Kitchen Cabinets

Friday, 15 January 2010 | Tags: , ,

So you've decided to renovate your kitchen, or are building anew. You can easily spend tens of thousands of dollars on cabinets, but there are also some good, less expensive options. Whatever you choose, you can estimate about half of your budget will go to cabinets.

The Basics

  • When it comes to materials, you have a couple of options: wood, melamine, or a combination of both.

    • Solid wood cabinets and cabinet boxes are the highest quality but very expensive. To make things more cost-effective, many boxes (the inside of the cupboard) are made from melamine.

    • Melamine is a hard and durable plastic coating over top of particle board. It’s very resistant to scratches and dents. The only downfall of melamine is that if somehow there was a hole or crack and moisture does get inside, then the particle board will bloat and can deteriorate.

    • If you want the real thing, solid wood doors and drawer fronts last longer but cost more. As an alternative, wood veneers over plywood are also an option.

  • There are many parts to a kitchen cabinet, all of which require separate decisions:

    • Toe Kicks: look for solid wood toe kicks (under the cabinets where they meet the floor) so you don’t get any warping should they come in contact with water from pipe leak or a dishwasher overflow. They also stand up better to what they’re named for!

    • Shelves: Make sure the shelves are adjustable so you can set them at heights to accommodate the contents of the cabinet.

    • Types of Joins: How your cabinets and drawers are put together will make a difference in how sturdy they are. Instead of the joins being simply butted up together and glued, look for a dado join, where they make a cut to fit the join, allowing more gluing surface. Dove tail joins are also a popular way to hold drawers together without any gaps; the join will almost look like a jigsaw piece that fits perfectly together for stronger join once glued.

    • Drawer Mounts: Under-mounted drawers have the tracks on the bottom, allowing full extension of the drawer so you can see the entire drawer when opened. Side-mounted slides will only allow the drawer to come out about ¾ of the way so it may be a bit more difficult to access things at the back of the drawer. Side-mounted drawers are less expensive than under-mounted.

    • Hardware: The hinges on your cupboards can also make a difference. German hardware has a reputation for being the best when it comes to years of opening and closing your drawers and doors.

    • Solid Construction: Look for drawer fronts that are properly screwed on, or at least stapled, so they’ll hold up to wear and tear.

Shopping Tips

  • Depending on your design needs and your all-important budget, kitchen cabinets can be purchased as in-stock (ready to be installed), semi-custom, or custom cabinets (to accommodate every detail). 

  • In-Stock cabinets are available at most big box home stores. Pros and cons include:

    • Ready to assemble and pre-assembled in standard sizes.

    • Convenient to install.

    • Limited styles and finishes.

    • Most economical.

  • Semi-Custom are built after you design your kitchen (within a particular manufacturer’s guidelines). Pros and cons include:

    • Allow you more design options.

    • Industry standards when it comes to sizes, but trim work and fillers are usually offered as part of the overall order.

    • More choice of styles and finishes.

    • Longer lead time than in-stock cabinets; usually available in four to six weeks.

  • Custom cabinets are fit specific to your kitchen design, and are the most expensive, budget-wise. Pros and cons include:

    • Hand-selected wood, reclaimed wood and many exotic woods are options.

    • Styles and finish options are limitless.

    • Paint/stain colours can even be matched to a specific piece of feature furniture.

    • Lead time can be anywhere from six to 12 weeks.

Other Considerations

  • Installation: unless you’re a true DIY-er, have your new cabinets professionally installed. It takes some skill and if things don’t fit properly you’ll have better luck getting things fixed if they’re installed by the dealer.


We tested four different types of kitchen cabinets by installing a single cupboard and drawer of each. To try and simulate years of use in one test, we opened and closed each door and drawer 1000 times (with vigor) to see how each held up.

Test products:

  • Mill’s Pride: $168 (for our cupboard/drawer set-up)
  • IKEA: $193
  • Kitchen Craft: $230
  • Kitchen Korner: $450

Wear & Tear Test

  • The Mill’s Pride drawer started falling down and it also stuck a number of times during our test; the front of the drawer was only fastened with pins as opposed to screws.

  • IKEA’s slide out basket shelves were a big hit of convenience so you can see the contents of the cupboard when they’re open; the clean looking exterior of the particular style we chose was also appealing; the drawer and door also held up well in our test.

  • Kitchen Korner definitely stuck out as the premium quality cabinet; the solid wood construction gave it a really nice feel and look; the added feature of the drawer that closes effortlessly on its own, without any slamming, impressed us all.

When it comes to choosing the right cabinets for your kitchen, it’s up to a number of things: budget, what’s in stock/available, design & style, installation, and quality. While all three of our higher-end cabinets stood up well in our test, the least expensive one we tested stood out for its poor quality construction. We hope these tips help you choose the right cabinets for your new kitchen!


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