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Cabinet Styles Clarified

June 8, 2023
White Shaker Cabinets

As a professional Kitchen & Bath Designer, it is my job to clarify and educate my clients on the different styles of cabinets. In this segment, I am going to cover the following topics and terms when you begin your search for cabinets.

1. Framed and Frameless. What is the difference?

2. Custom verses Pre-Fabricated Cabinets.

3. Wood Species

4. Finishes

5. Door Styles

6. Refacing Cabinets or Resurfacing

7. Cabinet Hardware - Final Touch (Jewelry)

FRAMED OR FRAMELSS. What is the difference?

Frameless cabinets and framed cabinets differ in the way they are built, the amount of accessible space, the durability, the installation, and the appearance.

Frameless cabinets have doors that attach directly to the cabinet box, without any visible frame or stile. This gives them more accessible space, more durability, and a modern look.

Framed cabinets have doors that attach to a frame that protrudes from the cabinet box, often creating a border. This gives them more support, more flexibility for door options, and a traditional look. The installation of both types of cabinets is similar when done correctly. Framed cabinets are often referred to as Partial Overlay (Standard) or Full Overlay. The difference is you can see the box frame of the cabinet in a partial overlay, and in the full overlay the door covers the box frame. Another difference between framed vs frameless cabinets. Framed cabinets have a supporting feature that lies over the cabinet structure in order to support the box, whereas frameless cabinets do not. The frame is there to add more durability and strength. Here are some PROS & CONS for both cabinets:



  • Doors Attach to Box - creating a seamless look -Relies on construction for support
  • Sides are Flush and stability
  • Easier to Clean -Fewer styles & Material Choices



  • Easier to Install - Less storage space
  • Several Material Options - Difficult to customize after
  • Frame adds strength installation


Custom cabinets are a better option if you want a unique kitchen with size or dimension requirements that is tailored to your specifics needs and preferences. An example of this would be height and depth requirements, wall and corner angles, and construction. Custom cabinets can also offer artistry for that discerning taste.

Prefab cabinets and Semi-custom cabinets are pretty much what you see in the marketplace and most showrooms. Depending on the manufacturer, Prefab cabinet can offer a variety of modifications, pricing and faster delivery times in fabrication. Many of these manufacturers, also offer all the organizational products such as drawer and utensils storage, pots & pans organizer, vanity drawers for hair styling tools and waste baskets. The biggest difference will be in the price. Customer cabinets are about 20% more expensive.


Your budget will determine the wood species you select. Wood species are based on hardiness and grain variation of wood. Some of the types of wood are Alder/Birch, Oak,

Maple, Cherry, Hickory, Walnut, Mahogony and Bamboo. Pricing is from low to high, just as I have listed. Birch and Maple are the most popular because they can easily withstand painted or glazed finishes and priced well.

Depending on the region in which you live, will also determine the best wood species for your space. For instance, Bamboo doesn't always do well in dryer climates. Other non wood species are MDF or High Density Fiber composite board. These type of cabinets are best for contemporary or modern style doors.


Cabinet finishes be it stained, glazed or painted can be unique in color based on what the manufacturer offers. It is important to understand how each wood species will accept the finish. For example, wood species such as Cherry, Hickory and Walnut will not always look different in color, although the finish state the same. This is mainly due to the grain. Quartersawn Oak, Rustic Alder and Rustic Hickory also falls within this category.

When communicating with your designer about the look you desire, be sure to be clear on the wood species and finishes. I have had many customers try to explain to me they want Cherry cabinets, and I would continually ask "Cherry wood species or Cherry finish"?

Cherry wood species has distinctive grains throughout and Cherry staining has a more undertone of Red and can be applied to Maple, Cherry or Mahogany wood cabinet doors.

Glazed finishes, can be referred to as the clear lacquer or the painting techinque. (ie. matte or satin, brush strokes, weathered, distressed) Each manufacturer has different applications and colors. Some manufacturers also offer custom painted finishes, whereas you can select a paint color from places like Sherwin Williams.

*NOTE: Regardless of the finish you prefer, always purchase a touchup kit!*


Refacing a cabinet refers to replacement of the doors. I have never been a big fan of the replacing the cabinet doors because cost factor. Most of the cost is within the cabinet door. The exception to the rule would be if the area was a custom-made kitchen.

Resurfacing a cabinet is usually referred to a change in the finish be it stain or paint. This is a very time consuming process and doesn't always work. I have found that the best cabinets to resurface are those cabinet doors that are fabricated from Oak. Oak is a hardier wood species. This would also depend on what application (stain or paint) you are using and whether or not you will need applied sanding technique The worst cabinet material to try refacing on would be a thermofoil or laminated cabinet door. This type of material will not accept stain or paint and will peel off in a short amount of time.


Cabinet hardware, is the final touch and I call this jewelry for the door. This is where you can get creative with finishes and styles that will really add some "pizzaz" to that beautiful cabinetry you have just installed. When it comes to knobs and pulls, I have done some design searching on websites such as Top Knobs, Jeffery Alexander, Hobby Lobby and Etsy to find the most creative look for my client's space. Especially if it the area has a theme. Be sure that whatever hardware you choose is balanced and fits the cabinet drawer and door. You can also get creative with hardware. For example, I recently put knobs on the drawers and pulls on my wall cabinets so that I could easily "grab" the item. I have also mixed and matched styles and finishes. Keep in mind your lifestyle, and those cabinet doors/drawers that get alot of use.

Q & A Forum:

Julie in Sedona writes to ask: "Because of my location, I am limited to the showrooms and cabinet selections in my area. I am a "touchy-feely" kinda of person and need to see an item before I buy it. Do you have any preferred showrooms that I can visit?

ANSWER: Before you drive outside of the area trying to find what you are looking for... you first must determine the style, wood species, and budget. You can do this by going to Then I would call around to showrooms and ask what manufacturers they carry and if they have cabinets on display. You can visit the manufacturers website for door styles, finishes and other offerings. This will quickly eliminate those companies who do not offer what you desire - especially if you have to drive to Prescott or Phoenix.