The Importance of Great Cabinetry


When you imagine the designer kitchen of your dreams, what do you see? Likely, some shiny new appliances and a dazzling new countertop feature heavily – but what about the cabinetry? Kitchen cabinets form the basis for the structural foundation of any kitchen, and their look and functionality can make or break a kitchen design. In fact, Bob Vila states that he prefers clients to choose kitchen cabinets first because they are the biggest and most important investment in the kitchen. In short, cabinetry is the star of any good kitchen design.

Chances are you’re reading this blog because you’re either considering an update of your existing kitchen or planning a new kitchen for a new home. Take a moment to think about the factors that led you to that decision, and compare your own intentions with the following top reasons for kitchen remodels:

  • Existing kitchen is outdated
  • Deterioration of the existing kitchen
  • Existing kitchen does not fit your lifestyle
  • Special needs family members
  • Desire for change

If you nodded in agreement with any of the above, it may because they remind you of your current cabinets. Like it or not, cabinetry is the main design feature in any kitchen. Their placement determines the layout of the kitchen as a whole, ultimately setting the tone for the design, style, and functionality of your kitchen. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to store all your kitchen gadgets and necessities, and you certainly wouldn’t have a need for the array of countertop appliances available in today’s market.

This article will outline the role kitchen cabinets play in all of the above reasons homeowners typically undertake kitchen remodels. It will also cover all the considerations for improvement and lasting satisfaction when it comes to planning your new kitchen cabinetry purchase.

Your Existing Kitchen Is Outdated

An outdated kitchen is one of the number one reasons homeowners decide to remodel, as well as one of the number one reasons they decide against renting or purchasing a home. Aside from outdated appliances, which come with their own hazards, the most frequently outdated kitchen features are cabinets and countertops. How can you tell your kitchen cabinetry is outdated?

  • Looks. Yes, it’s obvious, but if your kitchen cabinets look like they’re from the 1970s, they probably are – and it’s likely not the aesthetic you prefer. Many trends in cabinetry eventually come back around and retro styles can be chic. However, poorly maintained yellow brass hardware mixed with honey oak – actually old instead of just stylistically so – is not. Basically, if you walk into your kitchen and the sensation that you’re in another decade is an unpleasant one, your kitchen is likely outdated.For your future kitchen, consider the fact that your cabinetry will likely be in place for at least a decade. Use modern, classically appealing woods with standard-sized hardware that you can easily accessorize to fit in any era. Avoid hot trends that may quickly become outdated again.
  • Lack of safety features. Cabinet makers sometimes build outlets and switches right into existing cabinets. If a quick look at your kitchen outlets reveals more telephone line connections than GFCI outlets, your kitchen may be outdated. GFCI outlets shut down electric flow in the case of abnormal flow and are a required safety standard for any kitchen.For your new kitchen, ensure all your electrical installations are up to code. Installing outlets and switches into cabinets may not be preferable with new features like outlet-equipped drawers, but sticking with a standard size ensures cover plates and other elements can easily be swapped out.
  • You can’t find appliances that fit. In decades past, kitchen designers and builders planned cabinet layouts designed for the appliance sizes most common at the time. This is still the case. However, you may notice that your dream refrigerator or that gas range you’ve always wanted won’t fit without seriously reshuffling existing kitchen cabinetry – all the more reason to consider a modern cabinet update for your new kitchen.Standard-sized appliances offer the most flexibility moving forward, but consider your desired layout when planning appliance placement. The workflow of your kitchen should suit you, and quality custom cabinetry can accommodate a wide range of appliance sizes and configurations.
  • Existing storage is odd or doesn’t fit your needs. Consider the things that might have been commonly stored in your kitchen cabinetry at the time they were built. It isn’t likely your grandmother’s kitchen needed storage space for a stand mixer, an electric griddle, an electric pressure cooker, three crock pots and a toaster oven. It’s equally possible you don’t have the desire for cabinets with built-in dedicated recipe card, knife, or plastic wrap storage.Cabinets with highly specialized storage can be a great option for your new kitchen. However, determine the likelihood of continuing to use that specialized storage in the future. A solution like a built-in pot and pan rack will likely always prove useful, while a plastic grocery bag dispenser may quickly become outdated.

Deterioration of Your Existing Kitchen

Though today’s designers build quality cabinetry to last, you may have existing cabinetry that has seen better days. Evidence of superficial damage to cabinet doors may make a reface job tempting, but there are other signs to look for to determine whether you should replace your cabinets instead of only refacing them.

  • External damage. As mentioned, peeling paint or scratched varnish are telltale signs you have damaged cabinetry. Signs of superficial damage not easily covered by a layer of paint or varnish, including deep gouges, cracked doors or frames, and stripped screws. If your cabinet doors are uneven or too badly damaged to reface, new cabinetry is likely a better investment.
  • Poor quality. If your existing cabinets are not of good quality, replacing them with long-lasting, high-quality cabinets often makes more financial sense than spending time and money refacing. Telltale signs your cabinets may have been of low quality to begin with include flimsy interior paneling, the use of poor-quality grades of MDF or particle board instead of more quality versions, joints that are stapled or glued, and flimsy plastic or thin metal drawer slides and shelf brackets.For future cabinets, look for quality. Cabinets should use thick, high-quality plywood for the cabinet box and shelving, and high-quality wood for the doors and framing. All joints should be properly joined and secure, drawer slides should be substantial, quality steel, and shelves should have adequate supports.
  • Internal damage. You are better off replacing cabinets with internal damage than reworking them, especially in the case of water damage. Check underneath the sink and on toe kicks for signs of water damage like swelling, warping, cracking, or peeling and bubbled veneer. You’ll likely need to address the source of the water issue as well, but replacing the interior of several cabinets is an investment that would make more sense going toward new, quality kitchen cabinets.

The Existing Kitchen Does Not Fit Your Lifestyle

Planning a new kitchen layout is often a task best handled by an experienced kitchen designer, but since your family’s kitchen is a central hub in your everyday life, even a designer needs your input regarding the features most important to you. Are you most concerned about functionality while cooking? Is a breakfast bar or large prep space a priority? Consider the following questions when determining which parts of your old kitchen didn’t work and which elements you want to see in your new kitchen:

  • How could this layout be more conducive to cooking? The fact that you’ll be cooking in your new kitchen may seem obvious. However, too many people fail to consider this when determining a new layout for their kitchen. It may seem like a good idea to include a large island for prep space, but if placed wrong, islands can impede the natural workflow between what designers like to call the “work triangle.”The design sense behind the kitchen work triangle aims to minimize steps and improve access to the three major working elements of your kitchen – range, refrigerator, and workspace. Ideally, the elements are close enough to easily accommodate movement between them while cooking, but far enough apart to avoid a cramped space – usually the legs should add up to anywhere from 12 to 24 feet.If your current kitchen includes an island space or countertop between the refrigerator and range, you may have noticed a poor workflow. If kitchen traffic routes through the triangle instead of along its edges, you’ve likely gotten frustrated. Work with your kitchen designer to arrange new cabinetry to route traffic away from the primary workspace, and optimize your workflow.
  • How could this layout better meet my family’s needs? Modern kitchens are often gathering places for families. Is your kitchen conducive to your family’s needs? Do you often find yourself working around children while you cook, or unable to supervise while you clean up?


Modern kitchen spaces often call for a space children can gather to do homework, socialize or watch as their parents cook. If your current kitchen is short on extra space, or locates features such as a breakfast bar right next to a stovetop, your family’s needs are likely not met. Similarly, if your kitchen cabinets block your view of your family so they are out of your line of sight, you need to address your cabinetry layout.

Consult with your kitchen designer and look for elements like raised cabinets and taller countertops to keep children’s work areas away from kitchen appliances. Or, consider an extra workspace alongside the kitchen area for homework and other activities. Finally, planning a kitchen cabinet arrangement with an open view into the family’s gathering area can help you make sure your kitchen meets your family’s needs.

  • Is this kitchen too big? Too small? Most kitchen renovations’ goals aim toward increasing the overall size of the kitchen space. However, consider your current kitchen. Do you find yourself wishing you had more storage space? Perhaps a set of built-in pantry cabinets or a walk-in pantry or butler’s kitchen may be a better fit than a kitchen that’s more spread out. Do you often wish you didn’t have to move quite so far between the refrigerator, stove, and workspace? It’s possible your kitchen is either not arranged well or is just too big.Many kitchens are cramped, and making good use of a larger space is something a kitchen designer should be ready to help with. Ask how to arrange your cabinetry to find the best kitchen footprint for your home. Bigger may be better, but that isn’t always the case.

You Have Special Needs Family Members

If you or someone in your family has special needs, you have likely already lamented the shortcomings of your current kitchen. How could you change your cabinetry to allow better access for those individuals? The following considerations may help:

  • Accessible entrances. With today’s open floor plans, kitchen entrances are not always framed doors. Designers need to consider any pantry entrances, islands, peninsulas, and other openings between cabinets as well. Leave a few extra inches on each side for access by individuals using wheelchairs or walkers.
  • Accessible appliances. Popular kitchen appliance placement may not work for a family member with special needs. For example, cabinet configurations with built-in range microwaves will not likely work for an individual in a wheelchair. Similarly, a wall oven unit and a countertop range with a cabinet layout allowing knee space under the range top may be preferable to a standard range; forgoing cabinet boxes for knee space underneath kitchen sinks is an option as well.
  • Cabinet height. Lower kitchen cabinets come in a variety of heights – consider your family’s special needs when choosing a height. Individuals who have trouble stooping may prefer higher countertops, while those in wheelchairs or those who must sit to avoid fatigue may prefer cabinets lower than typical “counter-height.” You can vary the height of the workspaces in your new kitchen to accommodate both preferences. Built-in workspaces that pull out, such as cutting boards, may be an option to consider as well.
  • Pull-out drawers and storage. Cabinets with features such as sliding organizers you can pull out for easier access likely appeal even to those without special needs. Accessing heavy items like pots, pans, and stand mixers is much easier when you don’t need to lift the items out of a tight space first. Ask your kitchen designer about these features and others such as pull out spice racks, cookbook holders, trash bins, and more.
  • Upper cabinet access. Upper cabinets can be fitted with pull-down shelving to provide easier access to dishes and items typically stored above the counter. These options are more specialized and not commonly found in typical kitchen design. A cabinet maker can retrofit your new, high-quality cabinets to meet your needs. Ask your kitchen designer for more details about their availability.

You Simply Desire Change

After all this detailed consideration of your current kitchen, you may find your desire for a new kitchen has little to do with any one specific issue with your current kitchen’s cabinet quality, age, or layout. Perhaps you simply desire change. What are some practical and aesthetic considerations when choosing your new cabinets?

Budget and Quality

There are three basic tiers of cabinets, based on quality, materials, and budget.

  • Big box retailers and home improvement centers often sell stock or budget cabinets. The seller usually delivers the cabinets assembled, and possibly frameless. Typically, stock cabinets use MDF or pressboard instead of high-quality wood, and may limit your selection of style, color, size, and accessories. Stock cabinets begin at around $70 per foot.
  • Mid-range cabinets often appear higher-end than stock cabinets. They may have a framed face, with wood around the cabinet door, and may offer more customization options. Quality may be higher than that of stock cabinets, but mid-range cabinets typically use pressboard boxes as well. Mid-range cabinets begin at around $150 per foot.
  • Premium cabinets are not plywood boxes, meaning their construction is sturdier than other types of cabinets. Since premium cabinets can either come fully custom or semi-custom, they offer a far wider range of sizes, colors, styles, and accessories. Premium, semi-custom cabinets begin at around $500 per foot, though fully custom cabinets can be much more expensive.

Basic Style Choices

Basic cabinet style selection is important – in today’s open floor plans, your cabinets will likely be visible throughout a large portion of your home. As such, making a choice should weigh three different design elements – box and frame style, door style, and wood type or color choice. Consider the overall look you want to attain and determine which are right for your new kitchen.

Box and Frame Styles


Box and frame styles appear in two major types – framed and frameless cabinets.

  • Framed cabinets have the box fronted with a wooden face frame that surrounds the cabinet door when it’s closed. Frames stop drawers when they close and provide a surface for door hardware to attach to. Frames can also come in various widths, colors, and styles based on your personal preferences.
  • Frameless cabinet boxes have no wooden face frame on the front. As a result, drawer and door hardware must attach directly to the box itself, leaving a uniform exterior. Frameless cabinets often require reinforcements or must use higher-quality box materials to ensure stability, particularly to support countertops.

Door Style Selection

Door style is what people often think of when they think cabinet styles, and for good reason; doors are perhaps the biggest influence on a cabinet’s overall style. Doors are highly visible and make up most of the viewable square footage of your cabinets. Careful choices regarding door selection are crucial if you are aiming for a modern style that will not feel dated too soon.

Some popular door styles include:

  • Flat panel. These doors have no frame and are comprised of one solid piece of wood. Often found on frameless cabinets or used to make framed cabinets appear frameless, these doors are modern in style and easily hide any hardware.
  • Mission. Mission doors involve a simple raised frame with a recessed, flat panel. Mission doors appeal to many design styles due to their clean lines and classic look.
  • Shaker. Shaker doors appear similar to Mission, though they may have a little extra detail or routing in the typically wider frame.
  • Raised-panel. In raised-panel doors, the center panel is beveled and protrudes until it is even with the frame. Most stock paneled entry doors in your home are probably raised-panel.
  • Beaded. Beaded panel doors have beadboard paneling inside the frame. These doors often appeal to a traditional or country aesthetic.
  • Cathedral. Similar to mission doors, cathedral doors have an arch feature at the top of the frame, overlaying a recessed panel.

Color and Finish

You’ve determined the layout, frame style, and door type that best fits your kitchen footprint and design style – now comes the fun part. Wood types aren’t nearly as varied as the colors you can paint or stain them with, but some tried and true varieties are popular in cabinet making.

  • Birch has a distinctive grain and is often used for a more custom, modern or contemporary look.
  • Maple is often chosen for its light color and grain, which make it readily able to accept a variety of different stains and finishes
  • Red Oak has a large grain but takes stain well and is conducive to country finishes.
  • White Oak has a finer grain but is still decidedly rustic. Both oaks are sturdy, popular choices for traditional or country styles.
  • Cherry is popular for its red-brown color and its durability. It pairs handsomely with a dark brown or deep red stain.
  • Ash has a fine grain and is appropriate for modern or contemporary designs.

After you’ve chosen an ideal wood for your cabinet construction, your selection of paint color or stain is purely up to your individual design aesthetic. If you have an open layout, consider how the color you choose will juxtapose with any existing flooring or other wood built-in elements in the rest of your space. Cabinet and floor colors should be complementary, not matching, and the stain or paint you choose should be in keeping with the style of the rest of your home.

Whether you’re remodeling your existing kitchen or building a new home, your kitchen footprint depends largely on your cabinets. No matter the reason for your new kitchen, keep these considerations and tips in mind when you’re choosing the ultimate star of your new space – your kitchen cabinets. Your cabinets are an investment in your home’s future, and we at Bradco Kitchens & Baths are happy to answer any questions you may have. Feel free to reach out at any time.

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