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The Complete Guide: Types Of Cabinets

With so many options, configurations, and technical terms flying around, selecting your kitchen and bath cabinets can quickly become an overwhelming task. This comprehensive guide will serve as a valuable resource, ensuring that you are well-informed when it comes time to place your order. Let's jump in!

Mint green and natural white oak cabinets in a kitchen.

(Design and photo credit: Disc Interiors)

Types of Cabinets

Base Cabinets

All kitchens have base cabinets. At 36 inches high, base cabinets rest on the floor and provide storage below and countertop workspace on top. Most base cabinets are 24 inches deep. Base cabinets come in different configurations to address different functions. So, a sink base cabinet will be wide enough to accommodate a double-basin sink on top. A corner base cabinet will be L-shaped, so that it can fit in the corner of the kitchen.

Wall Cabinets

Most kitchens have wall cabinets. At 12 to 17 inches deep, wall cabinets are attached to wall studs and are elevated about 18 inches above the countertop. Wall cabinets hold plates, glassware and frequently used food items. Tall Cabinets

Tall cabinets are narrow and tall—reaching to the ceiling or nearly so. Tall cabinets are sometimes called pantry cabinets because they hold small kitchen appliances and large food items like flour or rice.

Specialty Cabinets

Specialty kitchen cabinets are a grab-bag of all of the other cabinets that aren’t classified as base, wall or tall cabinets. Popular specialty cabinets are hutches, wine racks, appliance units and slider pull-outs.

This illustration, referred to as an "elevation" in kitchen and bath design, shows each different type:

Stock, RTA, Semi-Custom, and Custom

The above types of cabinets are available to purchase in four different categories, each of which offering different price points, options, and lead time:


Limited sizes, usually in 3" increments, very limited colors, often ready to ship within days, often the most affordable option.

RTA (Ready-To-Assemble)

Like stock cabinets, though they ship unassembled. You receive the cabinet boxes, doors, drawer fronts, drawers, and hardware flat packed and assemble onsite. Similar finish options to stock with potential cost savings given that you (or your installer) will be doing the final assembly.


Sizes often available in 3" increments, usually several dozen color choices and many more available configurations (think microwave cabinets, dishwasher panels, spice pull-outs, wood range hoods, etc). Color-matched furniture details are often available as well, like island legs, corbels, and more crown molding and light rail options.

Full custom

Endless options and sizes, colors, and configurations. Often the most expensive option, every detail of your new kitchen is up for discussion and consideration.

(Design and photo credit: Studio McGee)


Cabinets are made with one of two construction methods: framed and frameless (also called Euro-style). Both are made out of some type of panel material (often plywood or particle board) and held together with joinery, screws, or a combination of both. The framed cabinets have a solid wood face frame applied to the front. The frameless cabinets, as you can see in this rendering, do not have a face frame, rather the edges of the box material are covered with edge-banding (often the same color as the doors and drawer fronts).

Door Overlay

There are three main styles of door and drawer front overlay: standard or "partial" overlay (where about half of the face frame is visible when the doors and drawers are closed), full overlay (very little, often only 1/8" of the cabinet face is visible), and inset (all of the cabinet face frame is visible, as the doors and drawer fronts fit within the face frame).

Cabinet Box Material

The two most common cabinet box materials are particle board and plywood. Particle board is often covered with melamine (on the right in the below photo, it is essentially a hard plastic-like coating) in a solid color or wood grain matching textures. Likewise, plywood often has a face veneer (the part you see) of real maple. Quality cabinets can be made out of both materials if done correctly, though plywood is a bit stronger, holds hardware and joinery much better, and is a real wood veneer as opposed to melamine.

Drawer Boxes

In such a high-use component of any cabinet, the drawer box joinery is very important. Dovetail joinery, shown below, offers both a mechanical joint (the interlocking pins and tails) as well as a lot of glue surface to create a strong, long-lasting joint. This is a great area to spend a little extra $ to ensure decades of life out of your cabinets. Bonus points to the cabinet maker / manufacturer if the dovetails have been sanded smooth to the touch.


This refers to the door hinges, drawers guides, and any accessories like trash pull-outs or spice racks. This is another area to look very closely at what your cabinet company is using and is worth spending a little extra $ to ensure it's quality. Top brands like Blum, Salice, Hafele, and Grass offer time-tested manufacturing and design for the best adjustability and durability. Likewise with spice, pantry, or trash pull-outs, Hafele and Rev-A-Shelf are industry leaders in both available options and durability. Good, quality hardware will also offer adjustability, so as wooden doors and drawer fronts move throughout the seasons, the reveals (the spaces between each door and drawer front) can be kept consistent.


Crown molding, sub-crown molding (the piece in between the cabinet and the crown) and light rail are additional pieces of color-matched trim that we call the "jewelry" of the cabinets (this is also a great way to spruce up builder-grade cabinetry!). Add crown to create the hour glass look on your upper cabinets, use a tall sub crown to close in the gap above 42" cabinets in 9' ceilings, and add light rail to conceal your under-cabinet lighting.

Cabinet Finishes

Cabinet finishes play a crucial role in determining the overall aesthetic of a space. There are various types of finishes used for cabinets, each offering a distinct look and feel. We get into much more detail with these cabinet finishes in this blog, but below is a good overview:

Stained Finish: Stains are applied to enhance the natural color and grain of the wood. Different stain colors allow for a range of appearances, from light to dark.

Painted Finish: Cabinets are painted with a layer of opaque paint, providing a smooth and consistent appearance. White and neutral tones are popular, but any color can be chosen to match the desired style.

Glazed Finish: A glaze is applied over the paint or stain to create an antiqued or distressed look. It settles in and highlights the contours and details of the cabinet doors adding an extra layer of depth and texture.

Distressed Finish: Achieved by intentionally creating imperfections like dents, scratches, or worn edges, this specialty finish adds a rustic or aged appearance to the cabinets.

Laminate Finish: A synthetic material applied to the cabinet surface, often featuring a printed pattern or texture. Not to be confused with real wood veneer, laminate is durable, easy to clean, and available in various styles.

Thermofoil Finish: Similar to laminate, thermofoil is a thin vinyl film is heated and molded onto engineered wood or MDF (Medium-Density Fiberboard) and offers a smooth, seamless appearance and is resistant to moisture.

Peace Of Mind

We hope you found this overview informative and helpful. If you need help vetting a specific cabinet company, deciphering those beautiful oak finishes on Pinterest so you know exactly what to ask for, reducing costs (like this recent example where we saved a family $95,000 on their cabinet order... yes ninety-five thousand!!), or anything else related to your new home build or remodel, our Experts are here to help with personalized, unbiased advice.

We understand how frustrating and overwhelming this all can be, and often not at all what you had expected. After all, you're not just building or remodeling a house, you're creating a home, and every detail has to be perfect!


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