A designer selecting kitchen cabinets

The Ultimate Guide on How to Pick Kitchen Cabinets (2023)

Are you beginning the journey of a new kitchen or a kitchen remodel and need some advice on how to pick kitchen cabinets?

Feeling overwhelmed by the endless choices available? Don’t worry; you’re not alone!

Knowing how to pick new cabinets requires experience, education, and a flair for interior design.

That’s why I’m here to help you navigate every essential aspect of kitchen cabinetry.

how to pick kitchen cabinets

Please note that this article contains affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission if you buy something. Read my full disclosure here.

In this comprehensive guide, I will share my education, insights, tips, and tricks on how to pick kitchen cabinets that strike the perfect balance between style, function, and budget.

From choosing base cabinets, wall cabinets, materials, and finishes to understanding construction quality, we’ll explore every crucial aspect to make your new kitchen cabinet selection journey as smooth and enjoyable as possible.

Because I was first a real estate agent before I was a designer, we will consider your home’s current and potential resale value.

It’s essential to consider your home and neighborhood’s value to avoid over-improvements that may yield a low return on investment.


So, let’s dive in on how to pick kitchen cabinets that will transform your kitchen.

1. Gather kitchen inspiration photos

women searching design inspo

Gather inspiration and identify preferences: Begin by browsing model homes, Pinterest, Instagram, magazines, HGTV, and Houzz.com for new kitchen cabinet ideas.

Save images that resonate with your personal style and preferences.

As you collect inspiration, circle or make notes of specific design aspects you like in the photos, such as different colors, types of wood, or cabinet door styles.

This will help you refine your vision for your own kitchen cabinets.

2. Determine Budget and cabinet type

new home design budget

Determine your budget and cabinet type: Establish a budget for your kitchen cabinets, considering the overall cost of your kitchen renovation.

RANT WARNING!! Hold onto your hats, folks, because I have to rant.

As a new home design consultant, it drove me bonkers when clients came into their design appointments without first discussing their budget with their mortgage lender.

Overspending can lead to disqualification from your loan, and watering down your design can mean missing out on crucial options that impact your future ROI.

BUDGET TIP: Every $10,000 added at the design appointment only translates to an extra $40 to $50 on your monthly mortgage payments. So, do yourself a favor and chat with your lender before dreaming up your ideal home!

As you set your budget, decide whether to use stock cabinets, RTA (ready-to-assemble), semi-custom, or custom cabinets.

Each type has its own price range and level of customization, so understanding your options will help you narrow down your choices and make the selection process easier.

Stock Cabinets

stocked kitchen cabinets

Stock cabinets are pre-made and come in standard sizes, offering limited options for customization. They are typically more affordable and readily available, making them a budget-friendly choice.

RTA ( Read to Assemble) Cabinets

blue ready to assemble cabinet

RTA (ready-to-assemble) cabinets are flat-packed and require assembly by the buyer or installer. They come in a broader range of styles and sizes than stock cabinets but still have some limitations. RTA cabinets are often more affordable than fully assembled cabinets while offering some customization options.

Semi-Custom Cabinets

Semi-custom cabinets balance stock and custom cabinets, providing a broader range of styles, materials, and sizes than stock and RTA cabinets.

They allow key customization options, such as modifying cabinet dimensions, adding decorative elements, or choosing specific finishes and hardware.

Custom Cabinets

navy blue custom kitchen

Custom kitchen cabinets are built to your exact specifications, offering the most flexibility in design, materials, and functionality. 

With custom cabinets, you can get unique features like tailored storage solutions, specialized lighting, or personalized architectural details that you won’t find in stock and RTA options. 

However, custom cabinets have a higher price tag due to their bespoke nature and craftsmanship.

High-quality kitchen cabinets can be hard to find; read my post on High-end kitchen cabinet manufacturers and their best brand profiles. 

Kitchen cabinet cost comparison

drawing cosr comparison

Stock cabinets: $100 to $300 per linear foot installed.

RTA cabinets: $75 to $250 per linear foot installed.

Semi-custom cabinets: $150 to $600 per linear foot installed.

Custom cabinets: $500 to $1,200 per linear foot installed.

Please note that these are rough estimations.

3. Assess your storage needs

interior cabinet organizer

Taking an inventory of your kitchen items and considering your storage requirements is crucial for selecting the right kitchen cabinets.

By understanding what you need to store and how you want to organize your kitchen, you can make informed decisions on cabinet sizes, configurations, and features that best suit your lifestyle.

This process helps you create a more functional and efficient kitchen, maximizing space and quickly accessing frequently used items.

Example: If you have an extensive collection of pots and pans, you might prioritize cabinets with deep drawers or pull-out shelves to accommodate and organize these items efficiently, making your daily cooking routine more convenient.

4. Choose a cabinet style

kitchen-cabinet-door-styles

Research various kitchen cabinet styles and decide which one best suits your home decor and personal preferences. Some of the most popular door styles include:

Shaker Cabinets

blue shaker kitchen cabinet

Shaker cabinets are characterized by clean lines and simple design, featuring a recessed panel in the center and a minimalist frame.

Shaker kitchen cabinets are the most popular style of the kitchen cabinet door. Shaker works well in modern, traditional, and even farmhouse kitchen cabinets.

Flat-panel Cabinets, AKA Slab Cabinets

flat panel kitchen cabinets

A sleek, contemporary option with a flat center panel and no additional detailing or ornamentation.

This style is also known as a slab cabinet, and a flat panel is a perfect fit for a modern cabinet design.

Raised panel cabinet

blue grey raised panel cabinets

Raised panel is a classic choice, with a raised center panel that adds depth and dimension to the door design.

Interior designers often use raised panel kitchen cabinetry in traditional kitchen design.

Recessed panel

recessed panel kitchen cabinets

The recessed panel is similar to the shaker style. Still, it has more detail around the edges of the center panel, offering a subtle decorative touch.

The upper glass cabinets draw the eye up, making the entire kitchen appear larger and more open.

Beadboard kitchen cabinets

Beadboard features vertical slats that give the door a textured, cottage-style appearance.

Two-tone kitchens like those shown here are model home magic tricks we often implement in smaller kitchens.

The contrast in the base cabinet makes the space appear larger. This can also be applied to the kitchen island.

Glass-front kitchen cabinet doors

Cabinets with glass inserts in the door allow for a display of your dinnerware or decorative items while maintaining a polished look.

Glass fronts can create a classic. Still, they can also help to make a small kitchen appear larger.

5. How to pick kitchen cabinet materials

wood material and calculator

Choose the material for your cabinets based on your budget, desired look, and durability requirements.

Knowing how to pick kitchen cabinet materials is one of your most important decisions.

Standard kitchen cabinet materials include solid wood, plywood, MDF, and particleboard.

MDF (medium-density fiberboard)

MDF (medium-density fiberboard) is an engineered wood product made from wood fibers and resin, offering a smooth surface that accepts paint well.

Particleboard

particle board

On the other hand, the particleboard is composed of wood chips and sawdust bound together with resin.

MDF is generally considered more durable and stable than particleboard, which can be more susceptible to moisture damage and sagging over time.

The choice of material can significantly impact the longevity and quality of your cabinets; for instance, solid wood and plywood cabinets typically offer better durability and strength than MDF and particleboard options.

Plywood

ply wood

Plywood is an engineered wood product made by layering thin sheets of wood veneer glued together with the grain directions alternating in each layer.

This construction provides increased strength, stability, and resistance to warping compared to solid wood. Plywood is often used in cabinet boxes and shelves due to its durability and lower cost.

Hardwood

hardwood lumber

Hardwood, on the other hand, is solid wood that comes from trees like oak, maple, cherry, or walnut. Hardwood cabinets are known for their natural beauty, grain patterns, and durability.

They can be stained or finished in various ways to showcase their unique characteristics.

In real-world scenarios, hardwood cabinets can withstand more wear and tear than plywood cabinets, making them a worthy investment for homeowners prioritizing quality and longevity.

For example, hardwood cabinets are less prone to damage from heavy pots and pans or accidental impacts, ensuring they maintain their appearance and functionality for years.

Hardwood cabinets can be refinished or repainted multiple times, allowing for updates or changes to your kitchen design without replacing the cabinets entirely.

6. Decide on a finish or color

Select a finish or color that complements your kitchen design and overall home aesthetic. Each finish has its own set of characteristics, pros, and cons.

Kitchen Cabinet Paint

painted cabinets with wood hood

Paint: A versatile option that offers a wide range of colors and can create a smooth, uniform look.

Painted cabinets can adapt to various design styles, from modern to traditional.

However, they may be more prone to chipping and require touch-ups over time.

Cabinet Stains

Enhances the natural wood grain and texture while adding color.

Stained cabinets work well in traditional or rustic kitchens.

They tend to be more resistant to chipping compared to paint but may show wear and tear more readily, particularly in lighter shades.

Kitchen cabinet Glaze

A semi-transparent finish is applied over paint or stain, adding depth and an aged, vintage look to cabinets. Glazing can accentuate details and create a rich, layered appearance. However, it may require more maintenance to keep the finish looking fresh and clean.

Laminate wrap and High gloss kitchen cabinets

A thin, durable layer of material adhered to the cabinet surface, offering a wide range of colors, patterns, and textures.

Laminate cabinets are easy to clean, moisture-resistant, and can mimic the look of wood, metal, or other materials.

However, they may be more prone to chipping and peeling over time, and repairing the damage can be difficult.

What is the most popular kitchen cabinet colors?

White, Black, Green, Bue, Gray, Natural wood tones, Off-whites.

White: Timeless and versatile, white cabinets create a bright, clean appearance that works well with various kitchen styles.

Gray: Gray has a neutral and contemporary look, and gray cabinets can range from light to dark shades, balancing traditional and modern aesthetics.

blue kitchen cabinets

Navy Blue: This deep, rich color adds a touch of sophistication and elegance, making it an increasingly popular choice for modern and transitional kitchens.

Black: Bold and striking, black cabinets create a dramatic and luxurious effect, often used in modern, minimalist kitchen designs.

Green: From soft sage to deep forest green, this color has become popular as homeowners opt for a more natural and calming feel in their kitchens.

light wood tone kitchen cabinets

Light Wood: Natural wood finishes, such as oak, maple, or birch, provide a warm and inviting atmosphere, fitting well with farmhouse, rustic, and Scandinavian kitchen styles.

Off-white: While classic white kitchen cabinets will always remain in style, current trends are leaning towards off-white shades that provide a warmer, cozier feel.

7. Consider Cabinet Construction Quality

Pay attention to the construction features that contribute to the durability and functionality of your cabinets. Some top construction options worth paying for that enhance quality and longevity.

Dovetail joints

dovetail drawer

These interlocking joinery techniques are used in high-quality drawer boxes, providing strength and resistance to wear over time.

Feature/Benefit: The dovetail joint ensures that your heavy pots and pans drawer remains sturdy and functional despite frequent use.

Soft-close hinges and drawer slides

soft close cabinet hinges

These mechanisms allow doors and drawers to close softly and silently, preventing slamming and reducing wear on the cabinets.

Feature/Benefit: soft close enhancements can prolong the life of your cabinets and create a more peaceful kitchen environment.

Adjustable cabinet shelving

Cabinets with adjustable shelves offer flexibility to accommodate items of various sizes and can be reconfigured to suit changing storage needs.

Feature/Benefit: This feature makes it easier to adapt your kitchen storage as your collection of cookware, dishes, or appliances evolves.

Plywood cabinet boxes

plywood cabinet boxes

Choosing cabinets with plywood construction ensures a strong and stable foundation, increasing their durability and resistance to warping or sagging.

Feature/Benefit: A plywood cabinet box can better support the weight of heavy countertop materials, such as granite or quartz, without the risk of damage.

8. Plan the kitchen Layout

diagram how to layout kitchen cabinets

Before finalizing your kitchen cabinet choices, it’s essential to have a well-planned layout.

 I previously wrote a blog post titled “Kitchen Design Principles for Every Layout,” discussing the kitchen triangle and the six most common kitchen layouts, including the ever-popular L-shaped kitchen.

Additionally, in the same blog post, I introduce “the Five Zone Kitchen” concept, a modern update on the kitchen triangle, addressing today’s evolving kitchen needs.

To better understand the fundamentals of kitchen layouts and design, please read and review that blog post for additional information.

This knowledge will be valuable when selecting the perfect kitchen cabinets to suit your layout.

9. How to Pick Kitchen Cabinet Door Construction

Choose door and drawer styles that suit your aesthetic preferences and the cabinet style you’ve chosen.

Full Overlay

Doors and drawers completely cover the cabinet face frame, creating a seamless, streamlined look. This option provides a more modern appearance and maximizes storage space. Full-overlay cabinets are typically more expensive than partial-overlay cabinets but can add value to your home.

Partial Overlay

Doors and drawers partially cover the cabinet’s face frame, leaving a small gap between them. This option is more traditional and budget-friendly but may offer slightly less storage space.

Inset

Inset cabinetry features doors and drawers that fit precisely within the cabinet face frame, creating a clean, tailored, furniture-like appearance.

This style is typically more expensive due to the precise craftsmanship required but adds a high-end, custom feel to your kitchen.

Frameless

framless kitchen-cabinets

Frameless cabinets, also known as European-style cabinets, frameless construction eliminates the face frame, offering a sleek, minimalist look with unobstructed access to the cabinet interior.

This style is well-suited for modern and contemporary kitchens.

Bonus Tip: When selecting a cabinet door and drawer construction, consider your home’s value and the expectations of your subdivision.

For example, partial-overlay cabinets may not be suitable for a multi-million dollar home. Spending thousands of additional dollars on inset cabinetry may not be the best investment for an affordably-priced, first-time buyer townhome.

Choose the style that best complements your kitchen design, budget, and resale value.

10. Selecting cabinet hardware and accessories

picking ktchen cabinet hardware

The choice of hardware and accessories for your kitchen cabinets is primarily influenced by personal preference. When making these selections, it’s essential to consider the lifestyle and occupants of your home.

Considering the occupants and lifestyle, what does that mean?

  • Young children or elderly family members need cabinet hardware that is easy to grasp and operate.
  •  Pulls with smooth edges can be more comfortable for those with limited dexterity.
  •  Although beautiful, cupboard latches require more effort to get in and out of this, which may not be ideal for a busy lifestyle.

Feel free to mix metals and textures, as this can create a unique and visually appealing look. However, as a pro tip, limit the mix to just two metal finishes for a cohesive appearance.

Suppose you require cabinet hardware inspiration, particularly for the popular shaker cabinet style. In that case, I’ve written a blog post on shaker cabinet hardware ideas that you may find helpful.

white kitchen cabinets with black hardware

Cabinet hardware and coordinating accessories like pendant lighting can be decided upon at the end. Still, they are an integral part of how to pick kitchen cabinets that will define your overall design style.

11. Evaluate kitchen cabinet installation options

Decide whether you will DIY the installation or hire a professional. If you’re hiring a professional, obtain quotes from multiple contractors and verify their experience, references, and insurance coverage.

Try website like Angi formerly knowns as Angies list to find reputable vendors in your area.

12. Consult with professional and order samples

revieew kitchen cabinet samples

Before making your final choice, it’s wise to consult with experienced professionals, such as kitchen designers, cabinetmakers, or contractors.

They can offer valuable insights and guidance on the best options for your specific needs and ensure a seamless installation process.

Once you’ve gathered their input, you can confidently order samples and make an informed decision to create the kitchen of your dreams.

Final Thoughts on how to pick kitchen cabinets

In conclusion, understanding how to pick kitchen cabinets that complement your home’s style, cater to your family’s needs, and fit within your budget is crucial for creating the perfect kitchen.

By following the steps outlined in this guide and considering the various aspects of cabinet selection, from materials and finishes to layout and hardware, you’re well on your way to designing a space that reflects your unique taste and enhances your daily life.

As you embark on your journey to discover how to pick kitchen cabinets that elevate your home’s value and aesthetic, remember to trust your instincts, and don’t be afraid to seek inspiration from various sources.

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