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Planning for kitchen cabinets

Before any work commences, the homeowner must first make a detailed plan on the type of kitchen they desire. Some homeowners find it easier to work with a professional interior designer. Designers that specialize in kitchens and bathrooms can provide a number of ideas that fit within any personal preferences. They will draw up plans and work with contractors who might be hired. You can reasonably expect to pay up to 20 percent of the total cost of the kitchen remodel if an interior designer is hired.

Those who choose to work without the aid of a designer must be able to create an accurate cabinet installation plan. Design software helps homeowners visualize the plan and make the best decisions for using their existing space.  A simple Internet search can provide a number of inexpensive or free kitchen design tools.

Even with the aid of kitchen-design software, planning a kitchen will only be successful if your measurements are precise and you take organization into consideration. Measure all walls and appliances. Don't forget to allow for opening the dishwasher, oven and refrigerator doors. Measure any windows and entryways as well.

Cabinets are a big investment and account for around 40 percent of most kitchen remodels. The price for kitchen cabinets, not including countertops and installation, ranges from $4,000 to $20,000, depending on whether you're getting stock, semi-custom or custom-made cabinets. However, if you're handy, you can buy ready to assemble (RTA) cabinets to save some money. RTA cabinets from IKEA range from about $100 to $400 per cabinet.

vintage cherry kitchen cabinets

Think about how you use your kitchen before settling on any type of kitchen cabinets. (Photo courtesy of KraftMaid Cabinetry)

Custom kitchen cabinets

From the type of kitchen cabinet to the cabinet door and hardware, there are a plethora of options to consider when choosing kitchen cabinets. Here are some of the most common options.

Types of kitchen cabinets

Base: These are the standard cabinet in most homes and are below the countertops. They are 24 inches deep and 36 inches tall. You can customize the size to increase the depth for additional storage. They contain one drawer with doors and shelves below or three to four stacked drawers. 

Wall: Wall cabinets are 12 to 18 inches deep and are installed above the counters and stove. If installing wall cabinets, choose a height that makes them convenient for you. 

Tall: Tall cabinets, typically used for pantries, range from 84 to 94 inches tall. They provide plenty of space for dry goods or cleaning supplies.

Specialty Unit: Maximize the square footage of your kitchen with some specialty unit cabinets, which are commonly placed above sinks, hutches and bottle racks.

Kitchen cabinet grades

Stock: Stock cabinets have a durable finish, but there are a limited number of styles, finishes, accessories and hardware. However, they are usually in stock and the cheapest option.

Semi-custom: Semi-custom cabinets are a stock-custom mix. They're built to suit a wider selection of doors and finishes. Schedule at least a month for delivery.

Custom: These are the most expensive, but you get what you pay for. Completely custom cabinets can be designed to match the exact specifications of your dream kitchen. Allow a minimum of six to 10 weeks for the cabinetmaking and delivery. 

Kitchen cabinet doors

Slab doors: These doors are usually one piece, and typically made of plywood or medium-density fiberboard.

Plank doors: Made of solid wood, plank doors may include decorative patterns.

Frame-and-panel doors: These include a frame around a central panel. The panel can be squared, arched or rounded on top, depending on the homeowner's style preference.

Frame-only doors: This is just a frame that supports glass panes. They add an elegant touch to any kitchen. 

Hardware options

The LondonUndone collection is a part of Amerock Hardware's AmerockNOW, collections designed to capture the essence of trending regional styles. (Photo courtesy of Amerock Hardware)

Knobs, pulls and hinges come in a variety of styles and finishes. Amerock Hardware, the leading manufacturer of cabinet hardware, says the following are their most commonly requested finishes:

Satin nickel, oil-rubbed bronze, black bronze, dark oiled bronze.

Other finishes include:

Pewter, tin, copper, chrome, iron, brass.

kitchen cabinets

abinets can be installed in any formation to fit any kitchen space. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Patricia T. of North Hollywood)

Kitchen cabinet layout

With measurements completed, next consider the organization of the kitchen. There are five basic kitchen designs, the choice of which largely depends on the amount of space the kitchen contains:

One Wall

Kitchens with the smallest amount of space will have one wall dedicated to cabinets and large appliances.


A galley kitchen utilizes a small amount of room by maximizing the workspace. A galley kitchen has two parallel walls of cabinetry with a walkway in between.


The U-shape kitchen has three walls of cabinets and appliances. The U-shape kitchen is often seen in smaller areas, but can work in a large kitchen space as well. Often, homeowners who choose the U-shape will incorporate an island if there is adequate floor space.


The G-shape is similar to the U-shape, but allows for a fourth workspace that is generally a peninsula. This workspace functions similarly to an island, but is often used instead of an island due to limitations of floor space.


L-shaped kitchens are one of the most popular designs. Two perpendicular walls of kitchen workspace permit for a more open, roomier kitchen. Eat-in kitchens often employ the L-shape design, and this design also often allows for the additional workspace that an island provides.

Whichever design works best in each kitchen, it is important to remember the basic kitchen triangle. The kitchen triangle is a designer’s term for the space between those items most often used in the kitchen: the refrigerator, the sink and the stove.

These items should be placed near enough to each other as to allow easy access, but with countertop workspace in between. Also take into consideration locations for items that are used most often. New cabinets have special features such as built-in spice racks, swing-out racks, or Lazy Susans. If you choose to employ one or more of these features, make sure they are in the most convenient location.

painted kitchen cabinets

Painting kitchen cabinets is hard work, but can transform your kitchen. (Photo courtesy of Angie's List member Jason B. of Canyon Country, California)

Painting kitchen cabinets

If you're looking to spruce up your kitchen on a low budget, painting your kitchen cabinets provides a transformative look for a fraction of the cost of replacing kitchen cabinets. There's a lot of prep-work involved to make sure the color will stick. It involves sanding, cleaning and priming, but the hard work pays off. 

Before selecting the color, take into account the other colors in the room, including your walls, counters, backsplash, floors and appliances. If the room is already full of different colors and patterns, consider going neutral. However, if you need to add a pop of color, the cabinets can be a great place to do that. 

You can hire someone to paint your cabinets, or make it a weekend DIY project. If you're doing it yourself, consider taking off a cabinet door to take with you to the home improvement store. That way you can get primer and paint suggestions. 

Another option for updating your cabinets is to reface them. Refacing typically consists of covering the cabinets exterior surfaces with new veneers, molding and hardware. Refacing starts at $2,000, and can go up to $10,000, depending on the size of the kitchen, and the hardware and veneers chosen.

Reglazing is another option. In the reglazing process, cabinets are cleaned, sanded and taped off. The surface is primed and sprayed with an industrial topcoat, which gives the cabinet a smooth surface and durable finish. The process typically takes less than a day, and you can use the cabinets almost immediately after the job is finished. 

kitchen cabinet with glass doors

Cabinets with glass fronts allow you to showcase collectibles and nice glassware. (Photo courtesy of Kraftmaid Cabinetry)

Kitchen cabinet trends

Gray is the new white

White cabinets aren't going anywhere, but shades of gray are becoming popular for kitchen cabinet colors. 

Wood stain colors

Light maples are going out of style. Instead, homeowners are opting for darker wood shades.

Functional islands

Multi-level countertops break up the space that could be used for cooking prep. The height consistency trend means you'll have a more functional island. 

Open shelving

Some people are opting for open shelving rather than high cabinets. From a design aspect, open shelving can be very attractive and allows you to showcase more personality in your kitchen. Also, it costs less than installing cabinets. 

Glass-front cabinets

Similar to the open shelving, these allow you to showcase your collectibles, nice dishes and glassware. 

Accent colors

Painting your kitchen soon? Consider doing your island or the back of your cabinets a different color. If you're worried about being too adventurous, accent colors add a fun splash of color.

Floor-to-ceiling cabinetry

Feel like you need more cabinet space? Perfect! Floor-to-ceiling kitchen cabinetry is a functional trend. 


Don't leave your cabinets looking naked. People are adding fancy feet, carvings and moldings for a more decorative look.

Kitchen cabinet organization

There's a need for organization in every part of your home, and the kitchen cabinets are no exception. Aside from having custom kitchen cabinets built, there are several options for cabinet organization.

Toe kick drawers are cabinet drawers mounted in the open, unfinished base of a cabinet. It's best to order them when purchasing cabinets, but carpenters can also retrofit existing cabinets. They are a great place for storing serving utensils, baking pans or anything you don't use often. Some people also like to put their pet food dishes in a toe kick drawer, so they can close it when not in use.

Many hide their trash and recycling in pull-out cabinet drawers. Organizing baking pans and pizza pans can be a disaster, but cabinetmakers now create narrow pull-out cabinets, making them easy to access and put away, without the crashing and banging. Store potatoes, onions, seasonal fruits and vegetables in baskets or custom tilt-out bin drawers.

Wine racks can be built into kitchen islands. Utilize space by adding shelves to open areas on your wall. Installing door racks, Lazy Susans, dividers and swing out spice racks can further organize existing cabinets. Organization can be simple and cheap to as elaborate as you can imagine.

Installing new kitchen cabinets

Replacing existing cabinets is a serious endeavor, and one that should be carried out by a professional or a seasoned do-it-yourselfer. Removing existing kitchen cabinets is at least a two-man job, as cabinets and countertops can be extremely heavy and bulky.

If you plan to reuse the cabinets or countertops in some fashion, it's vital to take extra care so you don't damage the materials upon removal. Also, in the case of a DIY project, take special care so you don't damage any of the surroundings that are to be salvaged, such as flooring, trim and walls.

When purchasing new cabinets, decide if you have the skill level and desire to do the job yourself or to have the cabinets installed professionally. Consider the amount of time available to finish the project, as well as the cost.

The average installation cost ranges from $131 to $198 per cabinet. Depending on material, countertops can cost from $4 to $200 per square foot. Stone and laminate countertops are an affordable option, while stainless steel or copper countertops are used in more high-end kitchen remodels. 

Putting a fresh face on your kitchen is one of the best home investments you can make, whether that's a complete kitchen remodel or just cabinet refacing. However, you should limit any project cost to no more than 20 percent of your home's value. Kitchen investments come with about an 85 percent return on investment. 

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