Choosing New Kitchen Cabinets: Laminate, Wood and Metal Cabinetry

Use These Tips to Select the Best for Your Kitchen

Kitchen area remodel

Choosing cabinets for your new kitchen can be a bit overwhelming - stock vs. custom-made, wood vs. stainless steel, natural finishes vs. painted finishes - the list of choices seems endless! Narrow down your preferences one at a time, and you'll soon find that choosing the perfect kitchen cabinets is as easy as pie! 

Here are the factors to consider when choosing new kitchen cabinetry.

  1. Budget. Whenever you start any construction or remodeling project, your first step should be to decide what you want to spend. In kitchen projects, especially, costs can quickly spiral out of control with one upgrade here, another there, and then the imported tile on top of it! After you have decided what your overall budget is, cut that amount in half. This should be your cabinet budget. It sounds excessive, given that you may also need to purchase appliances, flooring and countertops, but cabinets are typically the biggest financial investment in a kitchen. And don't worry, you may be able to find discount kitchen cabinets that are still a good quality.
  2. Type of construction. Once you've decided on budget, this question becomes much easier. There are three types of cabinet construction - stock, semi-custom and custom-made cabinets. Stock cabinets are the ones that you will find at your local home improvement store. They are manufactured in a limited number of widths, with a limited number of options and materials. Because they are not made to fit exactly in your kitchen, you may need to use filler strips to disguise spaces between your cabinets and walls. However, stock cabinets do have many advantages. Even though you have limited choices, they are made in the most popular finishes, sizes and materials. So, although you may not be able to get a one-of-a-kind look, you can still possibly find exactly what you want. Stock cabinets are the least expensive option of the three types of cabinet construction. However, this doesn't mean that they are cheaply made. The quality of stock cabinets can be every bit as good as custom cabinetry. Plus, if you're looking for ready-to-assemble kitchen cabinets, this is the way to go.

    Semi-custom cabinets are manufactured after you place an order with a cabinet supplier. Since they are made to order, you will have more options than with stock cabinets. You may be able to choose from drawers with slide-outs, pantries, and odd-size cabinets, as well as a wider array of materials and finishes. However, they are not custom-made, so your options are not limitless. Semi-custom cabinets are more expensive than stock cabinets.

    Custom-made cabinets are the creme de la creme of kitchen cabinets. They are made by either a custom cabinetry manufacturer or a wood shop. Because they are made exactly according to your specifications, you can choose from nearly any material or finish possible. You can also design cabinets which will maximize the space in your kitchen. If you want cabinetry that looks more like furniture than kitchen cupboards, a custom cabinetmaker can do that, too. Of course, the price for all of these choices is quite steep - custom kitchen cabinets are by far the most expensive option.

  3. Style. Before you try to choose a style for your kitchen cabinets, it's helpful to go through magazines and kitchen design books and mark pictures of designs that you like. You will probably start to notice a trend in the kitchens that you admire. This can make your decision on a cabinet style much easier. It's difficult to walk into a cabinet showroom and choose which ones will look best in your kitchen. However, if you already know that you like a streamlined look more than cabinets with lots of carved details, it can help you focus on the cabinets which best reflect your style.

    There are many different styles of cabinets, but most are categorized by door design. One common type is the slab door. This consists of a single, smooth door which covers the entire front of the cabinet. If you like a clean, uncluttered look, this is the design for you. Style number two is the raised panel door. These doors have a wood frame which is glued over the top of the door. It may or may not have a decorative edge routed into the frame. Raised panel doors tend to fit in best in formal, elegant kitchens. The third style is the recessed panel door. In this style, a panel is fitted behind the frame portion of the cabinet door. These types of cabinets reflect a country style. If the frame in front of the panel is divided into two sections, it will look more Mission-style than country. You may also choose from doors with a curved arch or cathedral arch at the top of the frame. These cabinets are at home in a variety of kitchens. Take time to compare kitchen cabinets because you will probably be stuck with this kitchen for a long time. You want to be sure you love what you choose.

  4. Material. Here's where the really tough choiceschoose home kitchen cabinets start! You used to be able to choose cabinets in painted metal or unstained wood. That was it - two choices! Now, there are so many choices, you could spend an entire day in a cabinet showroom and not have time to see them all.

    First, you'll need to decide on wood, metal or laminate cabinets. Wood is durable, comes in a variety of colors and finishes, and can be painted any color in the rainbow. However, wood kitchen cabinets can warp over time, and probably will expand and contract with the humidity levels in your kitchen. With the wooden slides that were formerly used to open and close drawers, this created problems because the drawers had a tendency to stick with high humidity. However, most drawers now use either ball-bearing slides or track-and-roller slides, so this problem has been eliminated. Metal kitchen cabinets are usually made of stainless steel. These cabinets fit in best in very contemporary kitchens, although you can moderate this by pairing them with wood cabinets. Stainless steel cabinets are very durable and easy to clean, but they show fingerprints and scratches very readily. Stainless is more expensive than wood, but you can find cabinets that are framed with plywood, but have stainless steel doors. The least expensive option is laminate. These cabinets are formed with multiple layers of kraft paper (that's right - just like paper grocery bags!), a decorative paper layer, then a plastic sealant. All of these layers are bonded to each other under very high pressure. The advantage of laminate cabinets, besides their price, is that they can be purchased in nearly any color. The disadvantage is that they can be chipped, and this damage is nearly impossible to repair because the color is only one layer deep.

  5. Wood. If you've chosen wood kitchen cabinets, you have still another batch of choices to sift through. You have to choose which wood you want.
    • Alder is a wood that has just recently come into favor as cabinet material. It has very little grain, is very pale, and accepts stains easily, so it can be colored any shade you'd like.
    • Birch is the least-expensive option in cabinet materials, and it's the material most commonly used in stock cabinets. It's usually quite pale, but may vary in porosity, so if you stain it, you may not get color quite as uniform as you'd like.
    • Cherry wood has been used in upscale kitchens for decades. It has a very smooth, uniform grain and looks very elegant. It can be stained many shades, but the most common is a deep brown-red.
    • Ebony is a very dark, almost black, wood with a noticeable black grain. It can make your kitchen feel very exotic, but it is quite expensive.
    • Hickory kitchen cabinets are another option. It's a very hard wood that holds up well. It has a pronounced straight grain and is most at home in country kitchens.
    • Maple is the number one choice for kitchen cabinets presently. It has a smooth, fine grain that accepts color well, so it can blend right in with your kitchen, no matter what the style.
    • Mahogany is gaining in popularity as a cabinet material choice. It's very dark, with a straight grain, so it fits in best with formal kitchens.
    • Oak has traditionally been the most popular choice for kitchen cabinetry and it's easy to see why. It has a coarse texture that can be made more pronounced with a dark stain, or lessened with a lighter stain. It's very durable and doesn't expand with humidity as much as other woods.
    • Pine is a fairly inexpensive choice for cabinets. It is light-colored and accepts stain well. It has a definite grain, possibly even with a few knots to give it character, so it's best suited to less formal kitchens.
    • The final choice in kitchen cabinetry wood is walnut. Walnut is very dark, although not as dark as ebony. It has an open grain, which means the texture that occurs naturally in the wood is very apparent. Walnut is usually more expensive and can only be obtained through custom cabinet makers.

    Whew! That's a lot of choices! Fortunately, you're in the home stretch. Just a few more decisions to make and you'll be ready to pick the perfect cabinets for your dream kitchen.

  6. Finishes. Once you've chosen a cabinet material, you'll need to decide on a finish. If you've chosen laminate cabinets, all you need to do is choose a color. Make sure you choose a color that you can live with for quite a while. You don't want to be remodeling again in a few years because you're completely tired of the butter yellow cabinets that seemed so perfect in the beginning.

    If you've chosen stainless steel cabinets, you will need to decide only if you want to use all stainless or a blend of stainless and wood. As mentioned before, adding a few wood cabinets can make your kitchen look more contemporary and less industrial.

    If you've chosen wood cabinets, you'll need to decide between leaving your wood in its natural state, which means to simply apply a clear varnish; staining it, which will add color, but still allow the grain of the wood to show through; and painting it, which adds opaque color and obscures the grain. This choice depends solely upon your own personal preferences, although if you've chosen a very expensive wood, it's a bit silly to cover it up with paint! Plus, painting kitchen cabinets can take time and the paint color may not look as classic as the color of natural wood.

That's it! Six easy steps to finding the ideal cabinetry for your brand-new kitchen! That wasn't nearly as difficult as you thought it would be, was it? Remember, if you don't think you can afford new cabinets right now, why not try updating your existing kitchen cabinets in the meantime. 


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