There are many decisions to make when considering a kitchen makeover or complete kitchen overhaul – one of those being the type of cabinet materials for your project. In general, cabinetry can be made from a variety of materials including wood, laminate, stainless steel, thermofoil, melamine, lacquer and acrylic. When selecting cabinetry for your home it is important to know the benefits of each to ensure you make the choice that’s right for you.

By far the most common cabinet material is wood. There are several types of wood that top the list – maple, cherry, oak, hickory, birch, ash and pine. Each offers advantages and disadvantages, from appearance to cost to durability. At first glance, wood offers natural beauty and a more traditional, country or rustic look.

Two key features to consider when selecting a wood cabinet are the grain and color as some woods have significant grain variations, while others provide a more uniform appearance. In terms of color, most woods can be stained to modify the color – some being more stain friendly than others.

As you explore your options, make sure your choice coincides with your budget. Kitchen cabinets can range from $2,000 to $24,000+ for a 10-foot by 10-foot kitchen. A kitchen makeover can be a significant expense, but the return on your investment can provide a 65% to 80% return when it comes to the value of your home.

Most cabinets are made from hardwoods, but to reduce costs, these hardwoods are often applied as veneers over a substrate. Veneered cabinets are likely to give you better grain matching than solid wood cabinets, and they can be more stable than solid wood in highly humid areas. Substrates are hidden behind wood veneers and are often made from particle board, medium-density fiberboard or plywood.

Particle board is made from wood particles mixed with resin and bonded by pressure. This material serves as the base for most cabinetry covered with laminate and vinyl film. With new technology and improved resins, particle board offers a strong reliable base, even in high end cabinetry. However, when used in less expensive cabinet grades, hinges and fasteners tend to fall out and the particle board can warp or buckle under the pressure of weight.

Medium-density fiberboard is made from smaller fibers than particle board, offering superior screw-holding power, clean edges and an extremely smooth surface.

Plywood is made from multi layers of wood that are laminated together. By varying the grain of the woods at right angles when fabricated, it provides strength and durability. This material is used on the backs and sides of cabinetry as it offers similar structure to all wood cabinets.

When looking for the right solution for your kitchen, it is also important to look at the quality of the cabinets. This can be seen in the way the joints line up, or the way the drawers are assembled. The joinery on less expensive cabinets is likely to be stapled, which is not as sturdy as other types of construction. Wood drawers can be constructed using dowels or rabbets, or using dovetails. Drawers with dovetails should last longer but are more expensive because more wood product is used.

One of the biggest swings in cost for cabinets is the amount of detail in the cabinet doors. More elaborate stains and raised panels are the most expensive upcharges when selecting your cabinets, although often these features provide the greatest appeal. Selecting a cabinet door that is less elaborate, but offers dimension with a staining process, can provide a less expensive alternative.

Typically, stock cabinetry can be a good choice for those on a budget. Don’t let the word “stock” scare you – stock cabinets come in a variety of styles, materials and finishes and can generally be delivered much faster than custom cabinetry.

When it comes to the woods, consider this;

Red oak is strong, durable and relatively inexpensive. It is available in a wide range of styles and finishes and features a pronounced grain pattern, typically used for a traditional design. White oak is a bit stronger than its red counterpart, with more golden tones and a more subtle grain.

Hickory is lighter than oak. This creamy, pale yellow wood can be stained, but like maple, its blond tones are better complimented by a clear or natural finish. Hickory lends itself to a rustic style.

Ash is similar in strength and durability as oak, but has a lighter color. This straight-grain wood takes on a contemporary character when given a clear or natural finish.

Hard maple offers a finer grain and is a popular choice for semi-custom and custom cabinetry. Maple can be stained, but it is more often dressed with a clear or natural finish to achieve a light contemporary look.

Birch also offers a fine grain, but is slightly darker than maple. When stained, it can take on the look of cherry or maple. Birch is a relatively inexpensive wood choice in both stock and semi-custom cabinet lines.

Cherry offers a smooth, fine grain and is reddish brown in color. With age the wood can darken, but provides the most durable surface as it is hard enough to withstand nicks. Cherry can be elegant and formal, but can be used in both traditional and contemporary styles

Pine cabinetry is the softest species used for cabinetry and is prone to dent more easily then their hardwood counterparts.  The pale yellow wood can be stained, but it is important to know that this type of wood is the least consistent in appearance. In its natural state, pine wood contains knots and inconsistent grains – offering a great inexpensive choice for a country home.

For a non-wood alternative, laminate and Thermofoil cabinets are also commonly used. Manmade materials offer an endless range of colors and are typically used in more modern designs.  With a little imagination though, almost any material can work in any kitchen – in fact, many designers are often using more than one type or color of cabinets in their designs. When it comes to cost these manmade materials can be a less expensive option to wood.

As with every home improvement project, the more familiar you are with the choices in materials, the design and plan, the better equipped you will be to make it a successful endeavor. It is important to seek out the advice of professionals and make sure you have the proper knowledge, especially when it comes to designing your kitchen – a place where family and friends gather for the most significant life moments.

Joseph Musillo, Showroom Development Manager  – Coastal Supply Group

(718) 979-0011     [email protected]