According to the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA), most people spend about 52 percent of their kitchen remodeling budget on cabinetry, so it pays to do it right. The dominant element in any kitchen, cabinets can be as utilitarian-looking as the appliances around them or as warm and stylish as the rest of the home.
There are more than 200 cabinetmakers in the United States alone and scores more in England and Europe, and they each offer a multitude of style options. Cabinets come in two main varieties -- stock, or mass-produced to standard size specifications, and custom, which are made to order for your kitchen. Some makers offer "stock custom" options; a wider range of stock choices with modifiable elements you can mix and match to create custom solutions.
To estimate the cost of the new cabinetry you've chosen, your installer will determine the number of wall cabinets, base cabinets, and specialty units (pantry-type cupboards, lazy Susans, appliance garages, open shelving, and so on). Here's a look at the different elements to consider when choosing cabinets:
Kitchen Cabinet Exteriors
Cabinet styles and materials come in numerous varieties. For a sleek, contemporary look, you might explore European frameless cabinets, cabinets with brushed metal inserts, or cool, laminate cabinets in solid colors or faux stone patterns. Plain fronts and simple (or outrageously inventive) door and drawer pulls seal the look. For lovers of traditional style, raised-panel cabinets are classics; arched-top "cathedral" panel cabinets are especially elegant. Traditional hardware may be as simple as plain wood, Shaker-style pulls or as elaborate as Chippendale-style brass handles.
Beyond the options available in cabinet door and drawer styles and hardware, you also can modify your contemporary or traditional look with formal or casual finishes. Dark mahogany or cherry finishes bespeak formality, whether the style is modern or 18th century. Pine is a perennial, casual favorite. Naturally finished maple is on the semiformal side due to its fine grain; naturally finished oak's prominent grain makes it definitely casual. Any wood given a bisque, or whitewashed, finish is casual in a romantic sort of way.
Perhaps the most classic solution is cabinetry painted gloss white. This look can lean toward either formal or casual, depending on hardware and accessories. And don't forget about colorfully painted cabinet sections; they're a great way to further your scheme and create the European look of freestanding kitchen furniture. (To really give practical built-in cabinets the freestanding look, choose cabinets with toe-kick spaces and furniture feet.) New cabinets are most often the solution in kitchen remodelings, but if your old cabinet interiors are in good condition and you like your kitchen's layout, you may decide to simply reface your existing cabinets for about half the cost of purchasing entirely new cabinets.
The process basically involves installing new doors and drawer fronts and applying coordinating surface veneers to all visible exterior areas. Some companies reface only with laminates; others offer a limited array of woods as well. Most cabinet refacing companies can build additional custom units to match the refaced units. Solid-door cabinets aren't your only choice, especially in today's freestanding-look kitchens.
While an unbroken line of upper cabinets is a contemporary favorite, many people like the variety open shelves and glass-front cabinets provide. Glass doors come with mullions (wood dividers) in traditional styles.
A word of caution: Open shelves are a popular part of today's kitchen look, but the combination of airborne cooking grease and everyday dust can mean more dusting and wiping than many people would like.
For an open look without this drawback, consider glass-door cabinets. Or, if you really want open shelves, opt for dust-hiding, midtone colors or wood tones and an easy-to-clean, glossy surface.
Kitchen Cabinet Interiors
You can magnify the storage space of any cabinetry with savvy interior fittings. One of the best is a corner cabinet fitted with a lazy Susan to provide 360-degree access to supplies. Appliance depots or garages -- often with sliding, hinged, or tambour (roll-top) doors -- keep mixers, toasters and other small appliances dust-free and out of sight.
The best compartments are fitted with outlets for the added convenience of using the appliances right there where they are. European-style spice drawers at counter height help you avoid the common error of storing fragile flavors above the heat source. Deep drawers also work for stashing unsightly but necessary items like a garbage bin or household cleaners.
In fact, any time you can use a pull-out drawer rather than an unfitted cupboard, you'll do well; especially for cookpots and other heavy items. Produce bins keep fresh fruits and vegetables out of sight behind closed doors but well ventilated for a longer shelf life. Deep, narrow spaces, fitted as slide-out cabinets, are perfect for big pan lids, cookie sheets, and other unwieldy items.
Your cabinets won't look quite right if they're not complemented by fashionable countertops. In the next section, we'll tell you how to pick out laminate, solid surfacing, ceramic tile, wood, marble, or granite countertops.