishes, pots and pans, spices or anything else that might need a little more structure. This does mean they will require heavier-duty gliders and rollers, but these components are relatively easy to secure at a reasonable price.
Frameless cabinets, used above or below the counter, can give you a little more space along with a more contemporary look. On these, the door is attached directly to the sidewall of the cabinet rather than a front-facing frame, allowing complete access to the interior space without having to scooch plates through the front. They tend to be a little more expensive because of the materials used, and may not have as many style choices.
Another option remodelers are turning to is having an entire wall of cabinets, unbroken by counter space. Think about it: how much of the counter do you really use? If there’s a large stretch that is generally ignored or covered by underused gadgets, this could work out. It opens up the kitchen space. And you might be able to eliminate some of the cabinets on another wall.
Unfortunately, there does tend to be some tradeoff between durability and affordability, but it’s always possible to find something that will be functional and budget-friendly, as each option has its own pros and cons.
Hardwood (solid wood) is at the top of the pile in both quality and price, partly due to its popularity. It’s easily sanded down to eliminate dings and scratches, and its natural beauty shows through in slight variations that still add up to a cohesive whole.
But “softer” hardwoods such as pine can scratch and show wear more easily than oak and other sturdier wood species. Solid wood can expand and contract with humidity, which leads to warping, and is quite heavy so you need to make sure the structure around it will be able to hold it in place.
Plywood is lighter, moisture-resistant, and also easy to repair, and its layering of thin slices of wood gives it the best strength-to-weight ratio of any material. It’s much less expensive than hardwood, but the process of making it can lead to spaces and gaps in the product that render it less consistent and dependable than hardwood.
Particleboard (aka chipboard or low-density fiberboard) is recycled wood material, pressed between layers of laminate or wood veneer. It’s quite affordable and relatively environmentally friendly, but most types do not stand up well to long-term use, especially when overloaded.
The most common non-wood options are laminate, composed of resin-soaked sheets to create a durable front surface for cabinets, and thermofoil, which is made from a similar process, but many believe it looks more like actual wood.
Doors & Hardware
As we discussed, traditional doors are becoming more of an option than a requirement. Drawers are being deployed below the counters more frequently, and above-the-belt trends include cabinets with glass fronts, without doors, or simply shelves attached to the wall.
But regular doors are a good thing unless you’ve got the time and energy to make sure your dishes are stacked attractively and aren’t under a layer of dust. Glass doors can be a lovely way to show off your most attractive dishware. When used sparingly, they can be a great accent to your space without putting everything out in the open.
Similarly, door and drawer pulls have become matters of choice and taste, depending on your cabinets’ construction. Most can be opened from any angle and a flat surface may be easier to keep clean, but knobs and handles can be the jewelry of your kitchen, lending a traditional, trendy or arty touch to your décor.
Touchless cabinets are a luxury item for now but can be convenient, especially for garbage or compactor drawers. Pedal-operated base cabinets can be a more affordable alternative, and nearly as effortless.
One more thing: spring for the soft-close hinges. It’s one option that never goes out of style, and you and your family will never regret going with it.
This is where your personality really gets to show, and also where you need to be sure you can live with your decision because the style and color will set the tone for the rest of your kitchen.
Whether to use paint versus wood finish depends on the material you have chosen. If you’ve chosen wood with a heavy grain, knotty patterns and a lot of variance in the appearance, you’ll probably want to highlight those with a wood finish. If they’re relatively uniform and don’t have a lot of “woodiness” to their appearance, you’re more likely to be in the market for a solid color or a multitoned scheme.
As far as the color goes, you can let your preference be your guide over trying to stay abreast with the trends of the moment, but there are some good rules of thumb to go by: darker colors tend to work better in larger kitchens than they do in cramped spaces, and if you’re going with a two-toned look it’s better to use the darker shade on your base cabinets to ground the room.