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Reno of the Month: Your Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Design

Faceframe cabinets with white Shaker cabinet doors are warmed with a birch island in this transitional kitchen in Herndon. Image courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction.
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By Nicola Cole Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

Recently I was talking to a friend from out of town who is considering a home remodel. Although her home was built in the early 1970s, her personal aesthetic leans contemporary and she was considering a modern makeover for her kitchen.

We were discussing kitchen design and I wildly asked, “What style of cabinet doors do you have in mind?” It wasn’t a trick question, but as it turned out, it wasn’t something I thought much about. I’ve come to realize after polling others that this is a topic that a lot of people don’t really think about or care much about until it’s time to make their choice – often good in redesign when research and/or redesign can be very difficult. Works with limited cabinet options.

Depending on the home remodeling company or general contractor you use to remodel your kitchen, your choice of cabinetry may be very wide — or very narrow! At Synergy, we have a number of different cabinetry companies that we work with and our favorite partners offer different lines of cabinetry at various prices and endless color and style options! We were once able to match the color of a kitchen cabinet to a customer’s favorite bag. With other general contractors or small businesses, you may be limited to only three or four door styles and limited color options. It’s worth asking before signing on the dotted line to make sure you understand your options and whether they’re right for you.

Since kitchen cabinets will be one of the largest items in your renovation budget and can have a huge impact on your home’s design appeal, it’s important to get what you want. With that said, here’s a quick guide to kitchen cabinets so you can make the perfect choice for your kitchen remodel.

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Frameless wardrobes vs

Let’s start with the basics: without frame or Face Safes. With frameless cabinets, there is no frame around the cabinet box and the cabinet doors are directly attached to the inside of the box. While there are advantages such as easy access and storage space, the main appeal is the smooth, more modern look that frameless cabinets offer, due to their small “reveals” (the space that appears around cabinet doors and drawer heads).

Faceframe cabinets have a frame covering the edge of the cabinet box and door hinges attached to the frame itself. Faceframe cabinets tend to be more adaptable to all types of overlay (i.e. the way the cabinet frame appears around the doors and drawer heads) and sometimes have the added benefit of being more budget friendly. However, this greatly depends on the type of overlay you choose (read more below).

There is no right or wrong choice and it all comes down to personal preference. The drawing below shows the difference between frameless and frame cabinets.

Frameless cabinets and contemporary design. Image courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remake here.

There are three different types of cabinet overlays: partial overlayAnd full overlay And inset. With more traditional partial overhang cabinets, you can see a lot of the cabinet box frame. However, newer, more modern cabinets often have “full overlay” doors. With new finishes and production methods, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between frameless and frameless cabinets once they’re installed, as seen in the examples below. However, cabinets with a full overhang front frame are not the same as frameless cabinets. Full overlay cabinets still display approximately one inch of frame around the doors and drawers, while frameless cabinets show almost no frame.

This is an example of a more traditional American face frame cabinet style. Note, because these are partial overhang cabinets, you can see the cabinet box “frame” around the doors. Image provided by Bright MLS.
Faceframe cabinets with white Shaker cabinet doors are warmed with a birch island in this transitional kitchen in Herndon. Image courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remake here.
Full overhanging closet doors set the tone for this transitional home remodel in Vienna. Image courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remake here.

Next come the interior doors. With inset cabinets, the doors don’t sit in front of the cabinet’s front frame, but sit inside (“flush” with) the frame—the full frame of the cabinet between all the doors and drawers is exposed for a classic Craftsman look. To add more detail and uniqueness to the interior of the cabinets, they are sometimes available with decorative exposed hinges in different finishes. As a rule, interior doors will be more expensive.

In this example, interior doors were used on the walls and fully paneled doors for the bases and tall cupboards. Image courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remake here.

Now that you’ve made up your mind about frameless or frame-faced cabinets, let’s take a look at the most popular door styles.

Go to Shaker

Shaker cabinet doors are still the preferred choice for many. Its clean lines and no-fuss look mean it’s still a popular choice that has stood the test of design time. Shaker cabinets fit beautifully with a more transitional design—one that blends traditional and modern design. Recently, there has been a general move away from all white Shaker kitchen cabinets. I started with subtly contrasting islands, but the blues, greens, and woods elements are all equally at home now.

Not sure what “transitional kitchen design” means? Read This is amazing!

Face framed cabinets with white shaker doors and a gorgeous contrasting cobalt blue island! Image courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remake here.

Slab fronted cupboards

When it comes to a more modern look, slate-front cabinets are the way to go. Frameless door cabinets are usually frameless for an ultra-chic look. They are very versatile and can be handled/pulled for an extra trendy look but also work with knobs and pulls. As with Shaker door cabinets, front-facing cabinet colors can also be mixed to give contrast.

Frameless cabinets with contrasting walnut slab doors and white lacquer make this kitchen stand out in this Reston home. Image courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remake here.
Frameless cabinets with slab doors and tons of European flair! Image courtesy of Synergy Design & Construction. See more remakes here.

Mix and match

There is no rule about having to use one cabinet door style in your kitchen design. If you love the look of Shaker but want a modern touch, these slab facades can be mixed and matched. The key is to do all cabinet doors in one style and all drawers in another. In the examples below, a Shaker style was used for the cabinet doors, but with slab drawers for a more modern look.

Full overlay framed cabinets with slab drawers. Image courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remake here.
Frameless cabinets with shaker doors and slab drawers. Image courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remake here.
Frameless cabinets with shaker doors and slab drawers. Image courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remake here.
The clients in this Reston home remodel took a slightly different approach. They used baseboards for all base cabinets (drawers and doors) and shakers for all upper cabinets. Image courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remake here.

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