Kitchen Cabinets Open Up New Possibilities

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Kitchen cabinets are intended to be functional, but few design professionals or homeowners leave the choice simply at that. Otherwise, cardboard or plywood boxes might suffice.

Instead, kitchen cabinet choices have become hotly debated as the options have grown. This is true whether for a kitchen, bathroom, library, family room, bedroom, basement, wine cellar, closet, or any space in a home.

A major impetus has been the realization that kitchen cabinets can add an important aesthetic cache to the kitchen, thanks to the wider variety of styles, materials, trims, hardware and pulls available.

They've become part of the jewelry of a house--what makes a house a home.  We’re putting in an inordinate number of cabinets in all rooms these days, even in window seats because they increase space. But how much you pay for all your cabinets can vary greatly.

Higher-priced custom cabinetry can easily consume 50 to 60 percent of the cost of a kitchen remodeling budget, for example. While custom kitchen cabinets may last longer, come with a longer warranty and better fit into all those nooks and crannies, you don't always need to spend the most. You can opt for mostly stock ready-made kitchen cabinets and add some custom pieces for hard-to-fit areas or unusual demands.

How do you choose? Your decision should be based in part on how much you put into the building or remodeling of your entire home and the room in question, so that costs are proportionate. Since homeowners generally spend a large portion of their time in the kitchen, it makes sense to spend much more in that space than in any other room in your home.

You also should weigh how long you think you'll stay put in that home. If you're there for many years, you don't want to have to replace kitchen cabinet doors within five years. If, however, you intend to remain only a few years, you can cut costs by replacing knobs or pulls for a fresh look.

Kitchen Cabinet Possibilities

Refinishing - A slightly more expensive option is to refinish fronts or replace them, though cost effectiveness will depend on the condition and look desired.

Size - Custom cabinets can be made in all sizes and shapes; stock comes in 3-inch increments. Among an owner's bigger decisions is whether to build them all the way to the ceiling for extra storage and a clean, crisp look or to leave a soffit above for displaying baskets and other decorative objects and not make high-cabinets hard to reach. The height of below-counter cabinets reflects a different decision. Many homeowners today opt for European-style 36-inch high cabinets so they don't have to bend as they do with the typical 32-inch ones, particularly for vanities in bathrooms.

Finish - Along with the detailing on the front of the cabinet, this choice will determine as much as three-quarters of the cost of the cabinet. At the low end, are laminates, common woods like oak, and medium-density wrapped fiberboard.

Detailing. Raised panels and molding will add to the cost of the cabinet front, but if rooms, both with cabinetry, open to one another, you probably want to be consistent in your design choices.

Interior hardware. Hinges represent an area of cabinetry where homeowners may think it's fine to scrimp since it may not be visible, yet the pros know otherwise. The best hinges keep doors aligned, are concealed or partly concealed, made of chrome, nickel or brass, and adjust in every direction.

Exterior hardware. When it comes to knobs and pulls, endless choices abound, and you may decide to buy these separately rather than from your cabinet company.

Interior fittings. These days, you can outfit the interior of your cabinet with everything from rollout shelves to fancy spice racks, appliances and carousels. Again, every extra adds an expense, so decide where you feel the costs are most worthwhile, says Stern.

How much cabinetry? The best way to decide is to measure in linear feet existing cabinets and give yourself at least one-third more storage for future needs.

Having too much kitchen cabinet storage is rarely a negative. You can always find something to put in it.

To find a cabinet shop, designer, dealer or other kitchen and bath professional who can help you select, install, or purchase kitchen cabinetry, visit


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