Understanding Cabinet Types

Understanding the different cabinet types will help you make the right choice for every situation when remodeling your kitchen.

Wall Cabinet Types

Wall cabinets will have one or two doors (depending on width--generally any cabinet 24" and wider will have two doors) with adjustable shelves inside. Make sure the shelves will be adjustable. This is easily done with a series of pre-drilled holes in the side panels allowing you to move the shelf pegs to any height. The number of shelves a wall cabinet has depends on the height of the cabinet. For instance, a 30" high cabinet will probably come with two adjustable shelves, and a 42" high cabinet will have three. You can always order additional shelves to increase storage. The standard depth for wall cabinets is 12". Consider having some wall cabinets increased in depth to accommodate large plates or platters--15" is good.

Wall cabinets with glass doors: I love the look of glass doors in a kitchen. They add sparkle and light, break up a long run of wood doors and create a focal point. Now, I wouldn't want all the doors to be glass--I don't want to have to keep everything that neat and tidy all the time! However, if you choose an opaque glass, even that is possible. Typically, the interior is finished the same as the exterior since it will be seen. You can also finish the interior in a contrasting color. Another way to use glass doors, if you have a higher ceiling (over 8'), is to plan a second tier of shorter cabinets above the main ones (double-stacking). They can be lit from within and used to display special pieces. A custom cabinet company can make a tall single unit instead of two separate cabinets with a solid door on the lower part and a glass door on the upper part. You should be able to specify how tall each part will be.

Wall cabinets with drawers: This is a special wall cabinet type that sits on the countertop. There will be a door above and from one to three drawers in the 18" of space between the countertop and the bottom of the wall cabinets. These cabinets are very useful to break up a long run. They can be taller than the other wall cabinets to vary the heights. (Note: If they are taller, they should also be deeper so that the adjacent crown molding will not cause interference.) Instead of the drawers, you can have a tambour or pocket doors to create a place to store small appliances. A look I like, especially for butler's pantries, are tall wall cabinets with glass doors down to the countertop. Be aware that cabinet installers will not install these units until after the countertops are installed.

Refrigerator walls: These are cabinets that fill in the space above the refrigerator. With today's built-in refrigerators such as Sub-Zero (most of which are 84" tall) sometimes there is not enough space for a cabinet above the refrigerator. Typically however, the refrigerator, whether it is a true built-in or not, will be built in between two deep panels and the cabinet above will be 24' deep if you are remodeling your kitchen. In many spec homes you will see a space left for the refrigerator with a 12" deep panel on one side and a 12" deep cabinet above it. I like the 24" deep cabinets because they hold a lot. They are great for seasonal items.

Wall cabinets for microwaves: These cabinets usually have a pair of doors at the top and an opening below to house the microwave. There are variations for countertop microwaves that can sit on an open projecting shelf, or for microwaves that have to be built-in with a trim kit for ventilation. These can be as much as 24" deep depending on the requirements of the microwave. One trick, if the extra depth is a problem, is to recess the rear of the cabinet into the wall. It is always important to choose your microwave early in the design process so the proper housing can be ordered.

Open shelves: Instead of a wall cabinet with doors, you can have open shelves to display collectibles or cookbooks. There are many ways to vary these units. Perhaps the back of the cabinet is finished in beadboard, or painted or stained a contrasting color (or both). Perhaps a decorative top rail and/or bottom rail is applied, or maybe the entire top is arch-shaped to call attention to a special area. Instead of shelves, you could have a plate or wine rack.

Corner Wall Cabinets

Blind corners: This is the simplest and least expensive type of wall corner solution. The cabinet type has a door (or doors, depending on width), on the left or right, and a "blind" on the other end. The blind is covered by the filler and wall cabinet abutting it on the adjacent wall. The blind corner allows for maximum use of space, but things tend to get pushed to the back and are hard to reach. Sometimes space restrictions make this the best solution.

Pie-Cut corners: Pie-cut corners are L-shaped and make a good, easily accessible corner solution. They usually have bi-fold doors and can have a Lazy Susan installed.

Diagonal corners: I like these cabinets because the diagonal helps break up straight lines and adds variety and movement to the space. They also have a lot of storage space, and can be fitted with shelves or a Lazy Susan. I tend to prefer the shelves because I think the Lazy Susan wastes space, but it does bring things to you. The diagonal corner cabinet can be had in a variety of options such as 24" or 27" deep, extended to the countertop with a tambour, drawers or door at the bottom, or with a glass door.

Base Cabinet Types

Door and drawer: The other most common of cabinet types are door and drawer base cabinets. They have one drawer and one or two doors (depending on width) and a full or half shelf. The standard depth is 24." Options include rollout shelves in the bottom, trash baskets and cutlery dividers.

Full height door bases: Base units without a drawer. Narrow ones can be fitted with spice pullouts, towel racks or tray dividers.

Drawer bases: Some of the most requested and useful units in the kitchen, they are commonly available with two, three or four drawers from 12" to 36" wide. Often you will not see even one drawer base in a spec home because they are more expensive than a door and drawer unit. To me, drawers are great because they involve less motion than opening a door and pulling out a rollout.

Sink bases. It is important to choose your sink early in the process in order to design in a base that is wide enough to accommodate the sink. If you are planning to use a farm (or apron) sink, which has an exposed front, there is a special sink base designed to accommodate it. A custom shop will design the unit specifically to match the specifications of your farm sink. The sink base is a good place to add decorative features like pilasters, feet, or a special bottom rail--or just bump it out a couple of inches to break up a straight run of cabinets.

Special bases. There are special base units to accommodate appliances such as a warming drawer, microwave, or single oven. Be sure to check the specifications of the appliance before ordering the cabinet. There are also special lower units to use for desk areas and as window seats.

Corner Base Cabinets

Blind base corners: These units act just like blind wall corners. As they are the least expensive corner, they will often be used in spec homes. They typically have a drawer and one door. The problem with them is that they are deep and it is hard to reach items at the back of the cabinet. There are a couple of solutions for this. One is a pair of crescent-shaped swing out shelves; another, which I prefer, is a device commonly called a "magic corner." It consists of a frame attached to the door with usually four chrome wire baskets that swing forward and out when the door is opened. It makes it much easier to access items in the cabinet.

Pie Cut Corners: This is a very useful type of corner unit especially if fitted with a rotating Lazy Susan. Look for rotating shelves with rims to keep items from falling off and a solid panel between them. The doors should be bifold for easier access. Depending on the manufacturer, the units can be 33" to 42" per side, or even asymmetrical (33" x 36") which are sometimes helpful when space is a problem.

Diagonal Corners: Again, these are useful to break up straight lines and can also have a Lazy Susan, or be used for a corner sink.

Corner drawers: Some custom manufacturers make corner drawer units, which can be an interesting design element. These corner drawers will require 36" on each side of the corner.

Tall Cabinet Types

Oven Cabinets: This cabinet type come in various forms depending on whether you need to house a single oven, double oven, or perhaps microwave/oven/warming drawer combination. There will be a deep cabinet at the top which is a good place to install tray dividers for cookie sheets, trays, etc. There may or may not be a bottom drawer depending on the height of the appliances. The standard depth is 24" and standard heights are 84", 90", and 96," though some manufacturers make them in 87" and 93" heights as well. The width depends on the appliances you are using. If you are using 27" wide ovens, then a 30" cabinet is best; and a 33" cabinet is best for 30" ovens.

Pantry Cabinets: Pantry cabinets come in the same heights as oven cabinets and have divided doors--usually a shorter door at the top and taller door below. The lower portion can be fitted with rollout shelves or pullout units. Some manufacturers make pantries with drawers at the bottom, or angled units for fitting into a corner.

Bookshelf Units: It's very handy to use this cabinet type in the kitchen--especially if you love to collect cookbooks as I do! They come in just about any size from full height, to base height or wall height, and can be simple or fancied up with beadboard backs, decorative top or bottom rails or fluted fillers or pilasters.

Special Tall Units: A nice idea for a narrow space or to use at the end a row of tall units is a narrow tall cabinet especially fitted inside with a pegboard for keys, or a chalkboard for messages, or even shallow cubbyholes to hold your collection of chargers. You could install an outlet in it as a convenient place to charge cell phones.

Discuss these cabinet types and others with your kitchen designer or builder when designing your new kitchen.

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