Submitted by lfisher on Tue, 09/15/2020 - 13:28
Helping Clients Select the Best Kitchen Cabinets: A Guest Blog Post

Today’s guest blog post comes from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI). To learn more about them, please visit their website at


As with most things, cabinets are available in good, better, and best qualities. Generally, good cabinets are thought of as being stock cabinets, better as semi-custom cabinets, and best as full custom cabinets. It probably goes without saying, but there are cost differences depending on the quality of the cabinet; good quality as being the least amount of money and custom oftentimes being the most.

People assume their new cabinets will work well and therefore most of the their attention and concern is focused on the cabinet appearance, and while the look of the cabinet is a very personal matter, there is not a right or wrong decision.  A good starting point is to direct your clients to search online for pictures of cabinets they like.


How the cabinets are finished significantly contributes to the overall cabinet appearance both when new and after several years of use. Regardless of the final finish (i.e. painted, stained, etc.) the quality of the application is extremely important as it is the final barrier that must hold up to the wear and tear of daily use. Generally, a multi-step factory finish with a baked on final sealant coat will hold up better than cabinets that are finished in place, however new surface coatings continue to be developed that are closing the wearability gap.

The majority of cabinet doors, drawer fronts, and face frames are made with solid pieces of wood.  Cabinet box construction materials can include particle board, MDF, HDF, or plywood, with exposed portions of the box ranging from vinyl contact paper to a finished wood veneer.   The material selected for the cabinet box will depend on the desired cost range of the cabinet, but also the location and intended use.  Particle board is a lower cost material and will hold up well unless it gets wet, at which point it will quickly disintegrate and fail. Painted cabinets are oftentimes built with MDF because of the minimal coefficients of expansion and contraction.  This minimizes the visible crack/paint lines at the joints in the stiles (vertical) and rails (horizontal) on face frames and 5-piece doors and drawer fronts. Stained cabinets will oftentimes use a wood veneer plywood to provide a natural wood-grain appearance throughout the entire cabinet including the front, sides, and interior.


With every cabinet application being unique, cabinets must be available in various widths.  Stock cabinets most often come in widths of 3” increments, and while this typically allows for a lower cost project, oftentimes requires the use of filler pieces to fill in any spaces outside of the 3” window. Semi-Custom cabinets usually come in 1” increments and can oftentimes be modified to include extended stiles to avoid the use of separate filler pieces, and ultimately creates a more finished and custom appearance.  Full custom cabinets are made to fit and fill the entire space with no seams or wood joints if possible, thereby creating the most seamless and integrated cabinet appearance.

Drawer boxes tend to experience the most significant portion of the overall cabinet dynamics.  They can be filled with dozens of pounds of cookware or appliances and therefore see stresses well beyond just the normal daily operations.  They should be designed and constructed to ensure they remain intact and operational even under the harshest abuse by a mad toddler or harried cook in Hell’s Kitchen.  Once again, the drawers can be constructed from the same materials as the cabinet doors or boxes, however the drawer design and construction techniques (i.e. stapled together, dovetail construction, 4 or 5-piece construction, etc.) in combination with the materials selected will ultimately drive the cabinet quality, cost, and life expectancy.  

Cabinet hardware consists of the door hinges and the drawer glides.  Although soft-close hinges and drawer glides were an upgrade not too many years ago, they are now usually included as standard features in most cabinet lines, and typically have a lifetime warranty.   Compared to side-mount drawer glides, undermount drawer glides allow for more storage space inside the drawer boxes.  Door hinge design has also improved and are now available with 6-way adjustment, making door alignment easier and more consistent.

Shelving in the upper cabinets can usually be ordered as fixed or adjustable, with adjustable shelving providing the most flexibility and maximum cabinet efficiency.  Base cabinets can usually have fixed or adjustable shelves allowing for vertical/height adjustments, and the shelves themselves may be ordered in various depths (i.e. ½, 2/3, ¾ or full depth).  Instead of fixed or adjustable shelves, roll-out trays are also gaining popularity as they provide far easier access to the entire depth of the cabinet.


One additional factor to consider in cabinet selection is the fabrication lead-time and the determination of when you will want/need your cabinets.  Ideally sufficient planning has occurred, and the cabinet selection is not based on lead-time, but instead is based on all other factors.  However, if it does happen to move the up in priority, some stock cabinets can be bought off the shelf while others are made to order with a 3 – 4-week lead time. Semi-Custom cabinets may take 5 – 8 weeks and Full Custom 8 - 12 weeks or more.

Finally, the manufacturer’s warranty may also be a very good indicator of the cabinet quality as they will be responsible for any issues during that timeframe, and while it goes without saying, the longer the warranty, usually the better.  Lastly, the warranty would ideally cover materials as well as labor, however most warranties only cover the material replacement and labor costs to perform the repairs end up being the responsibility of the contractor or homeowner.

Given the significant financial investment associated with cabinetry and the extremely high importance that they reflect the intended look and feel of the homeowner, it is strongly recommended that consumers work with a NARI contractor who understands and appreciates all of these issues and has the experience to provide the most beneficial guidance.

Author bio:

Dennis Gehman, MCR, CLC, CKBR, CRPM currently serves as President-Elect for The National Association of The Remodeling Industry (NARI) and is Co-Founder and President of Gehman Design Remodeling based in Harleysville, PA.