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Everything You Need to Know About Kitchen Cabinets: An Interview with Joe Currie of Capitol Design, LLC

By Joe Currie

Please describe the background of your company and your qualifications.

I started out as a cabinet manufacturer in the early 80's. After selling the business, I began to design kitchen and baths and specifying materials. In 1996, I received the designation of Certified Kitchen Designer or CKD. My projects have won numerous awards and I have been featured in many local and national magazines, kitchen books, articles and blogs. I have designed hundreds of projects all over the country for many demanding clients.

What is the difference between stock, semi-custom, and custom cabinets?

As the name implies, stock cabinets are a boxed product with limited sizes based on 3" increments that are frequently warehoused by a distributor. Color and species are also limited and no customization is available.

Semicustom cabinets also have limited sizes, species and colors but customization of the depth of the cabinet is often available. Other options such as glass inserts and storage aids may be available. These cabinets are generally order specific, only going into production once the order is made and are not warehoused.

Custom cabinets are built to order to the customer's specifications of size, species and color. Depending on the size and capability of the manufacturer, most anything can be built. Some companies have a "specials" department that will take a customer's request and engineer the cabinet for feasibility and cost. Other companies have set customization cost such as pricing for changing the width, height and depth of the cabinet.

What should I know about the box of the cabinet, also known as the cabinet's "backbone"?

The vast majority of cabinets will either be "framed" or "frameless" (sometimes referred to as full access). The basic difference between the two is how the door is attached.

Framed cabinets consist of a box or case constructed of materials from 1/4" to 3/4" in thickness. A wood frame is applied to this box, which in theory, gives the case it's strength and squareness. The decorative door is applied to the frame. Depending on the hinges used and the position of the door in relation to the frame, the cabinet is referred to as being a partial overlay, full overlay or inset cabinet.

Frameless, full access or "European style" cabinets are generally made of 5/8" to 3/4" materials for the sides, tops and bottoms. The backs of the cabinets are made of material from 1/8" to 1/2". The strength of the case comes from the heavier materials used and subjecting the case to a case clamp machine to insure squareness. The exposed front edges of the box or case, are edge banded with wood tape that matches the decorative door or a plastic pvc material. Most times, a concealed cup hinge is used to attach the door directly to the case of the cabinet. By their nature, frameless cabinets have closer tolerances than framed cabinets and precise machining must be followed to insure fit and finish.

What cabinet materials will grant me the best quality? Are these materials also the most expensive?

Cabinets boxes will nearly always be made from plywood or particle board. The thicker and better the grade of the material will dictate the cost. On the low end of the scale, in price and quality, are cabinet boxes constructed of 3/8" particle board with a vinyl coating, stapled or plastic drawers boxes, side mounted metal hardware, 1/2" shelves and themofoil doors.

The highest quality cabinets use either furniture board, also known as high density particle board or plywood. The plywood could be 5, 7 or 9 ply marine grade material. Drawers will either be dovetailed, solid wood boxes or metal boxes with full extension, soft close drawer slides. The doors will have soft closing hardware, extra hinging and the cabinet will have 3/4" adjustable shelves.

The quality of the materials used to make the door and the care in which the materials are selected also bear on the cost. Book matched veneers and matched vertical or horizontal grain will be more costly than random veneers. Wood doors are made with individual pieces that are checked for minimum color variation will be more costly than doors that are production manufactured.

What cabinet finishes are trendy right now?

Cabinet trends have always been, for the most part regional. In the Northeast, inset white cabinets are the staple while more rustic wood cabinets are popular in the Southwest. Glazed cabinets have been popular for many years now. Gaining in popularity are the manufactured veneers and bold colors. Any material that is perceived as "green" is popular like bamboo and hybrid countertops of quartz and granite.

How do I make sure practicality is present in an aesthetically pleasing manner?

Easy to clean surfaces with good finishes are paramount. An exotic veneer should generally be used only as an accent piece. A kitchen is a high traffic, high use area and the fixtures and hardware should be of a quality that can survive the rigors of everyday use.

What are some ways to increase the amount of storage in my kitchen?

First, all cabinets should have at the very least, adjustable shelves. Corner cabinets should have either a lazy susan or other blind corner access hardware. Try to design using as large a cabinet possible instead of many smaller ones. If you have a drywall pantry, consider a cabinet pantry instead. Much spaces is lost with the framing of a conventional pantry. Drawers under a sink are a great way to pick up added storage. The drawers are made in a "C" shape to go around plumbing. Toe kick drawers are a way to gain some additional storage but may be difficult to access. On interior walls, the space between the studs in the wall, generally 4" deep, could be used for spice shelves.

What are some cost effective materials I can utilize in my kitchen cabinet design?

Even a kitchen with stock cabinets can look smart with the right materials. Consider using stainless steel hardware with a 6" to 8" length. Glass is inexpensive and can be used to add interest to an area like a corner or on either side of a window. There are hundreds of patterns available that can be purchased locally or online. Open shelving on a tiled wall is a great look that minimizes your upper cabinet cost. Backsplash tile and undercabinet, LED lighting are also inexpensive ways to add interest and function to the design.

What is the best way for people to get in contact with you?

By e-mail: joe@capitoldesign.us, by phone: 800-426-3150 or locally at 512-464-1155.

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About The Author

Since 1981, Joe Currie has been building a broad design repertoire by designing...

Phone: 512-464-1155

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