Choosing new kitchen cabinets is an exciting process that allows you to put your personal style on display in one of the most frequented rooms of your home. With so many options to consider from door styles and finishes to organizational elements and budget, the process can also feel overwhelming for many homeowners. Having a thoughtful approach is key to making sure your new kitchen cabinets directly reflect your needs and aesthetic preferences while staying within your budget. This comprehensive guide covers everything you need to know to choose kitchen cabinets with confidence.

Determine Your Style

Kitchen cabinet styles encompass both aesthetic design and functionality. Narrowing down your preferred options in both realms will help guide you to cabinets that check all your boxes.

Aesthetic Styles

When it comes to visual style, there are three main categories of kitchen cabinet designs:

  • Traditional – Features ornate details like carved accents, molded trim, and distressed finishes. Often made of darker wood tones. Offers a timeless, classic look.
  • Contemporary – Clean, simple lines and geometric shapes. Made of lightweight materials like thermofoil or aluminum. Provides a sleek, modern aesthetic.
  • Transitional – Blends elements of traditional and contemporary styles. Often incorporates white painted wood or light wood tones with understated hardware. Balances classic and trendy design.

Decide whether you gravitate toward the embellished traditional, pared-down contemporary, or fusion transitional look. This clarity guides you toward the door styles, materials, and finishes aligned with the aesthetic you want.

Functional Designs

Beyond visual style, cabinet construction and storage configuration impact functionality. Consider what cabinet features best serve your lifestyle needs:

  • Full Access – Door opens to reveal full cabinet interior for easy access. Provides excellent storage versatility.
  • Partial Access – Door opens partially to limited interior space. Allows you to hide mess while still accessing contents.
  • Drawers – Provide full access to contents. Ideal for storing cooking utensils, cutlery, etc. Easy to see and reach interior.
  • Roll-Outs – Interior shelves or racks on tracks roll out of cabinet fully for complete access. Great for corner cabinets and pantries.
  • Pull-Outs – Cabinet interiors or insert baskets pull out approximately 75% for ergonomic access. Used for trash/recycling, pot/pan storage, etc.
  • Lazy Susan – Rotating shelves deliver full access to complete interior contents in corners. Avoid awkward reaching and digging.
  • Other Specialty Storage – Options like mixer cabinets, appliance garages, and angled drawers cater to specific storage needs.

Decide which configurations best organize your kitchen items in the most easily accessible and space-efficient way. This guides your cabinet selection toward optimal functional design.

Choose Your Cabinet Door Style

The style of your cabinet doors makes the biggest visual impact. Door styles fall broadly into two main categories: slab and frame.

Slab Cabinet Doors

Slab cabinet doors consist of a single flat panel attached to the cabinet box. The door style comes from the shaping along the outer edges of the panel. Common slab door edge profiles include:

  • Square – Straight 90-degree edges offer minimalistic contemporary styling.
  • Shaker – Subtle recessed center panel bordered by small lip edges provides understated elegance.
  • Slab – No shaping, just a plain flat slab creates simple clean lines.
  • Cove – Rounded or scalloped edges add a soft, sophisticated touch.

Slab cabinet doors work well in contemporary, modern, minimalist, farmhouse, and eclectic kitchen designs. The simplicity provides a blank canvas to layer on personalized style.

Framed Cabinet Doors

Framed cabinet doors feature a central recessed panel bordered by a surrounding frame. The frame creates dimension and architectural interest. Popular framed cabinet door patterns include:

  • Raised Panel – Central panel is raised and surrounded by a frame in a complementary shape for classic elegance.
  • Recessed Panel – Frame protrudes slightly outward from the recessed central panel for bold definition.
  • Mitered Panel – Central panel set into frame at angled mitered joints makes a strong geometric statement.
  • Glass Panel Doors – Glass inserts in wood frame adds visual depth and display.

Framed cabinet doors excel in traditional, Old World, and cottage kitchen designs. The framed detail provides built-in decorative charm.

Select Your Cabinet Door Material

Cabinet doors come in a range of materials that influence the overall style, durability, and budget. Primary options include:

  • Wood – Classic material provides natural beauty, warmth, and durability. Customizable with unlimited stain options. Pricier but excellent value.
  • Thermofoil – Made by bonding thin vinyl over composite wood substrate. Provides consistent color, resists chipping and scratching. Budget-friendly.
  • Laminate – Paper laminate layer fused over particleboard. Affordable option offers extensive color/pattern options. Prone to chipping over time.
  • Metal – Aluminum or stainless steel for sleek contemporary look. Durable and easy to clean but higher cost. Makes a bold statement.
  • Glass – Glass inset panels create display space and light reflection. Available smoked or tinted. Adds unique style but fragility limits use.

Consider your overall style, usage, and budget. For example, families with young kids are better served by durable thermofoil or wood rather than more delicate glass or laminate.

Choose a Finish for Cabinets

The finish you select for your cabinetry ties everything together aesthetically. Wood cabinets allow you to customize everything from color to distressing for a one-of-a-kind look. Most popular finishes include:


Stain penetrates wood to creatively modify color while showing off beautiful wood grain. Multiple coats build up depth and saturation. Common stain shades:

  • Light – Natural, maple, birch. Brightens space with airy, casual vibe.
  • Medium – Walnut, cherry, oak. Richer color feels warm and welcoming.
  • Dark – Espresso, wenge. Sophisticated drama and bold visual impact.
  • Whitewash – Pickled look softens wood tones. Light, farmhouse feel.
  • Weathered – Distressed, uneven stain mimics timeworn antique furniture. Rustic charm.


Cabinet paint completely covers wood surface for bold color impact. Either spray or brush application works. Trendy painted finishes include:

  • Solid Color – Any color goes! White for modern freshness, navy for dramatic punch, gray for versatile neutrality.
  • Glaze – Translucent layer over paint adds extra dimension. Often in darker tone over white.
  • Ombre – Gradually shifting tones from light to dark (or vice versa). Fun modern statement.
  • Antiquing – Topcoat dragged away in areas to expose different basecoat color beneath. Timeworn charm.

Natural Woodgrain

Showcasing the natural beauty of wood makes an elegant style statement. Common natural wood cabinet options:

  • Maple – Creamy white tone. Subtly smooth grain pattern. Clean, airy look.
  • Oak – Rich reddish-brown hue. Pronounced grain variation. Warm, traditional aesthetic.
  • Cherry – Deep red-brown color. Straight fine grain lines. Sophisticated formality.
  • Walnut – Dark chocolate tones. Flowing grain contours. Striking drama.

Choose Decorative Hardware

Don’t overlook the importance of cabinet hardware in completing your kitchen’s overall style! Handles and knobs should integrate into the design aesthetic you want to achieve.

Metal Finishes

Most cabinet hardware comes in a spectrum of metal finishes. Consider finishes like:

  • Polished Chrome / Nickel – Reflective shine suits contemporary style. Clean, sleek statement.
  • Brushed Stainless – Understated matte sheen provides an industrial edge. Strong, durable material.
  • Oil-Rubbed Bronze – Dark antique patina creates depth. Distressed, vintage charm.
  • Matte Black – Subtle sheen for sophisticated monochrome accent. Bold pop of contrast.


Beyond metal finish, the shape and style of handles/knobs offers further customization:

  • Slab Pulls – Unadorned straight rectangle enhances modern minimalism.
  • Architectural Pulls – Angled shapes mimic building details for rustic or urban edge.
  • Crystal / Glass Knobs – Elegant, ornate materials elevate traditional style.
  • Ceramic Knobs – Handcrafted artisanal details offer eclectic flair.

Mix and match drawer/door hardware within one kitchen for eclectic personality. Otherwise, choose cohesive handles/knobs for a seamless unified look.

Compare Cabinet Brands

With so many kitchen cabinet options on the market, researching manufacturers helps narrow choices. Consider factors like:

  • Quality – Construction, joinery, durability, materials. High quality yields lasting value.
  • Customizability – Interior fittings, dimensions, finishes. Allows personalization for unique style.
  • Cost – Wide range based on materials, construction, customization. Balance budget with value.
  • Lead Times – From in-stock to 4-6 week average for custom. Plan project timeline accordingly.

Recommended Brands

Top cabinet brands that excel across these criteria include:

  • KraftMaid – Range of styles, materials, prices. Excellent quality and warranties. Widely available.
  • Merillat – Affordable options without sacrificing sturdiness. Streamlined buying process.
  • Wellborn – Made in the USA. Limitless customization capability. Premium materials.
  • Canyon Creek – Exceptional value. High-end finishes and hardware. Quick delivery.
  • CabinetDirect – RTA supplier sells direct to homeowners. Cost-effective customization.

Shop showrooms to review product quality and service. Many brands sell direct online as well for convenience.

Choose Specialty Storage Solutions

Don’t limit your kitchen design to just standard cabinets! Specialty storage solutions make the space highly functional by accommodating all your specific needs. Consider features like:

Pull-Out Pantry

  • Creates floor-to-ceiling enclosed storage column. Optimizes hard-to-reach space. Easy access to interior shelves/drawers. Perfect for dry goods, dinnerware, cleaning items.

Spice Drawer Organizer

  • Cabinet drawer fitted with divided compartments for herbs and spices. Keeps jars neatly arranged and easy to identify/access. Slides smoothly in and out.

Microwave Cabinet

  • Enclosed cabinet sized for built-in microwave installation. Keeps appliance concealed when not in use. Integrates seamlessly into cabinetry design.

Appliance Garage

  • Cabinet with roll-up door houses small countertop appliances like blenders, toasters. Keeps items hidden away but close at hand when needed.

Mixer Shelf

  • Provides special retractable platform at counter height to rest heavy mixer for convenient use. Folds into cabinet when not needed.

Carefully Measure Your Kitchen

Accurately measuring ensures your new cabinets will fit your kitchen layout perfectly. Make sure to:

  • Use a laser measuring tool for precision. Re-check manually too.
  • Note window, plumbing fixture, and appliance dimensions on layout.
  • Account for uneven walls and floors in your calculations.
  • Photograph layout for easy reference, including problem spots.

With detailed measurements in hand, your kitchen designer can advise on optimal cabinet configurations, adjust work triangles, and guarantee perfect sizing. Taking this critical step avoids potentially costly issues down the road!

Set Your Kitchen Cabinet Budget

New kitchen cabinets represent a significant investment that can quickly run up costs. Making budget decisions upfront minimizes financial stress through the process.

  • Research pricing ranges online for the styles and brands you’re considering. This gives you an approximate baseline.
  • Get quotes from at least 3 kitchen designers to compare options that fit your budget parameters.
  • If quoted budget is beyond reach, adjust expectations. Scale back specialty features, opt for more economical lines/brands, or draw out timeline for a phased approach.
  • Settle on target budget and get designer’s help prioritizing essentials first. Compromise on negotiables like finishes and hardware if needed.
  • Build in 10-15% contingency for unforeseen issues. Having extra wiggle room prevents budget-busting surprises.

Setting expectations around what you can realistically afford will keep your kitchen cabinet upgrade on track financially.

Choose Eco-Friendly Options

Today’s options allow you to outfit your kitchen with environmentally responsible cabinets. Seek out manufacturers that utilize practices like:

  • FSC Certified Materials – Ensures wood comes from responsibly managed forests. Reduces deforestation impacts.
  • Low VOC Finishes – Paints, stains and adhesives with low chemical emissions. Healthier indoor air quality.
  • Sustainable Processing – Production methods that reduce carbon footprint through recycling and energy efficiency.
  • Local Sourcing – Cabinets made regionally reduce emissions associated with long transport. Supports local economy.

Beyond manufacturing practices, you can also select options like:

  • Upcycled Cabinets – Vintage cabinets reused from architectural salvage. Repurposed into new kitchen with eco-friendly updates.
  • Renewable Bamboo Doors – Made from fast-growing sustainable grass alternative to wood. Offers durability and rich visual appeal.
  • Recycled Glass Counters – Upcycled glass aggregate and resin tops divert waste with unique recycled style.

An eco-design minimizes your kitchen’s environmental impact without sacrificing beauty or function.

Plan Electrical and Plumbing

Your cabinet design should integrate essential electrical and plumbing considerations:


  • Under-cabinet lights illuminate countertop workspace. Hardwired or plug-in LED options.
  • Puck lights add task lighting. Install in upper cabinets to shine down when doors open.
  • Glass cabinet inserts create ambient lighting. Combine with interior lighting for brilliant display.


  • Include cut-outs for built-in oven, microwave, refrigerator. Coordinate dimensions precisely.
  • Incorporate adjacent outlet for refrigerator. Conceal with cabinet trim for clean look.
  • Allow proper ventilation space above cooktop/range. Follow manufacturer clearance requirements.

Sink Plumbing

  • Line up sink base cabinet correctly with drain/supply lines. Minimize visibility of plumbing.
  • Design supports open knee space and plumbing access where needed.
  • Select sink/faucet models that align with existing plumbing hookups if possible.

Careful coordination during planning prevents electrical and plumbing headaches during cabinet installation.

Choose Countertops to Match

Your countertop choice ties everything together visually. Materials and colors should complement your cabinets for a cohesive finished look.

Continuity with Cabinets

  • Match wood countertop species to cabinet finish for seamless flow. Oak cabinets paired with oak counters, for example.
  • Echo cabinet finish in countertop details. Ex: Quartz surface with bronze-tone flecks to coordinate with bronze hardware accents.

Contrast with Cabinets

  • Lighter counters create airy contrast against dark cabinetry. White marble or butcher block complements espresso cabinets nicely.
  • Darker counters add bold definition. Soapstone, granite or slate complements light painted cabinets stylishly.

Consider durability and maintenance needs too when selecting countertop materials. For example, butcher block requires thorough sealing to resist water damage.

Hire Professional Installers

Proper kitchen cabinet installation involves precision measurements, securing to studs, level hanging, and more nuanced steps. Hiring professional installers is recommended to:

  • Ensure correct installation for longest cabinet and countertop lifespan. Avoid damage from DIY mistakes.
  • Have project completed quickly and efficiently. Experts can complete in days rather than weeks.
  • Gain peace of mind with warranties. Qualified installers guarantee workmanship.

Look for installers who are certified by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association for rigorous training in proper techniques. Their expertise delivers superior, lasting results.

Questions to Ask When Choosing Kitchen Cabinets:

Kitchen cabinet selection involves many choices. Asking the right questions helps guide you to options matching your needs. Key questions include:

What cabinet door styles appeal most to my aesthetic?

Consider whether you prefer simple slab doors or decorative framed doors to match your personal style.

How durable and resistant to daily wear-and-tear do my cabinets need to be?

If you’ll be cooking frequently or have a bustling family, prioritize more indestructible thermofoil or solid wood. For light usage, laminates also work.

What storage configurations will best organize my kitchen items?

Maximize efficiency with specialty inserts like pull-outs and roll-outs based on what you regularly store.

Do I prefer an ultra-modern, ornately traditional, or fusion style?

Your overall decor taste should inform cabinet choices for a cohesive look.

What finish and hardware options will let me uniquely customize?

Hands-on customization comes from choices like stains, glazes, knobs and pulls in your preferred shapes and finishes.

What’s my budget? How much can I compromise on materials and extras to meet it?

Have clarity on what you can realistically spend before shopping. Adjust expectations if needed – don’t break budget.

Asking the right questions upfront gives you the insights to select your dream kitchen cabinets confidently!


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