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3 steps to choosing the right kitchen cabinets

Cabinets set the tone for the whole kitchen

Published: July 17, 2015 08:00 AM

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Cabinets can be the biggest expense in a full kitchen remodel, accounting for up to 40 percent of the overall budget. They also set the visual tone for the kitchen, and they’re a huge part of how well it functions. Bottom line: Get the cabinets right and your chance of loving your new kitchen will go way up. (Planning a kitchen remodel? Tell us about it in the comments below.)

Step 1: Set the budget

Cabinets fall into three categories: stock, semi-custom, and custom. Stock cabinets start around $70 per linear foot (a typical kitchen has 25 to 30 linear feet of cabinets). Home centers sell them fully assembled or stores such as Ikea offer flat-pack versions that will need to be put together onsite; styles and sizes tend to be fairly limited. Semi-custom cabinets, which range from $150 to $250 per linear foot, come in more configurations, so they’ll fit your kitchen more precisely, if not perfectly. Custom cabinets can easily cost $500 or more per linear foot; they’re crafted to your exact specs and can include many personalized features.

Step 2: Choose a style

The big decision is between framed and frameless. Framed cabinets consist of a box and face frame, to which doors and drawers are attached. Frameless cabinets, often referred to as European-style, eliminate the face frame; doors and drawers attach directly to the cabinet box. That provides great accessibility and a more contemporary look. On the downside, the absence of a face frame can compromise rigidity; better manufacturers compensate by using a thicker box—say, ¾-inch plywood instead of ½-inch particleboard. For the European look in a framed cabinet, opt for a full-overlay door, which covers all or most of the face frame.

Step 3: Pick the features

Accessories can improve cabinet functionality, but they’ll also increase the cost by 20 percent or more. A pull-out trash can is a worthwhile addition. Built-in charging stations are helpful, too, because they keep the countertop clear of electronic devices. Appliance garages, those countertop compartments designed to conceal small appliances, don’t always offer the best organization. Instead, consider a lift cabinet with a spring-loaded shelf that swings up and out, providing easy access to a mixer, food processor, or other hefty device.

You’ll save money by keeping features to the essential. But it doesn’t pay in the long run to skimp on the construction. A well-built cabinet has solid wood drawers with dovetail joinery, not stapled particleboard; full-extension drawer guides rather than an integrated rail; and doors with solid wood frames surrounding a solid wood or plywood panel, as opposed to veneered particleboard or a medium-density fiberboard (MDF) panel.

Design tips from the pros

Photo: HFA

Lighting

“Integrated lighting has become very popular. As soon as you open the drawer, the light comes on. We also do a lot of undercabinet lighting, including LED fixtures with a built-in plug for countertop appliances and a USB port to charge your smartphone and other electronics.”—Kathleen Wilber, Ikea, U.S. sales leader for kitchens

Finish

“There’s still plenty of interest in lighter-toned cabinets. But we’re starting to see an uptick in our pebbled gray and chai finishes, as more customers go for a tinted neutral color instead of stark white.”—Tracy Riel, KraftMaid Cabinetry, manager, designer services

Features

“Easy-access, touch-to-open door and drawer releases are catching on. There’s also a preference for more paired-down door styles and greater interior functionality. That includes task-specific features like coffee-service components and pull-out storage that alleviates physical strain while eliminating dead space.”—Amy Benton, BauformatUSA, accounts and marketing manager

Spruce up what you have

If your cabinets are structurally sound and you like the layout, a fresh finish can update your entire kitchen. Repainting is the cheapest option, though to do the job right you’ll need to remove the doors and drawers, clean them with a degreasing agent, sand them, and apply a primer and multiple top coats (or pay a pro about $50 per door).


Cabinet refacing is the other way to go. Best suited to framed units, it involves replacing the doors and drawers and applying new veneers to the face frames and ends. Figure about $150 per cabinet.


Kitchen Remodeling Guide

Thinking about remodeling your kitchen? Here's everything you need to know about the best products and projects from our Kitchen Remodeling Guide.


Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the August 2015 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

 

 


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