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Reno of the Month: Your guide to kitchen cabinet design

Faceframe cabinets with white shaker cabinet doors are warmed up with the birch island in this transitional kitchen in Herndon. Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction.

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

I was recently talking to an out-of-town friend who is considering a home remodel. Although her home was built in the early 1970s, her personal aesthetic leans contemporary and she was thinking of a modern makeover for her kitchen.

We were discussing kitchen design and I off-handedly asked, “What style of cabinet doors are you thinking about?” It wasn’t a trick question but, as it turns out, it wasn’t something she’d given much thought. I realized after polling others this is a topic many people don’t really think about or pay much attention to until it comes time to pick them out — often well into the remodeling process when it’s either too overwhelming to research and/or the remodeler they are working with has limited cabinet options.

Depending on the home remodeling company or general contractor you use for your kitchen remodel, your choice of cabinetry may be very broad — or very narrow! At Synergy, we have a number of different cabinetry companies we work with and our preferred partners provide different lines of cabinets at different price points and infinite choices of color and style! We were once even able to match a kitchen cabinet color to a client’s favorite purse. With other general contractors or smaller companies, you might be limited to only three or four door styles and limited color choices. It’s worth asking the question before you sign on the dotted line to ensure you understand what your options are and if it’s the right fit for you.

As kitchen cabinetry will be one of the biggest line items in your renovation budget and can have a big impact on the design appeal of your home, it’s important you get what you want. With that said, here’s a quick guide of kitchen cabinets so you can make the perfect choice for your kitchen remodel.

Don’t know the difference between a home remodeling design build company and a general contractor? Then read this!

Frameless vs. Faceframe Cabinets

Let’s start with the basics: frameless or faceframe cabinets. With frameless cabinets, there is no frame around the cabinet box and the cabinet doors attach directly to the inside of the box. Although there are benefits such as ease of access and storage space, the main appeal is the seamless and more modern look frameless cabinets provide, due to their tiny ‘reveals’ (the space showing around the cabinet doors and drawer heads).

Faceframe cabinets have a frame that covers the edge of the cabinet box and the door hinges attach to the frame itself. Faceframe cabinets tend to be more adaptable to all overlay types (i.e. the way the cabinet frame shows around the doors and drawer heads) and sometimes have the added benefit of being more budget-friendly. However, this is highly dependent on the type of overlay you select (read more below).

There is no right or wrong choice and it’s all down to personal preference. The drawing below shows the difference between frameless and faceframe cabinets.

Frameless cabinets and a contemporary design. Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remodel here.

There are three different types of cabinet overlays: partial overlay, full overlay and inset. With more traditional partial overlay faceframe cabinets, you see a lot of the frame of the cabinet box. However, newer and more modern faceframe cabinets often have ‘full overlay’ doors. With new finishes and production methods, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between frameless and faceframe cabinets once installed, as seen in the examples below. Full overlay faceframe cabinets, however, are not the same as frameless cabinets. Full overlay cabinets still show approximately a ¼ inch reveal of the frame around the doors and drawers, while frameless cabinets show almost zero frame reveal.

This is an example of a more traditional American faceframe cabinet style. Note, since these are partial overlay cabinets, you can see the ‘frame’ of the cabinet box around the doors. Photo courtesy of Bright MLS.
Faceframe cabinets with white shaker cabinet doors are warmed up with the birch island in this transitional kitchen in Herndon. Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remodel here.
Full overlay cabinet doors set the tone for this transitional home remodel in Vienna. Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remodel here.

Next comes inset doors. With inset cabinetry, the doors are not sitting in front of the faceframe of the cabinet, but rather they are sitting right inside (‘flush’ with) the frame — the entire frame of the cabinet between all the doors and drawers is exposed for a classic, artisan look. To add further detail and uniqueness to inset cabinets, they are sometimes available with decorative exposed hinges in different finishes. As a general rule of thumb, inset doors will be more expensive.

In this example, inset doors were used on the walls and full-overlay doors for bases and tall cabinets. Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remodel here.

Now that you’ve made your decision on frameless or faceframe cabinets, let’s take a look at the most popular door styles.

The go-to Shaker

Shaker cabinet doors are still the go-to choice for many. Their clean lines and fuss-free look mean they are still a popular choice that stands the test of design time. Shaker cabinets fit beautifully with a more transitional design — i.e. design that blends traditional and modern design. Lately, there is a general move away from all white shaker kitchen cabinets. It started with lightly color contrasted islands, but now blue, green and wood elements are all equally at home.

Not sure what “transitional kitchen design” means? Read this!

Faceframe cabinets with white shaker doors and a gorgeous contrasting cobalt blue island! Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remodel here.

Slab fronted cabinets

When it comes to a more contemporary look, slab-fronted cabinets are the way to go. Cabinets with slab doors are usually frameless for an ultra-sleek look. They are versatile and can be handle/pull free for an extra modern look but also work with handles and pulls. As with shaker door cabinets, slab-fronted cabinet colors can also be mixed to give contrast.

Frameless cabinets with slab doors in contrasting walnut and white lacquer make this a standout kitchen in this Reston home. Photo Courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remodel here.
Frameless cabinets with slab doors and tons of European flair! Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of the remodel here.

Mix n’ match

There is no rule about having to use one cabinet door style in your kitchen design. If you like the look of shaker but want a modern twist, it is possible to mix and match with slab-fronts. The key is to do all cabinet doors in one style and all drawers in another. In the examples below, a shaker style was used for cabinet doors, but with slab drawers for a more contemporary look.

Full overlay framed cabinets with slab drawers. Photo Courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remodel here.
Frameless cabinets with shaker doors and slab drawers. Photo Courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remodel here.
Frameless cabinets with shaker doors and slab drawers. Photo Courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remodel here.
The clients in this home remodel in Reston took a slightly different approach. They used slabs for all of the base cabinets (both drawers AND doors) and shaker for all of the upper cabinets. Photo Courtesy Synergy Design & Construction. See more of this remodel here.

Ready to work with a local home remodeling company who provides a customized kitchen design and interior designers who help you with all the decisions? Our consultations are FREE and there is never any obligation. Learn more about us!

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