Using "standard issue" kitchen cabinets to best advantage

JamieSeptember 17, 2012

My small kitchen will have flat panel doors and cabinets in standard sizes. Looking at my renderings, none of my gazillion inspiration photos come to mind. Instead, I see the gazillion kitchens photos that look transplanted and unappealing. I can put my finger on two items that make many budget kitchens look cookie cutter/builder model:

1. staggered upper height for no real reason. I can see how gratuitous height change, without additional and more thoughtful changes, might be advantageous in an inexpensive big kitchen, but in an inexpensive little one it looks wrong.

2. tacked on things to attempt to add richness - columns, feet, etc only make the standard issue cabinets look worse, in my opinion

3. Lack of panels on the end of runs.

I'm avoiding those two things, but my renderings still don't look nice.

What else makes "standard issue" kitchens look worse than they have to? I'm trying to avoid pitfalls that I will recognize 6 months after the kitchen goes in.

I'm ok in the countertop and layout department. I just want to zero in on avoidable cabinety appearance errors for now, because I am about to order.

Any observations or insights you care to share are appreciated. Here are the specific questions I know that I have, but your observations on other aspects would be very helpful, I'm sure.

1.How do narrower or wider door stiles/rails improve or lessen the appearance of average quality cabinetry. I plan flat panel doors. Several of the cabinets are 33" wide.

2.Are slab drawers less likely to look cheap than 5-piece ones ?

3. When do those skinny 9" filler base cabinets look bad and when do they look deliberate and custom? Maybe best to avoid them altogether in such a kitchen?

I'm looking at Medallion cabinets.

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Hard to say. Can you post a few of your inspirational pics that look right to you and a few that give off that vibe you hate?

If you pick the right style and color for your home that helps a lot. Just about everything else seems to be subjective.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 10:41PM
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5 panel doors[stile and rail] are designed to allow for expansion/contraction. It's a wise door.Veneered center panels allow people even grain/lowered costs and edge profile options assist with more choice demands that a person may have. A 33 in cabinet with dbl doors allows 16 inches approx for each door-it's a perfectly good door because frame dimension width options fall between 2 3/4 to 3 in or slightly wider/allowing for a traditional or more contemporary/transitional shaker look [flat panel].If you want a lower cabinet pullout pantry they come in 6 or 9 or 12 in sizes I believe. It's not a waste of a cabinet.In general-fewer good sized cabinets rather than lots of small cabinets help keep costs of a kitchen contained..and use space better-more sides eat up inches. A kitchen can be made to look classy even using thermofoil cabs..a cheap appearance has to do with many things-like a poor plan/no attention to a style or color scheme/inadequate lighting. Plenty of cabinets [witness Ikea] will work,depending on a variety of other choices. Medallion cabs are fine-let the designer know you want as few fillers as possible and see what they come up with. Slab doors-no glass doors/no edge detail-the wood species is what will be the distinguishing detail-do you have all the coordinating items thought out?

    Bookmark   September 17, 2012 at 11:21PM
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Re: stiles/rails, it's all about balance. The first image shows a door that looks hopelessly dated to my eye. It's an awful color to begin with, but has relatively thin stiles/rails.

Compare that to what looks to me like a more balanced stile/rail thickness in a door from Barker Door.

The second image has a more timeless look than the first.

Re: drawer fronts, herbflavor is always correct - the 5 piece is a better option and I think a prettier one, but I've seen lovely kitchens with either. You'll note that the slab drawer image below also uses height and (gasp) depth variation in a fairly small kitchen, but it does so in a (I'm repeating myself) balanced way. These images are from the Cliqstudios website.

Re: fillers, again I agree with herb - forgo them in favor of actual cabinet space if possible. It looks better, is MUCH less expensive, and is the classic choice.

If you can afford nice millwork, crown, baseboard, or even the furniture look legs on the range cabinet shown in the last image, that really gives a beautiful finished professional look to a kitchen.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 12:12AM
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To my eye, too many base cabinet doors instead of drawers seem to date/cheapen a kitchen, especially around the range. Diagonal corner cabinets and appliance garages are also falling out of favor.

I think it adds a custom touch to break up the cabinetry with open shelves or glass doors, so I would splurge there. In my small kitchen, I didn't have much leeway to play with cabinets without sacrificing storage space, but I was worried about the wall o' wood closing in. I broke them up with a chimney hood instead of having more cabinets over the range. I liked how it made the cabs on the left their own "group". I didn't use any wide doors because I don't like stepping back to keep them from hitting me in the face. I made the end cab a display shelf, but I could have made it a glass cabinet. In my old kitchen, it was a closed cabinet that I couldn't reach into anyway.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 9:26AM
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Molding is always a key to achieving a more custom look. Multiple piece stacked crown as well as light rail molding. Even modern kitchens with slab doors can look more custom if you choose the appropriate finishing touch.

All cabinets look better with proper lighting. Under cabinet lighting as well as the proper amount of recessed lighting, semi-flush lighting and pendants. That will show off your cabinets to their best, no matter what brand they are.

Proper installation. A good installer can take 5K worth of cabinets and make them look like 50K worth, and a hack installer can butcher 50K worth of cabinets to look like cheap crap with a poor install. Not saying that this is beyond the realm of a DIYer if they have good finish carpentry skills, but yes, it IS beyond 95% of most DIYers.

Having the proper "surroundings". Putting in a gorgeous new kitchen in a home that doesn't match it stylistically or with the same level of detail just makes it look wrong. If you live in a center hall Colonial and want Tuscan Old world cabinets with gazillions of grape corbels and onlays, it will only look transplanted from Mars, not an integral part of the home itself. Also, if the rest of the house is standard 8' ceilings, with minimal builder grade moldings and popcorn ceilings, unless the kitchen is the start of redoing the whole house to a higher level, you don't want to be putting in super premium cherry cabinets with elaborate stacked moldings and an exotic granite and a pro style range. It's not appropriate to the level of the rest of the home. It works vice versa too. If you live in an expensive neighborhood of custom homes where SubZero's and Wolf's are everywhere, putting in a Maytag range and off the shelf cabinets from Home Depot won't cut it either.

The most successful kitchen remodels give you a "wow" without a "WOW!" factor. Bad quality materials and installation are more apparent than are good quality materials used in a more subtle manner appropriate to the home. You want the room to look current, without being a slave to current fashion, as that will quickly date it.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 10:12AM
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What you're asking about is relative appearance of different styles of doors. This would be highly personal.

I'm going to talk about eam44's first full kitchen photo - as an example of personal opinions about style can vary greatly. Its kinda chunky and clunky to me. The trim is pretty heavy handed and somewhat poorly executed - particularly the applied decorative panel on the island that sticks out beyond the length of the wainscott. Or the on counter trim of the deep cabinet that extends past the line of the cabinets underneath. The crown reads as kinda squat because it looks deeper than it is tall.

I don't care for the very thin cabinets next to a chimney hood.

I have seen chunky stile doors used to advantage but only in large kitchens with modern styling.

Slab Drawer fronts can make the appearance of the kitchen simpler. I don't care for the somewhat squashed appearance that a 5 piece small drawer front can have. In the same photo, the 5 piece front small drawer has different height rails than the other drawers in the stack.

I feel everyone is better off using fewer, larger cabinets when possible but there are times when something like a 9" tray cabinet or narrow pullout or towel drying rail or wine storage or rolling pins or wraps storage are the only choices. I would get prices before deciding because the costs of these will vary a lot (like hundreds of dollars). They also vary a lot among lines.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 10:17AM
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I came back to mention light rails, but I see live_wire_oak beat me to it. At the end of the long design process, and actually on the day we ordered, I noticed my KD had the light rail built in up under the cabinet box, where I wanted it to show below the doors. It was one of those small touches I happened to notice in photos and assumed he put into the plans when we discussed light rails. So pay attention to details. I'm glad I caught the discrepancy because the light rail makes the cabinets look more finished imo.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 11:37AM
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My house doesn't have a beefy crown in the living rooms, and it has none in the kitchen and smaller bedrooms. But what's ther has lots of detail. I hope it won't be too hard to get something similar from the cab company, but I have a feeling that it will be.

Big cove that is on the cabinets and no where else in the house does seem to be a major cheapifier to my eye.

What I really want is something that looks like it was there many years ago, but has better lighting and is not all dirty and worn.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2012 at 4:43PM
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