How to Choose Kitchen Cabinets

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Picking out cabinets for your new or remodeled kitchen is not an open and shut matter. The choices for door style, wood, finish and options are endless. Cabinets can add up to 70 percent of a kitchen's cost, so research your options for the best return on your investment.

  • Analyze your kitchen layout and your family's lifestyle and cooking habits. Plot what you need to store and display, as well as accessories that will simplify and organize your kitchen activities.

  • Get professional guidance--from an architect, a kitchen designer, at a store or on the Internet--to narrow your style and component choices and make the most of your space.

  • Choose stock cabinets when controlling costs is your priority. Mass-produced in standard sizes, stock cabinets leave room in your budget for upgrades elsewhere. You'll find fewer finish options but many popular styles, woods and accessories.

  • Spring for custom units if you need to fit exact dimensions. Top-quality materials and craftsmanship increase both the cost and turnaround. Semicustom cabinets are also made to order, but their set widths may require inserts for a perfect fit.

  • Select the wood you want and desired finish. Maple, oak and cherry are favorite hardwoods. Signs of quality cabinets are grain that matches from piece to piece and furniture-quality finishes.

  • Investigate manufactured finishes such as laminate or thermofoil. Both are easy to clean and less expensive than wood, but also less durable. Ask about typical repairs and what the warranty covers. Examine a showroom sample that has been in use for a while to see how it wears.

  • Insist on construction that can support heavy cookware and withstand countless openings, bumps and spills. Drawers with dovetailed joints are stronger than stapled ones. Doors with fitted mortised corners are sturdier than noninterlocking butt joints. Also look for 3/4-inch-thick (2 cm) face frames.

  • Peek inside cabinets. Most stock and semicustom units use solid wood only for the exposed frame, doors and drawers. Even high-end cabinets may contain particleboard or veneer-covered plywood inside. Both are less likely to warp than solid wood, and can be stained or painted.

  • Look for drawers that extend completely and are equipped with self-closing glides rated to hold 75 lb. (35 kg). Well-made drawers boast 1/2- to 3/4-inch (1.2 to 2 cm) sides with dovetailed or doweled joints and a strong bottom that's glued into grooves. The strongest shelves are 3/4-inch (2 cm) plywood.

Tips & Warnings

  • Look at other kitchens to fine tune your layout ideas and get a sense of the color and wood you like.
  • For more information on cabinets, contact the National Kitchen and Bath Association (nkba.org). Also visit manufacturer and home center Web sites such as Lowes.com and HomeDepot.com. Some have interactive showrooms where you can mix and match door styles, woods and finishes.
  • If your old cabinets are in good shape but dated, refinish them. The next step is refacing, which involves recovering or replacing just the doors and drawers.
  • If you love the look of an expensive hardwood, keep in mind that less expensive woods can be stained to look like your choice. For example, you can order a cherry finish on pine.
  • Although you can save up to 40 percent with ready-to-assemble cabinets, these are not of high enough quality for a kitchen. They are OK for laundry rooms and garage storage, though.

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