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Choosing Kitchen Cabinets

Where To Start & What To Know

Choosing kitchen cabinets is probably the biggest if not the most nerve-wracking decision you’ll make for your kitchen. It’s easy to understand since the cabinets have a big impact on your budget as well as how your kitchen looks. They’re one of the first things you see when you walk in a kitchen and have a large influence on the whole “feel” of the room.

Looks aren’t the whole story however and with cabinets there is an element of ‘you-get-what-you-pay-for’. That’s because they’re made with a variety of construction techniques using several different materials in a “good”, “better”, “best” fashion. Besides that there are options to consider like full extension drawers, soft-close hinges and many others, and they can have a big impact on the overall cost.

If you’re now thinking that you’ll need to mortgage the farm to afford decent cabinets, don’t worry. You can still find good products at an affordable price and it doesn’t have to incorporate the absolute best materials or the latest organizer gizmos.

Just be aware however that cabinets generally consume about half of the typical kitchen budget so you’ll want to be sure you know what you’re getting for your money. The best way to do that is to understand the differences in construction and materials and how those elements impact their quality and durability.

Now before you run off and start choosing wood grains and door styles, stop and think about your lifestyle, how you use your kitchen and how much storage space you need. The best decisions start with good planning. The fun stuff like choosing colors, options and the like will come soon enough but you don’t want to put the cart before the horse.

Choosing Kitchen Cabinets – Where Do I Begin?

The first thing you want to do is get some clarity on your goals for how you want your kitchen to look and function so that you’re ultimately satisfied with the end result. You should do this regardless of whether you’re replacing your existing cupboards (essentially staying with the same layout) or starting with a completely new layout plan.

Here are some questions to help you with that effort:

What don’t you like about your current cabinets?
Pin down exactly what it is you dislike so that you can look for solutions to those issues when it’s time to buy new.

Maybe you don’t have enough space or perhaps it’s poorly allocated space (like that 3-ft deep upper cabinet where only the first 12 inches are accessible)? Maybe your current cupboards are just the wrong style or they don’t have good organizational features.

The more specific you can be about what it is you want to have or change, the more focused you’ll be about targeting the right options from the myriad of choices that are available.

How long do you plan on staying in the home – are you updating for the purpose of reselling or do you plan on staying long term?
The answer to this question may determine the price you’re willing to pay as well as the level of customization, uniqueness and the quality of construction you want to build in. If you plan to stay in your current home indefinitely, you may want to spend more of your budget on durable construction and materials. On the other hand, if you’re a real estate investor interested in house flipping for a quick resale, you may want to limit your investment to a functional but more cost-effective cabinet style and construction.

What is the style of your home and your kitchen?
Your existing decor and style of home plays a role in the type of cabinetry to choose. The converse is also true too — the style you choose will influence the look and feel of your kitchen.

Do you want to stay with the existing style or do you want to change it? Period cabinets are appropriate for classic antique homes when retaining the style of that era is desired. Updated European style cabinets work well in a contemporary kitchen.

Regardless of which way you go, identifying the style you’re looking for will help narrow your focus on the available choices and also provide some guidance to kitchen designers or cabinets makers you might work with.

Are you looking for environmentally friendly choices?
Going green is certainly possible with products made from bamboo, reclaimed wood or wheat board. As the green movement continues to grow so do the choices for home products, including cabinetry. Sources for bamboo cabinets and other renewable and sustainable materials are also growing with the demand, making it easier to find and purchase these types of products.

What amount of storage space do you need? Is it greater than what you currently have?
Look at what you currently have on your countertops or in other places where you put things that you’d rather store inside your cabinets. Knowing how much “stuff” you need to accommodate will help you understand the amount of space you’ll need. Remember that the fewer items you permanently store on your countertops (like a cake mixer or the flower and sugar containers) the more working space you’ll have.

What is most important to you – aesthetic appeal or durability and quality construction?
Let’s face it; all of the advertisements and magazine articles we see depicting kitchen cabinets are usually high-end, expensive designs with lots of up-charge options. Achieving your dream kitchen is a worthy goal but be realistic. When there’s a limited budget it may not be possible to afford high quality materials and construction as well as exotic woods and finishes. Be wise about allocating your money between quality materials/construction and aesthetic items like door styles, finishes and ornamentation. Usually there’s a happy medium somewhere in between.

Replacing the knobs and pulls with new ones is another way to change the look of existing cupboards. Don’t think that entirely new cabinets are necessary if the only problem with your existing ones are some tired doors and/or a style that no longer appeals to you. Replacement doors, hardware and even refacing can provide a totally new look at a lower cost than new units.

Do you need cabinets for an outdoor kitchen, laundry room or garage?
Yes, there are cabinets for outdoor kitchens too. Because of their outside location you’ll need to look at outdoor cabinet sources however. Although they serve the same purpose as their indoor counterparts they need to be made from materials that can stand up to the elements.

Laundry cabinets are also very similar to those used in the kitchen but there are some that are made with organizational features specific to the functions of a laundry room.

Construction And Quality
The overall quality of kitchen cabinets is closely linked to their construction, meaning how they’re put together and the materials they’re made from. You’ll be wise to pay close attention to these key features, particularly if you expect to live with them for a long time. Parts of your cabinets, particularly the drawers, take a lot of punishment so paying a bit extra for some added durability is a wise investment.

Key points to be aware of include the following:

•Materials – they include particle board, MDF (medium density fiberboard), plywood, solid wood, metal and laminate/melamine (the laminate or melamine is laid over the particle board or similar substrate).

•Construction and Design – cabinets are constructed in one of two different design styles — framed or frameless. Framed cabinets employ a wood frame that outlines the front of the cabinet box. Frameless units don’t have this feature. Also, the joinery and techniques used to assemble and support them. Structural braces are made from plastic, wood or metal. Methods of joinery include hot-glue, staples and nails, or, more intricate woodworking techniques like dovetails and dadoes.

•Hardware – drawer slides vary in level of quality (some use ball bearings whereas others use nylon wheels/rollers) and physical location on the drawer (sidemount or on the bottom) which affects available drawer space. Shelf mounting brackets can be either plastic or metal.

Once you have an idea of what you’re willing to spend, you’ll be better equipped to make choices on the wide range of options available to you.

One final note on costs: cabinets are priced based on how many you buy and quantity of bells and whistles that they incorporate. Options and upgrades abound and they increase the price. These options include everything from the materials used to construct them to the range of finishes to the organizing gadgets that go inside them. The key is to prioritize what it is you really want/need by asking and answering some questions and making sure those ‘must-haves’ fit into your budget.

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