The Ultimate Guide to Buying Kitchen Cabinets

by Sam Ferris
White kitchen cabinets
Photo courtesy of Wellborn Cabinet.
?Whether you?re remodeling your kitchen or building a new home, this guide will help you navigate the kitchen cabinet buying process. It covers where to start, what cabinets are made of, colors, current kitchen trends and more.

To put it lightly, kitchen cabinets are important. Not only are they often the first thing guests see when they enter your kitchen, they?re also a key cog in the functionality of your kitchen.

You might sense just how important they are when you?re looking to buy new ones. Door styles, wood species, and layout ? the list of decisions can be a long one.
That said, these decisions are best made when you?re informed, and that?s our goal with this guide ? to demystify the process and equip you with the knowledge to make smart decisions. So, grab a pen and paper and get the full scoop on kitchen cabinets.?
Where to start
You should start by analyzing your current kitchen and jotting down measurements. This will speed up the process when you meet with a designer.
Specifically, the following three tasks should be completed before you head to a local retailer and start searching for colors and door styles.
Assess your needs
Start here. You and your designer won't know where to start if you haven't made a list of your needs.?

If you?re remodeling your kitchen, you?re probably not happy with how the space is configured. This is especially true when homeowners are buying new cabinets.

Are you tired of bending and reaching into the recesses of your corner cabinets? Do you lack storage or counter space? Do you want island seating for entertaining?

Whatever your needs are, create a wish list and show it to your designer. You can then find solutions together when designing your new cabinetry.?
Evaluate your layout
Once you make your wish list, it?s time to evaluate your layout.

Every kitchen layout is different. Some are u-shaped, others are l-shaped. Some are also galley kitchens.

While we often see functionality issues in u-shaped kitchens, any type of layout can present challenges. ?The key is to identify the issues your layout is causing before you buy kitchen cabinets.

If navigating your kitchen space is a chore, your layout probably isn?t functional. If your kitchen space feels closed off from the rest of your home, you might consider removing a wall to open the space up.
Once you take a critical look at your layout, you have talking points for your designer. Your designer will be able to suggest solutions when they hear these and see the space.
Measure your kitchen space
Professionals typically measure your kitchen before they order cabinets, but you can get an estimate faster when you show up to an appointment with your own measurements.

There?s more to measure than just the length of your walls. You need to crunch the following numbers:
  1. The length of your walls. This is priority number one. Don?t only include cabinets ? measure the entire wall. Your designer may be able to utilize extra space.
  2. The height of your ceiling. This measurement will determine the height of your wall cabinets. If your ceiling is the standard eight feet high, for instance, your wall cabinets will likely be 36 to 39 inches high (we?ll explain why later).
  3. The center points of your sink, stove and windows. Start from the end of one wall and measure to the center point of the appliance/window. These measurements are critical, even if you?re planning to relocate your sink or stove. Designers plan your cabinet layout around these often immobile appliances. Include the trims on your windows.?
  4. The size of your appliances. Include your sink, stove/range, refrigerator and microwave. Appliances have standard widths; heights and depths tend to vary. Your designer needs to make sure your appliances will fit in your new cabinet design.
Get a quick summary of what you need to measure with this infographic.
What are kitchen cabinets made of??
They aren?t just made from wood. Kitchen cabinets are also made from laminate and medium-density fiberboard (MDF), though wood still reigns supreme.

Here?s an overview of these three compositions and their pros and cons. ?

Kitchen cabinets aren?t created equal.

That isn?t to say one species of wood is better than the other. What we mean is that there are many types of wood species available, each with different characteristics.

You?ll come across the following species during your kitchen cabinet search:
  • Maple: clean appearance with soft wood tones
  • Oak: heavy grains, streaks and small knots
  • Hickory: strong grain characteristics
  • Cherry: relatively clean in appearance, dark streaks, small knots and a reddish tint
  • Walnut: rich color, generally straight-grained
  • Alder: knotty appearance, slight reddish tint

Needless to say, the wood species you choose can define the look of your kitchen.

Maple is a good choice for contemporary kitchens because of how smooth and clean it looks. You may want oak for a country or rustic design because of how raw it looks. Or you might choose cherry cabinets to create an elegant traditional design.

Medium-density fiberboard is an engineered product comprised of wood fibers and other materials such as wax and resin.

Thermofoil is a type of plastic finish that is applied to a medium-density fiberboard.?

Laminate cabinets feature a thin layer of laminated material applied to pressed wood or medium-density fiberboard. ?The laminate is typically applied to the door style, as well as the pressed wood or medium-density fiberboard.?

They are easy to maintain, budget-friendly and have a clean, contemporary look, which makes them great choices for apartments and commercial properties.?

Wood vs. laminate vs. MDF
Here are the pros to buying wood cabinets:
  • They?re the most durable form of cabinetry
  • They?re the most desirable form of cabinetry

Homebuyers love wood cabinets. You just can?t replicate the natural beauty of wood in laminate or MDF.

On the flip side, the biggest reason to buy laminate or MDF cabinets is the price tag.

Neither option is as expensive as wood cabinets. If you own a rental property or are flipping a house, laminate and MDF can save money.

The drawback to laminate and MDF cabinets is that they aren?t as durable as wood cabinets.

That isn?t to say that they?re flimsy. Both options typically hold up well over time. But they may not last as long as wood cabinets. They may suffer damage when exposed to moisture or may undergo color changes when exposed to heat.

If you?re going to purchase laminate or MDF cabinets, there are two solutions to deal with moisture and heat:
  • Opt for a sink base (the cabinet that holds your sink) that has an all-plywood construction
  • Install a delamination shield in cabinets near your stove
Selecting your cabinet door style
Examples of kitchen cabinet door styles
Door styles courtesy of Wellborn Cabinet.
Admittedly, door style is a detail that is easy to overlook. You spend the bulk of your time planning your layout and your cabinet color.

But they?re an important piece of your kitchen?s aesthetics. They can define the style of your kitchen just as much as color can.
Specific door styles and designs vary by manufacturer. However, you should be familiar with these universal terms that apply to cabinet door styles:

Inset doors
Inset doors are situated within the frame of your kitchen cabinets. They don?t cover any of the cabinet?s outside or middle frame, which allows for a sleeker finish.

Full overlay
A cabinet door with full overlay will completely cover all of your cabinet?s frame. This places the attention on your door style rather than a sleek, flushed look. ?
Traditional overlay
Similar to full overlay, doors with traditional overlays partially cover your cabinet?s frame, exposing an inch or two of frame on both sides.

Recessed panel
Recessed door styles feature a panel that looks sunken in to the door frame. It can be a clean look or it can have detail around the panel.

Raised panel
Opposite of recessed door styles, raised panels jut out from the door frame and typically contain added detail around the panel. Raised panel door styles are a popular choice for traditional cabinet designs.

These door styles have panels with an arch at the top. The arch can also have a cathedral-style design.

Slab door fronts are just that ? a slab of wood with no added detail. They are used frequently in modern designs.

The most universal term on this list, a shaker-style door has a single recessed panel in the middle of the door frame. They are often used in contemporary kitchen cabinet designs.?

A brief rundown of kitchen cabinet colors
Kitchen cabinet colors including stains and paints
Stains and paints courtesy of Wellborn Cabinet.
Like door styles, kitchen cabinet colors vary by manufacturer, though you?ll notice some overlap as you?re shopping for cabinets.

The color of your kitchen cabinets is determined by the finish applied to the wood?s surface. Here are four common finish methods. We provide you with technical definitions, but once you see the color options for the cabinets you?re looking at, you?re going to like what you like, regardless of whether it?s a stain or a paint.
Kitchen cabinets with a stain finish
Kitchen cabinets with a stain finish. Photo courtesy of Wellborn Cabinet.
Stains seep into the wood species and bring out the wood?s character with a specific color. They can be any color but are usually shades of browns, which helps enhance the wood?s natural characteristics.
Kitchen cabinets with a grey paint finish
These kitchen cabinets feature a grey paint finish. Photo courtesy of Wellborn Cabinet.
Unlike stains, paints don?t seep into the wood. They remain fixed to the surface. As a result, you normally can?t see much of a wood?s character when a paint is applied.

Paints are normally ?non-wood? colors, such as whites, reds, blues, greens, yellows, and so on.
Examples of kitchen cabinet glazes
Samples courtesy of Wellborn Cabinet.
Glazes add character to your cabinet door frames by creating a slightly darker color in corners and recesses.
Lacquer is a liquid made of synthetic substances. It forms a protective coat on wood once it dries.

Lacquer can have a matte appearance or a high-gloss sheen. Picture shiny European-style cabinets for an idea of what lacquer finishes look like.??
Your kitchen cabinet design
You may have specific cabinets you?d like your designer to include, or you may not have a preference. Your designer will be able to help you piece together your cabinet design either way.

Whether you have a galley kitchen or a u-shaped kitchen, these are cabinet terms you need to be familiar with when you?re working with your designer.

Base cabinets
Base cabinets (also called lower cabinets) are normally 34 ? inches high and 24 inches deep. These are standard sizes, though both of these numbers can often be increased or decreased.

There are many options available for base cabinets, but the main two aesthetic choices are either doors or drawers. We?ll talk about doors vs. drawers and some of your options further down in this section.

Wall cabinets
Wall cabinets (also called upper cabinets) are typically 12 inches deep (this can be increased or decreased depending on customization options), but they don?t have a standard height like base cabinets do.

While most homes tend to have either 36-inch or 39-inch high wall cabinets, the height of your wall cabinets will ultimately depend on the height of your kitchen ceiling.

That may seem challenging, but it?s actually really easy. You can figure out the optimal wall cabinet height for your kitchen with this formula:
Wall cabinet height = Ceiling height ? (Base cabinet height + backsplash height + countertop thickness + crown molding height)*
You?re probably wondering what the standard height measurements are for base cabinets, countertops, backsplash, ceiling, and crown molding. Here they are:
  • The standard base cabinet height is 34 ? inches
  • The standard countertop thickness?is 1 ? inches
  • The standard backsplash height is 18 inches
  • The standard ceiling height is 96 inches, or eight feet
  • There is no standard height for crown molding ? the height will depend on the style you select

So let?s work out an example kitchen. Let?s say Customer X has a 96-inch high ceiling and has selected a 3-inch crown molding.?Our equation would look like this:
Wall cabinet height = 96 ? (34 ? + 1 ? + 18 + 3)
Customer X?s kitchen should have 39-inch high wall cabinets. Easy, right?

*If your backsplash height is larger or smaller than 18 inches, input the correct number. If you?re not including crown molding in your cabinet design, plug in the amount of space you intend to leave between the top of your wall cabinets and the ceiling.?
Kitchen cabinet drawers and doors
Photo courtesy of Cambria USA.
?Drawers vs. doors
Full disclosure: we prefer drawers. We think they?re more functional for these reasons:
  • You can see all of your dishware and cooking utensils at a glance, which reduces bending and reaching. There?s also no digging around involved.
  • Bigger drawers (think 30+ inches wide) have superb storage capabilities

The biggest drawback to drawers is that they're more expensive than doors.

But not every homeowner prefers drawers like we do, and that?s OK. Some are fond of doors for these reasons:
  • They prefer how doors look rather than drawers
  • They like how inexpensive doors are in comparison to drawers

If you?re fond of doors and want to make grabbing your pots and pans easier, install slide out shelves. You may lose some storage space, but these roll out drawers are easier on your back and knees.
White kitchen cabinets with crown molding and glass door fronts
Kitchen cabinets with crown molding and glass door fronts. Photo courtesy of Wellborn Cabinet.
The upgrades to base and wall cabinets are countless, but we?ll go over some common ones.
  • Soft close drawers: You won?t be able to slam drawers when you?re angry (that?s a good thing, right?), but soft close drawers preserve the structure of your cabinets in the long run.
  • Corner cabinets: Blind cabinet corners are standard protocol. A Lazy Susan, kidney-shaped pullout, and drawers are just a few ways to make your corner cabinets easier to access.
  • Crown molding: Crown molding is a detail that can add a decorative touch to the top of your wall cabinets. ?
  • Matching ends: The standard finish for cabinet ends (the end of your cabinet that isn?t covered by a wall or other cabinet) is a flushed skin, which is essentially a piece of plywood. If you want something more elegant, an end panel that matches your cabinet door style will do the trick.
  • Glass door fronts: Give guests a glimpse of your personal spaces with clear, reeded, seeded, or frosted glass door fronts. For an in-depth overview of glass door fronts, check out this article I penned for Houzz.
  • Decorative legs: These can add furniture-style detail to an island or base cabinet.
  • Special finishes: An antique or old world stain is a sure-fire way to give your cabinets character.
  • Custom drawer pullouts: Spice racks, utensil drawers, and wastebasket drawers make the food prep and clean up processes more efficient.
If there?s a specific upgrade you want, always ask your designer about it. It?s probably (though not always) possible.??
What do kitchen cabinets cost??
Now for the big reveal. We know it?s all about the bottom line.

Truthfully, it?s hard to pinpoint a one-size-fits-all cost for kitchen cabinets ? even within the same manufacturer. Wellborn Cabinet, Inc., for example, has four different line options, all at different price points.
Giving a price estimate gets even harder when we talk about pre-fabricated or semi-custom cabinets versus custom cabinets.

We'll try our best, though. In our experience, this is how pricing normally goes (we give a range to account for kitchen size and stains/paints/glazes):
  • Standard pre-made cabinets with no frills can cost anywhere from $5,000-$10,000.
  • Semi-custom cabinets with a few frills and upgrades (i.e. crown molding, Lazy Susans, wastebasket pullouts) can run between $10,000 and $20,000.
  • High-end semi-custom or custom cabinets with all the bells and whistles (soft close drawers, molding and trims, pullouts) will cost upwards of $20,000.
While kitchen cabinets are a big investment no matter what size your kitchen is, you do have some control over the price. The price will ultimately depend on what you select, so don?t be too intimidated by the numbers.
How to clean kitchen cabinets
Kitchen cabinet maintenance depends on how your cabinets are constructed and the type of finish you selected.
Here are several general guidelines to follow when you?re cleaning your kitchen cabinets, courtesy of Wellborn Cabinet, Inc.:

What to use
For stained wood cabinets:
  • A cotton cloth that is dry, clean, soft, and lint-free
  • A wax and silicone free polish (do not apply directly to the surface of your cabinets)

For painted wood cabinets, laminate and thermofoil:
  • A cotton cloth that is dry, clean, soft, and lint-free
  • A special cabinet cleaner, such as Guardsman Cabinet Cleaner

For glass door fronts:
  • A cotton cloth that is dry, clean, soft, and lint-free
  • Glass cleaner

Tips to follow for both stained and painted cabinets:
  • Don?t forget to wipe up spills and splatters. They can ruin your cabinet finish, whether it?s a stain or paint, if they aren?t cleaned up immediately.
  • Don?t use dishcloths to clean your cabinets ? they can contain grease and detergents.
  • Don?t use any type of abrasive sponges or cleaners on your cabinets.
  • Prevent long-term exposure to moisture.?
What's popular right now in kitchen cabinet design??
Trendy kitchen cabinets
Photo courtesy of Wellborn Cabinet.
So you?re a trend watcher. We like that.

It?s important to pay attention to what?s popular if you?re remodeling your kitchen. Resale value matters, and an outdated cabinet design won?t sell.
Here are kitchen cabinet trends broken down by color, door style, layout, and cabinet details.

In general, kitchen cabinets are moving toward light-complected stains and paints, such as:
  • Greys
  • Taupes
  • Off-whites
  • Light woods

Standard white cabinets are still popular as well.
Door Styles
Ornate, raised panel door styles are being swapped out for more simplistic designs, such as Shaker-style, slab door fronts, or other recessed styles.

Open-concept design is in. Homeowners like to pair their kitchen cabinets with an island to help organize work zones.?

Homeowners are also ditching details such as moldings, decorative legs, and trim, sticking to simple, clutter-free cabinet designs.

Corpus Christi Kitchen Cabinet Trends
While these are all trends we?ve noticed both locally and nationally, they aren?t the only trends we?re seeing in Corpus Christi.

Dark and medium-toned wood cabinets are still hot commodities in the South Texas region.?Homeowners here also tend to favor traditional door?styles with raised panels, as well as crown molding, corbels, decorative legs and more.
Custom cabinets vs. prefabricated cabinets
One of the dilemmas you?ll face as you?re shopping for kitchen cabinets is whether to buy custom cabinets or prefabricated cabinets.

But before you make a decision, you need to know what each term means.

Custom cabinets are hand-crafted cabinets that are built on-site to fit your kitchen space, which means the size and depth of each cabinet can be customized. Custom cabinets normally (but don?t always) include extra details such as crown molding, fluted molding, corbels, and matching cabinet ends.

Prefabricated cabinets are pre-made cabinet boxes built in a factory. Theses boxes come in pre-selected sizes and don?t include moldings, trims and other details ? they have to be purchased separately.

Semi-custom prefabricated cabinets are pre-made cabinet boxes but have some customization options available (like changing the depth, adding a matching end, etc.).

Now that you?re better informed, let?s take a look at the pros and cons of each.

The benefits to custom cabinets:
  • More customization. They won?t look generic and will reflect your style and taste. They usually include more details.
  • Less fillers and wasted space. Since they?re built to fit your space, cabinetmakers won?t have to piece pre-made cabinets together like a puzzle, which can require filler to make the sizes fit your layout.

The disadvantage to custom cabinets:
  • They?re more expensive. More detail (and more time) costs more money.
  • They take more time.?They take longer to build and install than prefabricated cabinets. Plus, if your custom cabinets aren't pre-stained or pre-painted, you have to hire additional contractors and wait for them to stain/paint your cabinets.?

The benefits to prefabricated cabinets:
  • They?re less expensive. It takes a lot less time to build a cabinet in a factory than it does by hand. This is especially true when there are less frills (molding, trim) involved.
  • They?re ready to install. Once you purchase prefabricated cabinets, the order is placed and the cabinets are built in a factory. They are then delivered to you in assembled, pre-stained (or pre-painted) boxes. Prefabricated cabinets are ideal for kitchen remodels because they speed up the renovation process.

The disadvantage to prefabricated cabinets:
  • Your options may be limited. Because prefabricated cabinets are made in pre-determined sizes, the exact piece you need to fit your kitchen space may not be available. There?s usually a solution, but sometimes the shoe just won?t fit, so to speak. ?

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