Oak cabinets © D Friedman at Kitchen Cabinet Choices & Design Guide
Best Practices

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Kitchen cabinet design guide:

This article describes the types of kitchen or bath cabinets available, cabinet grades (stock, semi-custom, custom), cabinet materials of construction (hardboard, particleboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF), plywood, solid wood), and cabinet finish choices (wood veneer, high-pressure laminate (plastic), melamine cabinets, vinyl finish cabinets, rigid thermofoil (RTF) cabinets, and painted cabinets).

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Kitchen Cabinet Choices & Design Guide

Birch cabinets © D Friedman at This article includes excerpts or adaptations from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction, by Steven Bliss, courtesy of Wiley & Sons.

Kitchen cabinets range widely in styles, materials, and levels of quality. Well-made cabinets feature sturdy cabinet boxes and drawers, stiff shelves that resist sagging, and solid hardware that operates smoothly.

Higher-end cabinets make greater use of veneer-core plywood rather than medium-density fiberboard (MDF), particleboard, or other composites.

[Click to enlarge any image]

Doors, drawer fronts, and visible end panels in premium cabinets make use of solid wood, real wood veneer, or high-pressure plastic laminate. At a glance, it is not always easy to discern quality levels since the best wood-grain vinyl facings do a surprisingly good imitation of real wood, at least until someone dents or scratches a corner.

With so many variables, it is not surprising to find that a set of cabinets for a midsize kitchen could range in price from as little as $3,000 for builder-grade cabinets picked up at a home center to as much as $20,000 for a custom high-end job.

Here we review cabinet grades: definition of stock cabinets, semi-custom kitchen cabinets, and custom kitchen cabinets. Guide to cabinet panel materials: hardboard, particleboard, medium density fiberboard (MDF), plywood, solid wood. Guide to cabinet finishes: wood veneer, high-pressure laminate (plastic), melamine cabinets, vinyl finish cabinets, rigid thermofoil (RTF) cabinets, and painted cabinets.

Guide to Wall Cabinet Grades

Stock oak front cabinet © D Friedman at The cabinet industry generally divides cabinets into three main grades: stock, semicustom, and custom.

Cabinet Materials & Cabinet Panel Products

Cherry cabinets stock © D Friedman at Cabinets use a wide variety of substrate materials for panels. The solid cherry front stock cabinets (left) were installed by the editor during renovations of an 1876 home in Wappinges Falls, NY in the 1980's.

The main cabinet panel products, typically covered with a wood, melamine, or vinyl veneer, are listed below:

Guide to Cabinet Finishes

These are the most common finish materials used for cabinet sides, interiors, and door and drawer fronts.


This article series discusses current best design practices for kitchens and bathrooms, including layout, clearances, work space, and accessible kitchen and bathroom layout, clearances, turning space, grab bars, controls, etc. We include advice on choosing and installing kitchen countertops, cabinets, and kitchen or bathroom flooring, sinks, and other plumbing fixtures and fixture controls such as faucets. A list of kitchen and bath product manufactures and sources is included.

Kitchen Cabinet Associations, Hardware, Manufacturers List

Also see these catalog pages:

-- Adapted with permission from Best Practices Guide to Residential Construction.


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