Designing with All the Components

Cabinetry is often the biggest investment in a kitchen. It is obviously a very important addition to your living center. Cabinets can express the feel of the area, from traditional to contemporary. They can express your personality in the kitchen.

Cabinets matter, inside and out! Cabinet interiors should be organized in a thoughtful way to increase function and efficiency.

Types of Cabinets
There are three major types of cabinets to choose from, each with a variety of quality and price levels.

Stock - Factory-built "off-the-shelf" cabinets. May be supplied from a dealer's or distributor's existing inventory, or built-to-order by the manufacturer. Each manufacturer offers a selection of standard sizes, configurations, styles and finishes. The cabinets for your kitchen are chosen from this available selection, and variations or special requests are not typically possible. Moderately priced.

Semi-custom - Factory-made, but custom ordered from an assortment of sizes, configurations, styles and finishes. Usually offer a wider selection, more fitting and finishing pieces, and detail trims; may allow for some size adjustments and variations. Mid-range priced.

Custom - Factory-built or local cabinet shop built, to your custom order. Can be custom-made to fit your kitchen. Factory-built usually high priced, but offer a wide selection of styles, finishes, woods, and details. Local shop-built prices vary widely, as do their offerings and selections.

Cabinet Construction
In selecting cabinets, you'll want to consider the selection of styles and finishes available for a particular cabinet brand or source. Pay particular attention to the quality and durability of construction, especially drawer construction methods. Drawers may be built with traditional furniture construction methods, using wood, plywood or medium-density fiberboard, or they may be assembled using pre-made finished metal components and hardware. Either method can provide high-quality drawers.

Construction details to consider include drawer tracks, rollers, and bottoms; shelves and shelf supports; door styles and cross-rails, and interior finishing.

Cabinet Accessories
Cabinet accessories will greatly enhance the usability of your cabinets and drawers. Unfortunately, they are too often overlooked when designing and specifying the cabinets. Some accessories will help you to organize storage; others make everything you store easier to get to. Make sure that you consider some of these accessories:

  • Roll-out shelves, especially in base cabinets
  • Drawer and storage organizers
  • Storage shelves for inside of doors
  • Pantry storage shelves or roll-out assemblies
  • Lazy-susans or other storage accessories for corner cabinets
  • Full-extension drawer slides

Work Surfaces
Although laminates and solid-surface materials top the popularity list for countertops, there are many ways to cover the work surfaces in your kitchen. Here are the more common, along with some of their characteristics:

Laminate - Affordable and easy to work with. Available in a wide variety of colors and patterns, and with a variety of edge treatments. On the downside, it may show scars or wear in heavy use applications, and can be damaged or marred by heat.

Solid Surface Material - Highly versatile. Provides good long-term performance. Heat and scar resistant, repairable if damaged. Allows for inlay patterns, many special effects, and undermount sinks. Color choice more limited than laminates.

Solid Surface Veneer - The look and feel of solid surfacing with many of its properties, but fabricated and installed similar to laminate. Priced between laminate and solid surface material.

Other Materials:

  • Natural Stone (granite, marble, soapstone, etc.)
  • Ceramic Tile
  • Wood
  • Stainless Steel
  • Concrete

There are many choices here. Pick the surface that is correct for you and your family. Consider maintenance, children, pets, and the amount of use. Durability and comfort under foot are also important considerations.

Seamless vinyl is good for active households. There is a wide selection of colors and patterns, it is inexpensive, and relatively easy to install and maintain.

Wood is a comfortable and forgiving surface with a rich look, but needs everyday routine sweeping or vacuuming and periodic reconditioning.

Wood laminate offers some of the warmth and attractiveness of wood, with lower material and installation cost. Laminates are relatively new, promise durability and low maintenance.

Tile offers low maintenance, but is less comfortable on the feet. Some people object to the grout lines between tiles.

Natural stone materials are certainly durable and beautiful, but one of the least comfortable under foot.

National Kitchen & Bath Association
The content of this article is provided courtesy of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). At, you'll find an inspiration gallery of award-winning kitchen and bath designs from NKBA members, complete with photos and floorplans. In addition, this consumer website offers articles and tips written specifically for homeowners, an extensive glossary of kitchen and bath remodeling terms, and illustrations and explanations of kitchen and bath planning guidelines. There, you can also e-mail questions to the NKBA's kitchen and bath experts, as well as order a free copy of the NKBA Kitchen & Bath Workbook.