Custom Kitchen Cabinets don’t make a mistake! What you should know!

Custom Kitchen Cabinets: How to Tell the Difference between High and Low Quality Kitchen Cabinets

At first sight many kitchen cabinets look similar. Our bath & kitchen designers often spend the first twenty minutes or more of their initial meeting with a design remodel customer just discussing the differences between:

  • Framed & frameless cabinetry.
  • Furniture grade, vs. semi-custom vs. custom kitchen cabinets.
  • Traditional vs. transitional vs. contemporary cabinets.

If you understand better visually you should make an appointment with one of our bath & kitchen designers at our showroom in Rockville. You’ll be an informed expert in no time.

The Two Major Types of Kitchen Cabinets framed or frameless

Framed Kitchen Cabinets

American companies made cabinetry in a particular way up until twenty years ago. Typically kitchen cabinet doors were attached with hinges to a 1 ½”-wide face frame, attached to a cabinet box. The kitchen cabinet doors then lip over the face frame.

Cabinet door 1- If the door overlays the face frame a half an inch leaving 1” of face frame exposed it is called a standard overlay. A full overlay covers 1 ¼ “ of the face frame and looks very much like a frameless cabinet, it was the American answer to Europe’s introduction of frameless cabinetry.

Cabinet door 2- An inset cabinet makes it easy for you to see the face frame because the door does not overlay the face frame at all. Instead your kitchen cabinet doors would be inset into the face frame like fine furniture.

Cabinet door 3- European cabinetry or frameless cabinets on the other hand, don’t use a face frame. The cabinet walls are thicker usually ¾” thick often of furniture board but available in plywood. The cabinet door hinges are then attached directly to the thickened cabinet walls.

(1) Framed cabinet with standard overlay, (2) Framed cabinet with inset doors, (3) Frameless European style cabinet.

Some kitchen design purists prefer framed kitchen cabinetry for it’s more traditional aesthetic and because it often features more detailed and ornate doors. If you want your traditional kitchen to feel ornate and elegant, you should look into framed kitchen cabinetry.


Frameless Kitchen Cabinetry


European style cabinets offer a clean, contemporary style and are often used in urban or modern kitchens. They have another often underappreciated benefit they offer more space. Our bath & kitchen designers can demonstrate this in the showroom by taking a framed cabinet drawer & putting it into a frameless cabinet door of the same designated size.


A framed kitchen cabinet with a 21″ base, for example, has an 18″ opening, while a frameless kitchen cabinet with the same size base has a 19 ½” opening. Frameless kitchen cabinets are a good option if you’re working with a small space. If you want to remodel a small kitchen in Washington, DC which has mostly 12″ or 15″ kitchen cabinets, you should look into frameless kitchen cabinetry.


How Appliances Fit In with Kitchen Cabinet Types

As you choose between frameless and framed kitchen cabinetry, you need to know that some appliance brands are designed to fit with certain types of kitchen cabinets. For instance, high-end European appliances made by Gaggenau and Fagor are designed to fit seamlessly into frameless European kitchen cabinets. Appliances made by General Electric, Turbo Chef, or American Blue Star are more appropriate for the face frame style because of their wider flanges.

How to Choose High-Quality Kitchen Cabinets

After choosing between frameless and framed kitchen cabinetry, you might want to know the differences in kitchen cabinet construction. Why are some more expensive than others?


Signature Kitchens, Additions and Baths, along with the National Kitchen and Bath Association and SEN Design Group, a respected kitchen and bath dealer associations, recognize six grades of kitchen cabinet quality.

Each grade is based upon these factors:

  • Construction system
  • Material specification
  • Hinge hardware
  • Finish system
  • Interior accessories
  • Styling
  • Guarantee
  • Relative cost
  • Degree of customization available

Recognizing differences between the kitchen cabinet quality levels helps you understand the wide price variance in the kitchen cabinet market and leads you to make informed cabinet decisions. So, you ask, what are the most important kitchen cabinetry features to compare? They are:

  • Style.
  • Type of drawer action.
  • Quality of the finish

Type of Drawer Action

Look for cabinet drawers with a smooth slide and a positive closure. A good drawer guide, like the Blum Smartrac FX, will be strong enough to hold 75 pounds while sliding smoothly. This glide can be increased in strength to hold 110 pounds. Like an automobile door, you can feel the silky smooth difference of a quality drawer glide, vs. a lower grade glide.

Besides the failure of a major appliance, the primary reason for beginning a kitchen remodel is the deterioration of the finish on their kitchen cabinets. The natural oils on our hands can mar a lesser quality cabinet door lacquer finish and leave a visible discoloration. This is in addition to common spills and cooking residue can wear out builder-grade and shop-built finishes.

Finish Quality

Determining a high-quality, durable kitchen cabinet wood finish takes a practiced eye. The best wood cabinet finishes use a multi-step process of sanding, sealing, hand-wipe staining, finishing with a coating of conversion varnish, and baking in specialty ovens.

If you look closely at the cabinet door you can see these flaws in lower quality kitchen cabinets:

  • Stains in the crevices.
  • Dirt particles trapped under the finish.
  • Areas that feel rougher to the touch where it wasn’t uniformly sanded.
  • A murky look where the natural grain has been masked – the result of poor toner stain.
  • Other flaws that your kitchen designer can point out.

The Surprising Truth about Local Cabinet Shops

Although it sounds counter-intuitive, local cabinet shops that advertise custom cabinetry do not always produce higher quality custom kitchen cabinets.  That’s because they rarely have the capital to invest in the state of the art finishing equipment in which manufacturers who deal exclusively through kitchen dealers have invested.

Signature Kitchens, Additions & Baths is an exclusive dealer in Medallion Cabinetry, Dura Supreme Cabinetry, Jay Rambo Cabinetry & St Martin Cabinetry – each of these manufacturers includes over a dozen steps in their finishing processes, assuring a high-quality finish on your kitchen cabinets.

Signature Kitchens, Additions & Baths

Each of our designers have had specialized training in Kitchen Design in style, structure, function and arrangement through NKBA, SEN or ASID. Unlike many Kitchen and Bath companies, we are not a retail store. We are a design, build, and remodeling company, a licensed contractor in Maryland, The District of Columbia and Virginia. So whether you live in DC, Bethesda, Potomac, Olney, Silver Spring, Woodley Park, Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill or anywhere else in the region, Signature KAB can design a great kitchen, addition, or bath for your home. Not only that, but we can also develop permit-able drawings, process the plans to permit, move the walls, floors and ceilings, install lighting, plumbing, tile, and floor. We can even build the house for you if you would like!

Call now at: 301.251.1880 for your FREE, no-obligation design consultation. Or email the owner, Gary Case, at

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