Buying a kitchen cabinet – Guide

In a previous article, I wrote about creating the elegant kitchen of your dreams, regardless of where your budget lies. Today I will be writing on the things you need to know before investing in kitchen cabinets.

Kitchen cabinets are a vital design component as they are the face of the kitchen and perhaps the most expensive fitting. There are several types of cabinets with different aesthetics, but the overall functionalities are pretty much similar. With so many options to choose from, it can be confusing to know what you exactly need. This guide will educate you on the basic foundation of cabinetry such as the construction elements, design, and a few tips to make your cabinet worth the investment. Whether you are going to construct a custom cabinet from the ground or opting for a ready-made cabinet, this information will come in handy and make the shopping process much quicker.

Which material should I choose?

Cabinets are built using different materials and it’s important to know the difference, as the materials play a major role in their appearance, durability, and price. However, the most common materials are natural wood, MDF, particleboard, and plywood.

Natural wood is the most durable and the most expensive material used to make kitchen cabinets. Solid wood is the must-go if you are looking to get an authentic wood finish with the grains and nuts of natural timber, colored in a range of different hues of brown. It’s a lot more resistant to scratches and dents than softwood. Although it’s expensive, wooden kitchen cabinets don’t go out of style too quickly, and they can be refurbished after using them for some time.

However, the downside of solid wood is it stays on the top row in terms of price. You should also remember to pick the right wood such as cherry wood, maple, or teak. But you should never use low-quality wood because they create cracks and gaps in between the planks of timber after some time.

Plywood is yet another type of wood, but it’s made using thin sheets of inexpensive wood glued together. Although it cannot handle as much weight as hardwood, it’s a good option for a low-budget kitchen. Plywood too comes in different grades ranging from AAA to E, so does the price. We suggest you choose the best quality plywood as it’s a material that’s not too strong in general.

Fiberboard, also known as MDF is commonly found in most IKEA products. It’s made using recycled wood fibers that are held together with a mix of wax and resin adhesives. Contemporary design cabinets are mostly made using these because it is covered with vinyl, which gives a smoother finish and is easy to clean.

Particleboard is also made using wood fiber mixed with sawdust and adhesives, but it’s less dense than fiberboard. We would not suggest you choose this because it is less capable of holding screws.

We hope you now have a clear understanding that hardwood is the best out of everything. However, the type of material you should choose merely depends on things like your budget, how you want it to look and how long you will be using it.

Which cabinet should I buy?

Cabinets are readily available in different sizes and styles, and each of them offers a unique look. There are ready-made and semi-custom cabinets that could be found in stores, but you could opt for a custom-made cabinet if you want it to fit perfectly and blend with the rest of your home’s theme.

  • Ready to Assemble

Also known as stock cabinets, RTA cabinets are the ones you usually find in stores and they are DIY. The best example is IKEA cabinets. You could buy it off the counter and complete the installation within a couple of hours simply by using a set of basic tools. These cabinets are usually manufactured using fiberboard or particleboard and is the reason for the lower prices. It’s therefore, suitable if you are renewing your kitchen on a budget. The drawback of these types of cabinets is they are limited to a few categories of designs and layouts, so there is a greater chance that you might find a similar cabinet in someone’s house too.

  • Fully assembeled Cabinets

These cabinets are similar to RTAs, but the major difference is that it comes fully assembled from the factory and you don’t have to do anything by yourself. All you got to do is pay and wait for it to be delivered. But you’d have to do the delivery by yourself in most cases.

  • Semi-custom Kitchen cabinets

Unlike RTA, semi-custom cabinets are made after you place the order. What ‘semi’ means is it can only be customized within a frame of choices the manufacturer has provided. For instance, the size could be altered to fit your kitchen, or you could mix-match different configurations like color, handle styles, or anything minor only from the choices given. It’s similar to getting a bespoke car, where only certain elements like the seat, wheels, or paint can be customized to your taste. It’s a bit more expensive than a stock cabinet and usually takes some time for it to be delivered after you’ve placed the order.

  • Custom kitchen cabinets

Custom-made cabinets are the ones that are tailor-made according to the design you provide and are the most expensive. You could create a cabinet from inspirations of a photo or something you created from your imaginations. It’s expensive because it makes use of skilled craftsmen and designers to make one exclusive piece just for you. You are able to choose the material, accents, color, finish, and every aspect of the cabinet to satisfy your expectations.

However, you cannot make your purchase over the counter. It’s a step-by-step process that may require technicians to visit your place a couple of times to make sure the masterpiece delivers its fullest shine. The time it takes for delivery depends on the complexity of your design and manufacturer.

How to get started?

Now that you know the different types of materials and types, it’s time to get started with the process. There are several things you need to remember before you start shopping. The most successful way to get something done smoothly is to start by planning.

Note down the features you need.

The purpose of having a cabinet is to store your kitchen items in an organized and stylish manner. The features range from basic amenities like drawers, shelves, and a sink, to complex cabinets that offer space to shelter your bigger appliances like the fridge, dishwasher, oven, and a built-in stove. Whether you are opting for a basic or complex design, you should have a rough idea of what your needs are, and list them down before you visit the store.

  • You should have a rough idea of things like how much space you need for storage.
  • How much space does my kitchen have?
  • How much am I ready to spend?

Without knowing what you want, you might end up buying the wrong cabinet that would not be able to help you efficiently store all your kitchen things.

Measurement & Layout

The cabinet occupies a large portion of your kitchen and it is important to have an efficient layout. Therefore, you must measure the space you have got and sketch a rough layout of how you want to arrange it. Make sure you measure all the doors, walls, and windows and mark them down on a piece of paper. It would be better if you could scale it down onto a piece of graph paper so that it would be more accurate. You should also measure the walls with the windows included. Make notes of plumbing, gas, and electrical points, so that you now have a blueprint of your kitchen and it makes it easier to plan the arrangement of your appliances. Considering the layout, you could then decide on a design that suits your needs.

Decide on your design and theme

Now that you know your requirements, it’s time for the most exciting moment. Deciding on the style. In addition to the functionalities, you should make sure the cabinet looks stylish as it is the most striking feature of a kitchen. There is an unlimited number of design inspirations you could find online, depending on your budget. However, ready to assemble cabinets only offer a few design options compared to custom cabinets. One thing I’ve noticed is that many stores mostly sell white-colored cabinets, because white doesn’t go out of style too soon, and looks elegant as well. However, this is a personal preference and you could go with whatever color is best for you. We suggest you blend your personal taste with your overall house design and surrounding.

Some of the common cabinet designs these days are sleek and modern that don’t feature frames or handles. However, there are a lot of other classic designs such as the shaker design and the country design which stand out in their own ways. I personally prefer the contemporary designs if I would go for a ready-made cabinet.


Buying a new cabinet is not as simple as purchasing other furniture. You need to put in some effort in order to get the most out of your investment. Now that you know more about cabinets, it would be easier for you to figure out which material to consider, whether you need a custom or ready-made cabinet, and how to smoothly plan and execute the process.

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