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Cabinetry 101

If you’ve ever shopped for cabinets, you know that it’s overwhelming! You hear industry lingo such as RTA, plywood, full access, face frame, European, or dove tail, and wonder what the heck they are talking about!  Cabinets are a big deal! They often set the tone for your whole home, provide the function and storage you need in your kitchen, they increase or decrease the value of your home depending on the condition of them, and quite honestly, they aren’t cheap!

We are here to help decode the puzzle for you so that your able to wade through all the confusion and get to the fun part of designing your new space! Our first few blog posts will touch on different aspects of cabinetry so that you’ll better understand the industry lingo. We begin our first blog post with Cabinetry Custruction.

There are three different types of cabinetry:

Face Frame Cabinetry

Photo Credit: Dewil’s Fine Cabinetry.

Face Frame is what you’ll find in most kitchens in America, in fact it’s sometimes called “American style.”  Have you ever tried to open a drawer only  to have a spatula or other kitchen tool get stuck?  You end up trying to get your fingers into that small opening to blindly feel for the offending kitchen tool. These cabinets are built with what is called a face frame at the front of the box, this frame is where the door hinge attaches to.

Some advantages to this type of cabinetry are that they create a traditional look and the frame prevents the cabinet from getting “out of square” during installation.

Some disadvantages to framed cabinets are that the frame forms a slight “lip” inside the cabinet that may become an obstacle. This frame creates less interior space for drawers and roll outs, you typically lose about 3” of space in each cabinet.

Face framed cabinets typically have larger reveals between the doors showing the frame, it can be difficult to design a modern or contemporary space with this type of cabinetry.

Oftentimes when you are looking at ready-to-assemble cabinets they are face frame. This type of cabinetry comes in pieces and it’s up to you or your contractor to put them together. They are usually put together with cam-locks.

Inset Cabinetry

Photo Credit: Dewil’s Fine Cabinetry.

This type of cabinetry is technically a form of framed cabinetry but it’s so beautiful we feel it deserves to be in its own category.   In this style of cabinetry, the door and drawer fronts are inset into the face frame of the cabinet so that everything runs along a smooth plane.  This cabinetry tends to look like it’s built in or a piece of furniture. 

The advantages to Inset cabinetry are that they are beautiful! They will make any space pop, whether it’s a fireplace surround or an entire kitchen.

The disadvantages are that they can be spendy, in fact they are the most expensive of the three.  Additionally, you lose even more space than you do with framed cabinetry because the door and drawer fronts are recessed in.  This type of cabinetry does not work well in smaller kitchens.  

This is an example of an inset kitchen we designed.  When you look at this photo you can see a large, beautiful kitchen, made with inset cabinetry. It’s very traditional in style but pretty darn impressive.

But when you look closer you can see the amount of space between each drawer and door. In large kitchens like this one, it’s fine because you have a lot of storage space. But imagine using this in a small or medium sized kitchen, each and every frame you see is storage space you no longer have. 


Frameless Cabinetry

Photo Credit: Dewil’s Fine Cabinetry.

Frameless cabinets are also known as “European Style” Cabinetry. These are built with four sides and a back.  These cabinets are also called “full access” because the interior is not restricted at all by the frame, and drawer boxes are bigger allowing for more storage capacity per cabinet. You typically gain an average of 3” of storage space in each and every cabinet!

In addition to being full access (aka more storage), these cabinets are great because any exposed sides can be finished to match your cabinets in the factory whereas framed cabinets require a separate panel to be ordered and then installed onsite. It’s easier to adjust doors and drawers because there is no frame to work around.  Frameless cabinets can be used to accomplish any design style such as Traditional, Transitional, Modern, or Contemporary. 

There aren’t many disadvantages to this style of cabinetry however, the hinges may need adjusted to keep the doors straight once installed (although this is super easy.) These can be a little more challenging to install for novices because you must have the cabinet level when installing or the hinges and drawer glides won’t operate correctly. The other disadvantage is that more fillers are needed between walls and cabinets to ensure proper clearance, however a good designer can ensure that the width of fillers are as small as ¾” to 1 ½” depending on the project. 

In this example of a traditional style kitchen, you’ll notice all the doors, drawers, and cabinets are right against each other. There aren’t any spaces between them which allows the client to maximize their storage space.

Although we do have experience designing spaces with all three types of cabinetry, we tend to specialize in frameless or full access cabinetry because quite frankly they are more functional.  When designing for our clients we are not only designing to their style, but we are also ensuring that it’s the most functional use of space based on their lifestyle. We have designed kitchens that are modern, eclectic, traditional, transitional, and contemporary utilizing frameless cabinetry. In our showroom you can see examples of each construction style. By scheduling a meeting with one of our designers we can help you decide which construction style is best for your project.