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An Overview of Drawer Construction

The drawers will likely be made of solid wood or medium-density fiberboard (MDF); have framed or flat slab fronts; and be held together with either dovetail, mortise-and-tenon, or butt joints.

Glue holds the parts together, though staples or brads are typically used to hold the joints together until the glue has cured. Dovetail joints provide the most strength.

Butt joint




More in this category:« The BoxDoor Types »

The Well-Made Cabinet

Cabinet Construction

One thing to look for in cabinet construction: thick, sturdy, adjustable shelves.

Buying cabinetry is a big investment, so it pays to learn something about how they're built and what constitutes quality construction. First, look past the exterior to the interior, also called the box, to see from what material the backs and sides are made, and how they are joined together. Do this with the drawers as well.

Different types of doors attach differently to the cabinet boxes, which gives them different looks as well. Different door styles, of course, also help to create different design themes in the kitchen.

Industry standards for construction quality can help you get an idea of what to look for when shopping and what certification actually means.



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Popular in America during the 1800s, this house style is also known as a Classic Colonial style. The addition of columns makes the home look like a Greek temple.

General description:

  • Two to three stories

  • Large and formal

  • Rectangular and symmetrical with classic lines and ornamentation

  • Flat roof, balustrade, and belvedere

  • One or more chimneys extending through the roof


Exterior features to consider in kitchen design:

  • Brick or clapboard

  • Double-hung windows with shutters and small glass panes

  • Center entrance typically with columns and sidelights

Recommended kitchen design elements:


Cabinet Doors

  • Type: Lipped or full overlay

  • Style: Raised curved panel

  • Finish: Stain or paint

  • Wood: Cherry, maple, or oak


  • Laminate

  • Soapstone

  • Granite


  • Linoleum

  • Ceramic

  • Wood

Architectural Details

  • Simple crown moulding

  • Dado board

  • Chair rail






More in this category:« FederalEastlake »



Designed in America by Henry Hobson Richardson in the early 1870s, this style was first created by Richard Norman Shaw in England.

General description:

  • Large, multistory, formal, and irregularly shaped

  • Multiple surface textures, materials, ornamentation, and color

  • Each is unique

Exterior features to consider in kitchen design:

  • Multiple chimneys, turrets, bays, overhangs, window styles, and color

  • Culmination of many styles in one structure

Recommended kitchen design elements:


Cabinet Doors

  • Type: Lipped or full overlay

  • Style: Raised square panel

  • Wood: Cherry, maple, or oak


  • Laminate

  • Soapstone

  • Granite


  • Linoleum

  • Slate

  • Wood

Architectural Details

  • Crown moulding

  • Chair rail




More in this category:« EastlakeGothic Revival »

Laminate: A Durable Cabinet Alternative

Laminate cabinets come in all kinds of colors, patterns, and textures. It's durable, stain-resistant, and easy to clean. But it can be hard to repair if it chips because it's made of layers-sheets of kraft paper (like that used in grocery bags), a decorative paper, and a plastic coating. The layers are all pressed together under high heat.

The kraft paper leaves a brown edge that can be covered and dressed up with a stainless steel, brass, or wood trim. Solid-color laminate offers a slightly more expensive alternative that uses plastic sheets of the same color throughout so that no dark edges show.



More in this category:« Wood VeneersStainless Steel »

Wood Remains the Top Choice for Cabinets

Warm wood kitchen cabinets with quartz counters and stainless steel appliances.

Maple or cherry wood dominate U.S. preferences in kitchen cabinets.

Kitchen cabinets can be made from a wide range of materials, including wood, laminate, stainless steel, thermofoil, melamine, lacquer and acrylic. Wood reigns supreme in the United States, though, with wood doors accounting for about 91 percent of sales in 2007, according to Kitchen & Bath Business magazine's most recent industry survey. Themofoil came in at 4 percent, with melamine at 1.6 percent, and laminate and lacquer each over 1 percent.

The study also showed maple as the most popular wood choice, followed in order by cherry, red or white oak, and hickory.

Each option has its merits. At first glance, wood offers natural beauty and a more traditional, country or rustic look, while manmade materials have an endless range of colors and a more modern style. With a little imagination, though, almost any material can work in any kitchen style. In fact, kitchen designers today often use more than one material in cabinet designs, or use the same material but in two different finishes or colors.

So choose your material not just by style, but by cost, durability, available door styles and finishes, and just plain old personal preference.



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Exotic Wood Species

More unusual and more expensive than other species, these exotic woods make beautiful cabinets.

mahoganyMahogany: Valued for a look that's as rich as its name, this durable hardwood's straight grain often incorporates esteemed figures such as mottle, curly and roe. Reddish in color, mahogany stains well to reveal either light or deep hues.

walnutWalnut: Dark brown to purplish black, this open grained wood's luster grows over time to increasingly reflect light.



Ebony: A dark wood with both black and brown grains, this rare species is best suited for decorative inlays and turnings.



More in this category:« Common WoodsWood Veneers »

Questions to Ask Yourself When Selecting Cabinets

Kitchen Workspace with Cabinets and Drawers

You can print out the questionnaire and refer to it as you read through the site and while visiting a designer's showroom.


pdf PDF Version


  1. Do my current cabinets provide enough storage? Do I need more cabinetry, or do I need more organization accessories?

  2. Who will be using the kitchen? Do their needs differ by age, height or other factors?

  3. What activities besides cooking and eating take place in the kitchen? Do I need a desk area, recycling area, or cabinets to conceal a washer and dryer or TV?

  4. Is easy maintenance a must? Which material is least likely to show fingerpaints and scratches?

  5. What features do I need with my new cabinets and which could I live without or add later?

  6. What is the architectural style of my home? Is it distinctive enough that I want the kitchen to reflect it?

  7. What kind of overall style do I want to create in the kitchen? Contemporary? Traditional? Country?

  8. Depending on the overall style, do I want a wood door or would another material better create the right look?

  9. What type and style of door will help to create the look and style I want?

  10. If choosing wood, what kind of grain appeals to me? What finishes will create the look and style I want?

  11. Do I want my cabinets to include display space, such as open shelving or glass-front doors?

  12. Do I need wall cabinets for storage or do I prefer to keep wall space open for windows or decorative items?

  13. Do I need moldings and trim to create the look I want? Do I want to dust them?



Explore Stock, Custom and Semi-Custom Cabinetry

Kitchen with brown wood and white painted cabinets.

Even stock cabinets offer multiple door styles, finish colors, storage accessories and moldings.

When choosing kitchen cabinets for a new home or remodeling project, we recommend that you start with cabinet type. While the colors, doors and materials will drive the kitchen's style, the type of cabinetry will determine not only the budget but also how well your space is used.

First decision: stock, semi-custom, or custom cabinets. Typically, stock cabinets offer the fewest options at the lowest prices in the shortest amount of time, with custom cabinets at the opposite end of the spectrum and semi-custom cabinets falling in the middle. Over the last decade or so, however, the style and accessory options offered by stock and semi-custom cabinet lines have expanded to the point where it's possible to achieve an attractive, personalized kitchen in any of the three choices.

Still, if you're looking to save money and to get the job going quickly, stock cabinets are your best bet. If you have a small kitchen and don't want to waste space on fillers, the greater range of sizes and storage accessories available in semi-custom might be a better fit. And if the cabinet finish or doors have to match a piece of heirloom furniture, you'll need custom cabinetry.

Second decision: framed or frameless cabinets. Looks-wise, framed or face-frame cabinetry is more traditional than frameless. Frameless cabinets have the advantage of more interior storage space, but the disadvantage of being more difficult, and therefore more expensive, to install. 



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Decorative Accents to Personalize Your Cabinetry

Close up of Wooden Cabinet with Decorative Molding

Courtesy of White River

Moldings and trim serve as decoration and ornamentation for your cabinetry. They also can conceal joints or smooth the transition between the cabinets and the ceiling and floor.

In minimalist contemporary kitchens, you'll find little, if any, molding. Yet a French Country kitchen would not be complete without stacked crown molding and corbels. More traditional and formal styles typically call for more elaborate detailing, while transitional or eclectic looks might use just a few standouts, such as rope molding on cabinet doors and bun feet on an island.

Molding doesn't need to blend seamlessly into your cabinetry. Add interest by juxtaposing finishes and staggering cabinet depth. For example, consider having your crown molding stained a deep green to accent knotty alder cabinets. Or "bump out" your cooktop area with split spindles.


Most often, molding and trim are made from hardwoods such as oak, maple, and cherry or painted softwoods like pine. Your cabinetmaker may offer a wide selection, or you may want to choose from an independent manufacturer or shop for a wider range of materials, shapes, sizes and pricing.

Metal can bring a modern kitchen to life. Metal onlays in stainless steel, bronze, copper and nickel are a great and subtle way to emphasize your hardware. Even better, metal feet are a great addition to generally unornamented laminate cabinetry.

Polystyrene and polyurethane molding, made from plastic or resin, offer an affordable alternative. These products are much more resistant to warping, rotting or insects than wood is, and they can be painted any color.



More in this category:Molding Types »