Most kitchen cabinet bases, or boxes, are fairly standard and ordinary. So, if you really want to change the look of your kitchen, it’s the kitchen cabinet doors that make the most difference and truly define your space. With so many styles, materials, and levels of customization in kitchen cabinet doors available to you, you’ll want to be sure of what you want your overall kitchen aesthetic to be—whether you’re gutting your current kitchen, just replacing kitchen cabinet doors, or designing custom cabinets for your new home.
But if this is your first time working to design your kitchen, and you’re trying to decide about whether or not to change out your kitchen cabinet doors (and what style to choose if you do opt to replace them), or you’re just curious about cabinetry—this is the place to learn about the anatomy of kitchen door design, the different styles of cabinet door designs, and the benefits of investing in custom cabinetry for your kitchen, no matter your style and budget.
This traditional kitchen is white and bright—the beveled glass throughout the room creates literal sparkle and bling in the space. The cabinet door profile is bead and cove which is a profile based on a very traditional design.
Cabinet Paint: Chantilly Lace (OC-65) by Benjamin Moore
Floors: Plain Sawn White Oak with White Wash Finish in Herringbone Pattern
Countertops and Backsplash: Calacatta Marble with Honed Finish
Cabinetry Design: Christopher Scott Cabinetry & Design
Builder: The Fox Group
The Anatomy of a Cabinet Door
As with any industry, the world of kitchen cabinets is filled with specialized lingo and terms. When selecting your perfect kitchen cabinet doors it’s important to understand a few of these so you can be sure you’re making the right choice for your kitchen.
Stiles, Rails, and Panels
A 5-piece cabinet door has a top rail, a bottom rail, a left stile, a right stile, and a panel. A “stile” is the vertical piece on a cabinet door and the “rail” is the horizontal piece. On large cabinet doors, such as the panels that cover refrigerator doors, they typically include a “middle rail” or even a “middle stile” which would create the four-panel appearance. I like to intermix a variety of stiles and rails into a design to add visual interest.
On each stile and rail you have a profile. The profile is a big deal—it’s the shape put on the outside and inside edges of your cabinet. The profile dictates the style of the cabinet more than any other detail. The profile is the “detail” of the door and essentially the personality of the cabinet. You can select an applied profile, in which additional wood is added to the cabinet door to create a specific look, or a milled profile, where the stile and rail are routed into a shape. Applied profiles are more work, and therefore can be more expensive. Our team and other highly custom shops offer custom profiles to make the cabinetry even more unique to the home.
Your kitchen cabinet doors can have a raised panel or a flat panel. Raised panels are more ornate and luxurious and are very much connected to some of the most traditional looks possible. The one big caution of going with raised panels is that they can appear to date the cabinetry if the design is not critically considered. With that being said, the raised panel can be very timeless. English, French, Colonial and other very traditional styles typically have raised panels integrated into their look.
Flat Slab vs Paneled
A paneled door or drawer has a frame (consisting of stiles and rails) added to it. A flat slab kitchen cabinet door has a simple uniform surface, and is typically made from a single piece of wood. I’ll explain a little more about this later.
This is a refrigerator and desk area on the outskirts of a kitchen. These doors are considered 5-piece, flat-paneled cabinet doors—they have a top rail, a bottom rail, a left stile, a right stile and a panel. A “stile” is the vertical piece on a cabinet door frame and the “rail” is the horizontal piece. The large panels on the refrigerator also include a “middle rail” and “middle stile” which creates the four panel appearance. The design of this wall of cabinets includes a blend of woods—the blue and white cabinetry is painted maple and the wood drawers are plain sawn white oak.
Blue Cabinet Paint: Down Pipe by Farrow & Ball
White Cabinet Paint: Benjamin Moore in Simply White
Floors: Plain Sawn White Oak with white wash oil coating.
Hardware: Unlacquered Polished Brass
Cabinetry: C.S. Cabinetry
Builder: The Fox Group
Best Kitchen Cabinet Door Designs
Realistically, the best kitchen cabinet door designs are the ones that suit your taste and personality. The one you choose can express more than you might think—tradition, modernity, eccentricity, openness, global influence…you name it.
One big decision point in kitchen cabinet door design is actually going to come from the cabinet construction itself before the doors even come into the picture. You’ll need to start by choosing between frameless or framed cabinets which will then lead to decisions regarding inset cabinet doors or overlay. With the inset option, cabinet doors are installed flush with the face of a framed cabinet, whereas an overlay design has the cabinet doors laying over the cabinet.
You will also need to select the type of material you want to use for your kitchen cabinet doors as well. Solid wood, laminate, thermofoil, MDF, glass or metal inlays—there are countless possibilities out there when you consider the number of design options and finishes.
Let’s break down a few of the most popular kitchen cabinet boxes and kitchen cabinet door choices.
Framed vs Frameless Kitchen Cabinet Boxes
A framed cabinet is one that includes a face frame consisting of stiles and rails that are attached directly to the cabinet box. This helps reinforce the strength of the cabinet box and makes it easier to hang and align cabinet doors, but it also has a small impact on the amount of usable interior cabinet space.
Frameless cabinets do not include the additional face frame. This style of kitchen cabinet is often used in European countries. It offers a sleeker, more modern look, and allows for unobstructed access to the entire cabinet. This style of cabinet does present challenges when it comes to aligning doors and drawers, and keeping them in alignment.
Flat Panel Front Cabinets
Paneled fronts are the most common type of cabinet door. At the most basic level, they are 5-piece doors–two sides, a top and bottom, and a panel in the middle. They are typically rectangular in shape and have a thickness of ¾ ” to 1” or more. The most common panel front cabinet door is going to be flat in the middle panel portion—hence the name “flat panel.”
Are flat panel cabinets more expensive? The flat panel cabinet cost varies based on the type of wood, the finish, and the hardware used. However, flat panel cabinet doors are usually more affordable than some other styles because of their simplicity.
Raised Panel Front Cabinets
Raised Panel fronts are pretty much self-explanatory. Take a flat panel-front cabinet door, and exchange the flat panel with one that is raised, or in other words has depth and detail, and voila, you have a very different style and look. The raised panel adds texture, depth, and shadow lines that drastically affect the overall style of the cabinetry. This look is about as traditional as it can get, and the detail in the design often makes them cost more as well. I’ve personally hardly used this style because it can appear dated, but I will admit, it has a unique charm when used in the appropriate setting. If you ever visit a historic house on the American east coast, odds are, they will have raised panels on the cabinet doors. It has been a favorite in American architecture since the early colonial era.
Shaker style cabinets are one of the most popular looks for kitchens today. They’re essentially a panel front with a simple and flat rectangular profile. These types of kitchen cabinet doors achieve a sleek and timeless look. They are commonly a light color but it is becoming increasingly popular to add some flair with darker colors. But are shaker cabinets good quality? And are shaker style cabinets more expensive? Again, the answers to these questions depend on the hardware, finish, and the type of wood used, but as a general rule, shaker style cabinets are good quality, and tend to cost less than their raised panel front cabinet counterparts.
LEARN MORE: Cabinet Hardware 101: What You Need To Know
This shaker kitchen was designed as a two toned kitchen. This is also a great example of how you can leave stainless steel appliances exposed, rather than cover them with cabinetry panels. Notice the paneled dishwasher to the left of the sink.
Blue Paint: Hale Navy by Benjamin Moore
White Paint: White Dove by Benjamin Moore
Floors: Quarter Sawn White Oak with dark walnut stain and a polyurethane topcoat.
Counter Tops: Solid Slab Carrara Marble
Builder and Architect: Tiek Design Group
Decor and Furnishings: Studio McGee
Cabinet Design: Christopher Scott Cabinetry & Design
Slab-style cabinet doors are even more simple than the shaker style and give off a contemporary, European air. They are often not solid wood, but rather are made from MDF or particleboard with a covering of laminate, paint, or thermofoil plastic veneer adhered to the front. In addition to the clean look they provide, they don’t collect dust or other grime on the profile edge like other cabinet doors because they are completely flat. This makes them extremely easy to clean. Because they are built from less expensive materials, they are generally a more affordable kitchen cabinet door option.
Photo courtesy of: TheEffortlessChic.com
If you’re looking for a traditional look, cathedral and arch-style cabinet doors provide that. They typically feature a decorative curve on the top of each door face, and can create a depth of detail the previous styles don’t provide.
Photo courtesy of: AtHomeWithTheBarkers.com
Can I Mix Cabinet Door Designs?
If you find yourself drawn to a couple of different cabinet door styles, that’s ok. You can definitely mix cabinet door designs and styles throughout your house. The key to doing this is to be intentional. Otherwise, you may end up with a hodgepodge of styles. For the best results, I always recommend working with a designer to strategically plan out the look.
Keep in mind that the four different styles of kitchen cabinet doors listed above don’t even begin to cover all the possibilities. That’s another great reason to work closely with a cabinet designer. They can help guide you through the process and can walk you through several additional options.
Can Kitchen Cabinet Doors Be Replaced?
One of the great things about kitchen cabinet doors is that because they’re interchangeable (with certain limitations), you can create a completely new look in your kitchen by simply replacing them as opposed to replacing the entire cabinet. Replacing kitchen cabinet doors can greatly reduce the cost of remodeling your kitchen.
So, whether they’ve taken a lot of abuse over the years, or you’re simply sick of the old look, you can certainly replace your old kitchen cabinet doors and make everything feel brand new again. As long as you are able to match the stain or paint colors, and the new hardware (if you choose to update that as well) fits into the existing cabinet frames, then just replacing your cabinet doors is a great way to cut remodeling costs.
How Do I Know If I Need Replacement Cabinet Doors?
So how do you know if you need to replace your kitchen cabinet doors? There are several questions you can ask to determine the answer.
- Are the existing cabinet doors physically damaged? If so, it’s a good idea to replace them for functional as well as cosmetic reasons. It’s likely that you don’t want clothes getting damaged, things falling out of cupboards, or even an eyesore in your kitchen. Just make sure it’s not a simple issue of tightening up screws or replacing hardware, which are much simpler fixes than switching out all the cabinet fronts before you make your big decision.
- Is it a matter of changing the style for you? For example, many older homes are equipped with cathedral-style cabinet door fronts which don’t suit many modern tastes. If this is the case, you may want to consider replacing them. But, if it’s more a matter of needing a fresh coat of paint or new hardware, those are also options for switching up your kitchen cabinet design without investing in a total cabinet face overhaul.
- Are you wanting to invest in higher-quality kitchen cabinets? If upping the resale value of your home, or even just increasing the live-in quality is a priority for you, replacing kitchen cabinet doors can make a big difference. You can completely change the look and feel of a kitchen by upgrading to better quality materials, a new kitchen color, or a style that is cohesive with the rest of your desired interior design.
You should also consider the level of investment you’re willing or able to make if you want to replace your kitchen cabinet doors. Upgrading your interiors comes at a cost that most find worth it, but it’s important to take money into account before making your final decision.
Are Custom Cabinets Worth It?
When there are so many stock and semi-custom options out there, it’s inevitable to ask the question: are custom cabinets worth the money? In short, that’s up to you and what you want to accomplish.
This Classic American white kitchen is warm and bright. The design also features paneled appliances which I love using because they blend seamlessly with the rest of the cabinetry. Paneled appliances are specific refrigerators, dishwashers, and ice-makers that I am able to add paneled fronts to so they don’t stand out. A traditional kitchen was only ever meant to include a range—every other appliance is a modern convenience. If you want a traditional kitchen setup, we can hide every other appliance for you.
Cabinet Paint: Simply White by Benjamin Moore
Floors: Plain Sawn White Oak (Oil Finish)
Countertops and Backsplash Walls: Solid Slab Calacatta Marble
Hood: Unlacquered, Hand Brushed Brass
Designer: The Fox Group
Fully custom cabinets mean your design and your solutions are completely unique to your space, aesthetics, and functionality needs. Every element is literally made to fit your space. A custom cabinet designer creates rooms that maximize your space, for your needs. Whether it’s considering how to give you more pantry space when you thought it wouldn’t be possible or matching paint to your desired flooring, fully custom means that you get exactly what you want.
The quality of materials and finishing typically increases with custom cabinets. There’s no need to settle for a design or color you’re not completely into. These are things you won’t get from stock cabinets or semi-custom cabinets and many people find them to be worth the additional cost.
Cabinet Style: Painted w/ beaded Inset fronts
Cabinet Paint: Simply White by Benjamin Moore
Plain Sawn White Oak drawer fronts with with Natural Oil Finish
Range Hood: Integrated Cabinet Hood
Range: 36-inch Thermador Gas Range
Floors: Engineered French Oak
Counter Tops: Quartz
Cabinet Design: Christopher Scott Cabinetry & Design
If you’re looking for more kitchen cabinet door inspiration, take a look at the Kitchen Portfolio page. That’s where you can find some of my favorite kitchen designs, and gain some inspiration for your next project.
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