High-quality kitchen cabinets are the backbone of any discerning kitchen renovation project. Cabinetry makes up the bulk of the kitchen’s presence, and house all of the equipment, utensils, and support the workspaces you need to cook up a storm. This ultimately means that kitchen cabinets literally support the functionality of the kitchen - the room depends on them - so reliability, strength, integrity, and quality mean a lot.
Modern cabinetry comes in a vast array of shapes and sizes – and a plethora of building materials as well. We’re talking about recycled/up-cycled wood, particle board, composite materials, and solid woods as well. Each one of these materials’ comes with a laundry list of pros and cons that make them advantageous and detrimental to the overall quality of a high-end kitchen renovation project.
It’s important to know what’s what – so in this post, we’re outlining what you should look for when doing your homework, so you can select your new kitchen cabinetry knowing exactly what to expect on the delivery day.
The Pillars of Quality
Every kitchen cabinetry project begins with the design phase – but before we can consider the colour, type of wood, and the style of our choices, we must always set a standard of fulfilling the pillars of quality.
There’s a wealth of retailers out there that use all the slickest marketing terms available to describe sub-par products. The ever-popular Home Depot, Lowe’s or IKEA kitchen lines are stunning – don’t get us wrong – but the enduring quality of stock cabinets isn’t typically one of their strong suits. In order to truly earn the moniker of a quality kitchen cabinet, we believe a product should encompass the following three pillars:
- High-quality materials
- Expert craftsmanship
- Reliable and durable hardware
These mainstream retailers typically source cabinetry solutions that are constructed from inferior materials, in rushed, mass manufactured fashion, with shoddy hardware; equating to a pretty poor product. They’re manufactured with templates for quick construction, using weak particle board, pressboard, or MDF, and use cheap hardware – hidden by a flashy, and albeit, a good-looking solid wood door on the front.
Next is addressing the actual construction of the cabinet infrastructure itself. We’re talking about the bits of the cabinet you seldom see in your finished kitchen, but nonetheless, the parts that allow your cabinets to maintain their form and function over time.
We’ve addressed a cabinet is the structural supporter of your kitchen. It’s where you work, where you prep and cook food, and where you lounge after a long day with friends and family. It has to stand up to decades of abuse and general wear and tear if it’s going to earn the badge of a high-quality cabinet.
Most cabinetry makers will take the easy route and manufacture their cabinetry boxes from a lesser material like MDF or particle board so save on costs while maintaining an aesthetically pleasing exterior that satisfies a prospective client. The cabinetry boxes should ideally not be made from MDF or particle board, but rigid or dense particle board have become acceptable as lamination processes improve over time. Some projects may find a high-quality melamine/particle board material to be quite suitable.
The best cabinets feature boxes are constructed of furniture grade plywood – and often perform better than solid woods in this capacity thanks to increased flexibility and greater ductile strength. You may be wondering why solid wood isn’t typically used in the box portion of cabinetry construction: one, it’s extremely costly, and expensive doesn’t always mean the highest quality. Two, if you are swayed by a solid wood box, you may be getting a furniture-grade ply material covered by a hardwood veneer – also a good choice.
In terms of ideal dimensions, doors should ideally measure ¾” thick, floor panels should measure at least ½” thick, wall cabinet ceiling thickness should measure ½” thick and a high-quality back panel for a wall-mounted cabinet should measure ½” thick – because they hang from the wall from this panel.
Full-Height Back Panels
Box construction relies on a solid foundation from which to build, and this means a full-height back panel. Cabinets that are built to last and to withstand decades of use are constructed with ⅜” full furniture-grade plywood, while more inexpensive models may opt for metal hanging rails for wall-mounted cabinets, or a plywood frame back for base cabinets. A less ideal cabinet may only feature ⅛” or ¼” thick picture frame back construction.
A full-height cabinet back ensures your cabinets are structurally sound while mounted to a wall or remain rigid and true while supporting the potentially immense weight of marble, stone, or another heavy countertop material.
With a solid, high-quality cabinet box constructed, we can begin to consider what your kitchen space is going to look like. But again; form and function go hand in hand – before we talk wood grain and stain colour, let’s talk materials one last time.
No if’s, and’s, or buts – a solid wood door, cabinet front, and cabinet face frame is the true marker of a high-quality product. Anything less isn’t the quality product it claims to be. That’s all there is to it. Preference can differ in terms of wood grain and aesthetics, but maple, oak, birch, and cherry are popular, and classic choices we see time and time again.
Joinery & Drawers
How those materials are joined together is equally important. Your typical Home Depot or IKEA cabinet will feature drawers and cabinet bases that are glued together and enforced with a staple or a lightweight nail to provide structural rigidity.
Meanwhile, high-quality cabinetry relies on time-tested dovetailed drawer boxes made from solid hardwood – representing the preferred method of construction by most reputable manufacturers. Doweled cabinet drawers are also a high-quality alternative that use a dowel as a pseudo stake to fasten and hold the drawer components tight and rigid.
Your drawers also need hardware from which to slide in and out of their cabinet base homes, which is why full-length undermount slide extensions are the preferred drawer hardware for high-quality retailers. Coupled with soft-close drawer hardware means they brace the cabinet box for the bulk of impact as the drawer or door is closed repeatedly over the years, helping protect against damage.
With high-quality building materials, experienced craftsmanship and tough, durable hardware as your key pillars for constructing the best kitchen cabinets, you’re positioning your renovation project for success.