Did you think your kitchen remodel started and ended with countertops? Sure, your countertops are important for the active phases of your life in the kitchen. However, storage space is essential for avoiding chaos and confusion, so what you do with stuff you aren’t using is just as important. Kitchen cabinets are the silent purveyors of organization, and they are a prominent feature in your kitchen. You need to choose just the right style and finish to suit your needs and personal tastes, as well as complement the overall design.

Choosing the best cabinets for your kitchen

Functionality and form definitely have to marry when you choose your kitchen cabinets, because choosing the wrong one can change the entire look of your kitchen, and leave you without the storage space you need. It can also mean a major expense when you buy, and when you replace. Here are some things you should know before going cabinet shopping.

Door styles

You would be surprised at how the door style will affect the look and space of your cabinets, and there are many styles available. The most basic cabinet styles has to do with construction, and that is framed or frameless.

Framed

Framed cabinets are most common in the US, and involves placing a 1½ inch face on the box, much like a picture frame, from which the doors are connected. All door styles can have a framed version, except the Katana, which is always frameless. Framed cabinets tend to be sturdy.

Frameless

A frameless cabinet is common in the UK and Europe, in which the face is eliminated and the door is connected directly to the sides of the box. The best advantage of frameless cabinets is you can maximize the space of the cabinet. The problem with this type of construction is you can only use a full overlay cabinet door, which is a door style where the entire box is covered. However, if you like a sleek, seamless look to your cabinets, then this is the type of door style you want anyway.

That said, there are many other combination of cabinet styles with regard to door design. Among the most popular are:

Shaker

four-piece frame with center flat panel; it can come with an arch e.g. cathedral or curved, or flat sides

Louvered

horizontal slats, usually made of wood, resembling windows

Flat

minimalist and simple, it is also the most affordable and trendy style today; usually made of wood or laminate

Inset

fits inside the frame of the box rather than over it; requires precise measurements and exposed hinges; tends to be more expensive than other styles

Distressed

uses techniques to give the cabinets a “used” look, much like faded jeans; costs about 20% more than undistressed cabinets; gives an antique look to a kitchen.

Construction

Aside from the construction and design of the door, you also have a plethora of choices in terms of materials. The most common, of course, is wood (more on the different types below). However, there are some new stuff you might want to consider instead.

Thermofoil

made out of fiberboard (MDF) and heat-bonded to a plastic coating, it only comes in wood grain patterns and solid colors; affordable, durable and easy to clean; ideal for the contemporary kitchen of a busy housewife; examples include sleek and stylish high gloss foil cabinets

Stainless Steel

the biggest problems with industrial stainless steel cabinets are the cost and fingerprints, but you can opt for a brushed finish to eliminate the latter; ideal for the modern homeowner with a penchant for clean lines

Lacquered

multiple coats of polished and waxed lacquer over wood for scratch-resistance and durability; imparts a high gloss on any color

TSS

thermo structured surfaces are particle boards heat- and pressure-coated with melamine resins, and designed to simulate wood; durable and appropriate even in a traditional kitchen style

Decorative options

Okay, so you’ve chosen the cabinets you want, drilling down through the options of door styles, material, and color. However, the devil is in the details, so you also have to choose the finishing touches, which can affect the look, function, and cost of the final product.

Hardware

You still have to decide what type of hardware you’ll be using on your cabinets. The first is the hinges, which are usually hidden (except if your cabinets are insets, in which case you’ll use exposed ones). Most modern hinges are adjustable, so choose a good quality one for your new cabinets. You can also choose hinges that are soft-close, so no more banging the cabinets closed inadvertently.

Guides are also a good addition to your drawers, if you have them (you should). Guides will keep the drawers operating more smoothly, and keep it from slipping out when you pull too hard. The cheaper types tend to be made of plastic, so they are less durable, and some only allow you to slide the drawer out three-quarters of the way. Choose good-quality guides that will last a long time and give you access to the deepest recesses of your drawers.

You may also want to choose special hardware such as pull-outs, pull-downs, and lazy Susans. They will give you better access to all your cabinet contents, thus maximizing the space without harboring hidden treasures to be discovered years down the road.

Of course, if you need them, you should pick out the knobs and pulls that will let you open your cabinets and drawers and at the same time tie in with the overall design of the kitchen. A well-chosen pull can make a big difference to the look of your kitchen.

Millwork

These are the finishing touches the cabinet makers and installers will put on your new cabinets once it is in place based on your preferences. In most cases, you can choose standard millwork for your cabinets. These include crown molding to finish off the top, valances to finish off the bottoms, toe kicks to protect the cabinet base, and scribes and inserts that fill in blank spaces on the cabinets.

Wood types

The most common material for kitchen cabinets is wood because it is intrinsically warm and welcoming, as a kitchen should be. Since natural wood tends to include unique features such as knots, mineral deposits, and age rings, they also serve to make your kitchen more distinctive and beautiful with the right stain and finish, that only gets better with time.

However, wood is porous and may warp over time. It is important to control the humidity and temperature in the kitchen to maintain your wood cabinets. As a rule of thumb, you want your humidity levels at 35% at 20 degrees centigrade or higher temperatures, and 20% or more when the temperature is below 20 degrees centigrade.

Several wood types are particularly chosen for kitchen cabinets. Among these are:

Rustic alder

reddish in tint and relatively soft for a hardwood, it is a good surface for stains and finishes

Cherry

starting off as tan blonde to deep brown, this elegant wood darkens with age, acquiring warmer hues over time

Maple

naturally light colored with subtle grain patterns and a smooth, even appearance, it works with many types of finishes and designs

Oak

typically earth-toned, ranging from salmon red to dark reddish brown, this very durable wood usually has open grain patterns and random features such as knots, mineral deposits, and wormholes that make it suitable for rustic and traditional kitchens

Stain and paint options

Staining and painting are meant to give the cabinet surface a uniform look, but you have to be careful. Choosing the right one can bring out the best in your cabinet material and style, while the wrong one can cancel out any benefits for which you paid, such as a beautiful wood grain pattern. The question is, when should you paint, and when should you stain?

Experts agree that you should paint cabinet materials with a flat surface with no heavy graining meant to hold paint, such as MDF, plywood, or poplar. Thermofoil and TSS typically come off the line finished, so there is no need to stain or paint. For all other materials, especially custom cabinets, a standard stain appropriate for a particular material is indicated. If you want a custom color matching, it usually means having it done by a separate finisher. While this may cost a little more than a standard finish, it will be worth it.