Kitchen Cabinets

Cabinets are the key ingredient in any kitchen. They will influence the look and feel of the heart of your home more than anything else because it's not only the most visible part of the kitchen, but the "Meeting Place" of every home. Picking the right cabinetry is essential in creating your kitchen's personality, but don't let appearances mislead you. It's what's behind the door that will matter the most, every time you open your cabinet drawer or door.

Since cabinets represent the single largest investment in a new kitchen (about 60 to 70 percent of a kitchen's cost), you should carefully explore all your options to avoid confusion and potentially costly mistakes. Here's a little Cabinetry 101 to help you get started choosing the right products for your cabinet design.

Stock, Semi-Custom and Custom Cabinets When you think stock, semi-custom and custom, don't think of these choices in terms of the level of quality, because fine cabinetry is available with all three - as is poor quality. These terms simply designate the type of production method used to make the cabinet. Simply put, stock cabinets are mass-produced, semi-custom are stock cabinets that can be slightly altered and custom cabinets are built to order to meet individual needs and specifications. All three varieties are available in framed (a box with a frame surrounding the front edge) and frameless (a box with no face frame) construction. The cost of having your kitchen cabinets can start around $7,000 to $9,000 for stock and $14,000 to $18,000 for custom. With the amount of styles, materials, brand names, accessories and hardware out there, the price can quickly escalate.

Stock Cabinets These are the plentiful cabinets, because they're produced in large quantities on a mass production scale. Cabinet manufacturers, dealers and home improvement centers stock pile large quantities of cabinet parts so cabinets can be assembled quickly. Not wanting to miss out on a piece of the pie, stock cabinet manufacturers have greatly improved and expanded its product line to include a nice bounty of sizes, shapes, styles, wood species and finishes. The drawback to using stock cabinets is that you can't make any modifications, so what you see is what you get. You may also find you come up a little short in width and height (filler strips are used to fill the gaps). Stock cabinets still remain the most popular choice because they're affordable and readily available.

Semi-Custom Cabinets Semi-custom cabinets are a stock line of cabinets where simple modifications will be made at the time of production. Semi-custom also offers you more choices when it comes to style, construction materials and colors. You can be a little more creative when going semi-custom by choosing some unique built-ins like pullout bins, lazy susans, matching interiors and inverted frames. Be sure to ask the manufacturer if this option is available. Be thorough with semi-custom because changes can be very expensive and increase delivery time (which is already a month or more) and they may not be returnable if they don't fit.

Custom Cabinets Don't be fooled by the word custom or think that you will be able to draw a design and have it made to your specifications, because that is hard to find (and very, very costly). In the real world of manufactured cabinetry, custom can mean anything from slight modifications to elaborate add-ons. Most manufacturers start out with a basic product line offering cabinets in standard sizes and customize from there. The big difference between a semi-custom and a custom manufacturer is the number of changes they are willing to make to their product lines. Most manufacturers offer a large selection of finish options, trims and storage configurations and accessories. Be patient if you go custom because it can take 12 weeks or longer before your cabinets are delivered and in many cases payment in full is required when the order is placed.

Cabinet Doors

You should enter the cabinet selection process through the doors. Their style, color, and decoration will contribute most to your cabinets' overall look. Be sure that your countertops, flooring, and other design elements complement the cabinets you choose. The first thing you need to decide is the material you want to use and how you want to finish it off.

Wood Wood doors remain the preferred entree, not just because they're so plentiful but because they're durable, beautiful and versatile. The top woods are oak, maple, cherry, hickory and pine. If you're having a hard time deciding what natural wood you prefer, ask yourself what kind of grain you like. If you prefer a hardwood with a tight grain and a strong pattern that darkens when exposed to light, you'll want to go with cherry. Maple is a light hardwood with a tight grain and less noticeable pattern, while oak is a light hardwood with an open grain and striped pattern. For a more open grain with a strong pattern and random knots you can go for pine - just remember it's a soft wood and shows dents and scratches easily. The odd wood out is hickory because it has very dramatic grain patterns and color variations.

Shaping The Door - Slab, Raised and Recessed Panels When it comes to deciding the shape of your cabinet doors you can choose to go flat, raised or recessed in a pattern that can be plain and simple or intricately carved. Slab is a flat door style that gives the appearance of a solid piece of wood with no raised or recessed profile. They're usually made out of several pieces of solid stock lumber and joined with an adhesive. If you opt for laminate slab you'll get a door made of substrate material and then covered with laminate. The best way to understand the look of a recessed panel is to think of a picture frame with a flat panel. The frame can be attached to the panel by using a mitered joint, tenon and mortise joint (similar to tongue and groove) or cope and pattern joint. These panels are easy to decorate and popular when made with a groove. A raised panel is constructed in the same manner as a recessed panel except it's given an edge by cutting it dimensionally and then routing or shaping the desired edge profile, like square, Cathedral or arched.

Finishing it off Thanks to hi-tech finishing techniques used by cabinet manufacturers, cleaning your cabinets is no longer a major household chore.

By using polyurethane finishes, particularly those that are heat catalyzed, your cabinets should only require a good dusting or wiping. Think longevity, when you choose your finish, because a clear finish will show the natural changes in wood over time, while staining the wood in its natural color will lock that shade in forever.

Behind The Doors

Know All Your Panels - Side, Back, Top and Bottom Now that you've satisfied your taste - aesthetically speaking - it's time to get practical and learn about what's behind the doors. After all, a cabinet is just a box...and the quality of the cabinet lies in the construction of the box, not the door. As a rule, when it comes to cabinetry - you get what you pay for. High-end cabinets are usually always high quality and low cost cabinets are just that - poor quality. The majority of cabinet manufacturers offer several different levels of prices based on quality. Don't forget why you need cabinets in the first place - storage.

Your storage area is usually combined of a series of individual boxes, joined together side-by-side. Boxes that sit on the floor (base cabinets) are covered with a countertop, and may have all drawers, doors, shelves, pull-outs or a combination of these. Sink bases almost always have doors, but no shelves or drawers, leaving the interior space open for the sink and plumbing.

Boxes that hang on the wall, are called wall cabinets, and offer storage above countertops and appliances using shelves.

The panels (sides) that make up the box need to have enough strength and structural integrity to keep the box from falling apart. In the base cabinet, the side panels support the full weight of the cabinet on the floor in framed cabinets.

It may surprise you to learn that solid wood is rarely used for cabinet panels. This is because solid wood tends to warp over time when exposed to moisture. Engineered wood, particle board, furniture-grade flakeboard, medium-density fiberboard (MDF) and plywood are more stable than solid wood, and are used in the majority of cabinets. To help make the panels more water-resistant and durable they're usually treated with special chemicals. All of these material have an excellent reputation for durability and screw-holding power, especially plywood. So before you make you're final decision, be sure to look at the quality of its panels - all of them.

It may not sound like a big deal now, but when you start washing dishes or preparing a meal you'll want to know that your toekick board was installed properly. The toekick is a recessed area at the front of the cabinet near the floor that allows you to stand close to the counter. It also adds support to the cabinet floor and keeps unwanted critters out of your cabinets.

Drawers Your drawers will likely be made of solid wood or MDF, have framed or flat slab fronts and be held together by dovetail, mortise-and tenon or butt joints. Thing big, when you think about your drawers, because that's usually the first place where storage space is never enough. A top drawer should be able to support at least 75 pounds.

Cabinet Hardware

Just when you think you're done designing your cabinets, now you have to think about hardware. Hardware is available in every conceivable style and color, but you should pay close attention to the hinges, knobs, pulls and backplates, because these pieces can really make a statement in your kitchen.

Hinges The most important piece of hardware are your hinges, which come in several varieties like the self-closing, spring loaded barrel hinges, knife hinges and concealed hinges. Barrel hinges are fully exposed and provide a wide door opening. For a full 180 degree door opening you'll want to use knife hinges. This hinge is usually screwed to the cabinet frame and partially embedded. Depending on the manufacturer the hinge may be either partially or fully visible when the door is closed. For a more European style where the hinge is hidden you'll want to use concealed hinges. Most of them are self-closing but with a partial opening (110 degrees).

Drawer Suspensions As far as abuse and daily wear-and-tear goes, your drawers are always at center stage. What will matter most over time is the style of drawer slides, which include full extension, b all bearing, track-and-roller and wood.

* Full-extension slides attach to the bottom or the sides of the drawer and provide full access to the drawer interior. Their ball-bearing system adds stability and strength and are available in stronger versions to store heavier kitchen items.

* Ball-bearing slides attach to the bottom of the drawer sides and offer smooth, quiet operation. Their concealed runners mounted to the bottom of the drawer don't get as dirty as those mounted on the side.

* Track-and-roller slides attach to the drawer sides. Their epoxy-coated steel tracks and nylon rollers offer quiet operation but are less stable than ball-bearing ones.

* Wooden slides work as slots in the drawer sides or bottoms and move the drawer along a wooden runner. This option is no longer very popular because the drawers tend to stick as the wood expands and contracts.

Decorative Hardware - Knobs or Pulls Now that you have your cabinets designed to your liking, you need to think about what you want to use to open and protect your new drawers and doors. Do you want knobs or pulls or a combination of both? When it comes to choosing colors, materials and finishes the list is endless. You got brass, chrome, gold, silver, pewter, nickel, porcelain, marble, glass, wood - and that's just a sampling. Once you pick the material, you'll have to choose from a selection of finishes - polished, antique, aged, forged, carved, enamel and more. Stay focused and remember that you're looking for function and comfort from your hardware - not an ulcer.

Knobs are handles (generally small in size), that are mounted to the drawers and doors with a single bolt or screw. Knobs are no longer limited to being round. They can be flat with rounded edges, round like a ball, square, "T" shaped, or even bun shaped and they come in a variety of finishes.

Most questions concerning knobs involve size, quantity or positioning. Look at knobs as being the eyes and nose of your cabinets - if placed improperly they can look out of place and take away from the rest of the kitchen. You'll never go wrong if you keep your knob under a 1 1/2 inch diameter.

Pulls perform the same service as knobs, but tend to be larger or more elaborate, and can greatly alter the look of the cabinet. Pulls may be combined with a backplate or used alone and require two or more screws. They also come in many different styles, but the more common types are D handles, bail handles, ring handles, latch handles, and cup pulls.

Don't Be Shy - Ask questions????

1. Look for the KCMA seal, which means the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association has approved the construction of the cabinets and the materials used to build them meet minimum industry standards. 2. Do you recognize the brand name and does it carry a Best Buy seal or other evidence of independent testing and approval? 3. Does the manufacturer offer the necessary parts and pieces necessary to achieve the style and design you're looking for? 4. Will the cabinets be delivered by your deadline? 5. The manufacturer's warranty can be a very valuable part of what you pay for when you make your cabinet purchase and can vary from one year to lifetime. Find a warranty that makes you comfortable about your investment.

Trendy Samplings

As cabinets continue to grow and change, consumers are left with a draw full of options and trends. Here's some trends that you might want to sample. There's a new process called glazing, where a contrasting color stain is laid on top of a base finish to give it a more prominent look. If you want to show-off some of your kitchen gadgets or special china you can have a glass door installed.

More than anything else, consumers crave the convenience of built-ins, which can range from "appliance garages" that hide aging appliances like toasters behind pull-down doors to tilt-out sink bay drawers to spice racks. The most popular built-in is for the least popular item in a kitchen - the trash can.

About the Author:

The House Designers has handpicked the most popular home designs from our collections to offer you the best home plans in America. We also offer you the ability to contact the designer of your home directly to help you in any way possible with making one of the biggest decisions of your life.

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