About Cabinets

By James Garland

You know what you want your new kitchen to look like, how you want the room to flow, how you want the workspace to work. Magazine articles and pictures have been clipped, advertising pored over, a hundred images downloaded from multitudes of cabinet websites, all stuffed into the overflowing manila folder marked “new kitchen.” But the measure of success is how well that information is passed to your cabinet supplier and how that information is perceived, and responded to, by your designer. (If your designer or remodeler is not responsive to your ideas, it is wise to find another. Getting through a kitchen remodel is tough enough under the best of circumstances.)

To facilitate communication, it helps a homeowner to know there is an entire, unique language to be learned: the language of cabinets. Here is a primer:

There are two basic types of cabinet construction.

Face Frame:
With face frame cabinet construction, the top, sides, and bottom of the cabinet are attached to a wood frame at the front of the cabinet, 3/4” thick, usually 1-1/2” wide that serves as the structural support for the box. Doors are attached to the face frame of the cabinet.

Frameless, or Euro style, cabinets use thicker side, top, and bottom panels in box construction to eliminate the need for a wooden framework for support. Cabinet doors are attached directly to the sides of the cabinet.

Face frame or frameless?
Traditional face frame construction, with its strong heritage, is the most widely used method for cabinet construction. The country look, with timeless, simple lines, has been the most popular style for several years. Shaker-inspired styles have continued to be popular, and the stacked, overstated moulding applications favored in the late 1990’s have been simplified. Though oak remains the most common wood used in cabinetmaking, its popularity has been steadily declining for the last 10 years. Maple and cherry are increasingly becoming popular choices.

The popularity of frameless cabinetry varies regionally in the U.S. Here in the Northwest, as in many other parts of the country, frameless cabinetry, with its streamlined styling, enjoys greater popularity. The advantages of frameless cabinetry are ease of access and clean, unencumbered style.

There are three basic ways doors are attached to cabinet boxes
Full Overlay:
Full overlay describes the way the doors and drawer fronts completely cover the cabinet front. In face frame styles, full overlay is just one of the ways doors can be attached to the cabinet. Frameless style cabinetry is always “full overlay.”

Partial Overlay:
Also called “standard overlay,” “1/2” overlay”: In partial overlay construction, doors and drawer fronts only partially cover the front of the cabinet. Most of the face frame is visible around the doors and drawers. Price is usually the reason to choose this option. Doors are smaller, and less material is used, and the overall cost of the kitchen is decreased.

Inset Doors:
With inset construction, the cabinet doors and drawer fronts fit flush with the face frame. With close tolerances required, great care is taken in the application of inset doors. You will be spending more to get this style in your kitchen. A cautionary note about inset doors: wood expands and contracts as a seasonal reaction to humidity. It is not uncommon to have occasional binding and rubbing of inset doors and drawers within their framework. Inset doors are available only with face frame cabinetry. However, designers can create the impression of inset construction with frameless cabinetry.

There are three types of cabinets.
Stock Cabinets:

Stock cabinets are manufactured in only the most popular styles, woods, and finishes. Sizes available are limited, and no modifications or special construction is available. They are often warehoused, and are readily available for shipment. Stock cabinetry is the least costly way to purchase a new set of kitchen cabinets.

Semi-custom cabinets offer some modifications of standard sizes. The semi-custom option offers a wider selection of styles, woods, and finish, as well as construction details. Semi-custom kitchens are made to order, so it will take more time to ship.

Custom cabinetry offers the widest selection of color, style, service, and options. Specialty cabinets, finishes, and attention to detail in a custom-made product are wide ranging.

Is plywood better than particleboard construction in cabinetry?
Many of us have seen the deleterious effects of water on raw particleboard. I once bought a house in which particleboard had been used as a substrate for the bathroom floor (underneath peel-and-stick vinyl tiles), and marveled at the 5/8” thick material which in some parts of the room had become 1-1/4” thick, spongelike, and other sections of the floor that were decomposing to a gritty mess. The whole floor came up, was replaced with proper subfloor, and then tiled.

But underlayment particleboard, a low-density material, is not the board used in cabinetmaking. The particleboard use by cabinetmakers is rated “45 lb commercial grade,” which is a far denser and smoother material ideal for laminating. The particleboard is also sealed with either a solid color laminate or laminated wood grain surface to protect the material from moisture. Particleboard is dimensionally stable: it will not warp, nor expand and contract in response to moisture in the air.

Many designers, remodelers, and consumers consider solid wood cabinets to be better than particleboard construction. Strong and durable, plywood is widely specified, but it will add to the cost of your kitchen.

The benefit of using plywood is a perceived value. If you think it is better, then it is better. The Europeans were trailblazers in the use of manmade materials in cabinet construction (by need; having eliminated most of their forests, European hardwood became a scarce commodity), so particleboard is not a new or untested product. But which is better? The material your new cabinets are constructed from is the better product, of course.

Full-extension guides:
With the installation of full-extension drawer guides, when withdrawn, the full depth of the drawer projects beyond the cabinet face, giving the user access to the full dimension of the box. Look for this option if you can. Full-extension guides not only increase ease of use, they usually are capable of carrying a heavier load. They are especially handy as deep drawer pot and pan storage cabinets.

Work Triangle:
The work triangle is a way of measuring the distance between the major work areas of the new kitchen layout. The major work areas are the sink, the cleanup area; the range, the cooking area; and the refrigerator, as well as the storage area. The distances between these areas determine the general overall workability of the kitchen space. When the distances between the areas are added up, if the total is less than 12’, the workspace will generally be pretty cramped. If the total footage exceeds 26’, the workspace may be too large (yes, there is such a thing as too large a kitchen).

The nature of the work triangle has altered somewhat over the last few years as more appliances are added to the kitchen. Microwave ovens, warming drawers, and secondary sinks have changed the kitchen’s workflow. And how the kitchen space is used, a far cry from the utilitarian preparation area we grew up with, has changed the nature of the room as well. Desks for menu preparation, computer and entertainment areas, islands for informal eating and entertaining…all of these have influenced the work triangle and overall kitchen design.

How much will it cost? This is one of the most important questions and the most difficult to answer. With all of the options available, stock or custom cabinets, oak or cherry, recess standard overlay or raised center panel, inset mounted door styles – all affect cost. How big is the kitchen? The number of cabinets varies from one house to the next. How many conveniences, and what kind of accessories, are being included? No two kitchens are alike. If you establish a realistic budget, your designer or cabinet supplier will help you select a product to fit that figure.

Original article found at Northwest Renovation, http://www.nwrenovation.com/7AboutCabinets.html

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