How To Pick Cabinets That Are Right For You

Kitchen cabinet guide

Added style and features are making even basic “stock” cabinets more like mid-level and mid-level cabinets more like premium cabinets. More style for less is welcome news to any re-modeler. But it’s the features you may not see immediately that ultimately determine how well your next set of cabinets will hold up in a busy kitchen.

Types of kitchen cabinets

Cabinets can vary greatly in price. Here’s an overview of the three types of cabinets in broad price segments that you’ll find in many outlets.

Basic cabinets

Basic line of cabinets are often called “stock cabinets”, these are inexpensive, off-the-shelf cabinets, ready to assemble and install. Many use frameless construction also called full overlay or European where the door has no lip or “reveal” around it.

Pros: These are a money-saving choice if you aren’t too picky about styles or options or don’t demand a perfect fit. These “stock cabinets” of today now have better drawers, solid wood doors, and other once-pricey features.

Cons: Many basic boxes are thinly veneered particleboard, rather than higher-quality plywood. Particleboard is very susceptible to damage from water and normal wear and tear. Style and trim options, sizes, and accessories are still limited. Purchasing the “stock cabinets” out of the box you should give yourself an hour or more of assembly time for each base and wall cabinet.

Mid-level cabinets

Mid-level or semi-custom cabinets are a sound choice for most kitchens. Many use face-frame construction/standard overlay, where the solid-wood frame shows around the door and drawers.

Pros: Mid-level cabinets offer many made-to-order custom options, including size, materials, finish, elaborate crown moldings and other trim, and accessories such as range-hood covers. That can make them the best-value option overall.

Cons: As with basic cabinets, features and quality can vary considerably. Boxes may be veneered particleboard rather than higher-quality plywood. Ensure you ask your cabinet representative about the construction of the cabinets.


These cabinets are as close as you can get to custom made-to-order cabinets, these semi-custom cabinets offer the most style and storage options.

Pros: Most generally come with plywood boxes and other premium materials, hardware and finishes. Widths may come in 1/4-inch increments, rather than the typical 3 inches.

Cons: At times these Premium cabinets are less expensive than fully made-to-order custom units, however cabinets with the most features and highest quality can cost as much and some times more than full-custom cabinets.

1 – Drawers. Best have solid-wood sides, dovetail joinery, and a plywood bottom that fits grooves on four sides. Avoid stapled particleboard.

2 – Drawer hardware. Full-extension guides are better than integrated side rails or undermounted double-roller designs. Some premium models have a “soft close” feature that stops drawers from slamming shut.

3 – Doors. Best is a solid-wood frame surrounding a solid-wood or plywood panel. Veneered particleboard or a medium-density fiberboard (MDF) panel is OK. Avoid laminate or thermofoil over particleboard. We didn’t find any differences between types of door hinges.

4 – Cabinet box. Best is 1/2 to 3/4-inch, furniture-grade plywood. MDF is OK, but avoid 3/8-inch coated particleboard.

5 – Shelves. Best is 3/4-inch plywood or MDF. Lesser-quality 5/8″ or 1/2″ particleboard shelves might sag. Depth of base cabinet shelves vary.

Mounting strips. Best is 3/4-inch hardwood or metal with bolt holes. Medium-density fiberboard (MDF), particleboard, or wood that’s thinner than 1/2 inch can be a concern for heavily loaded wall cabinets. Ask your installer to use stronger stuff.

Consumer Reports, August 2007

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