Choosing the right cabinet doors

Shannon Lee | Improvement Center Columnist | October 19, 2015

Cabinet door choices can seem endless. There are so many cabinet refacing ideas that it can be tough to know where to begin. Here, we break things down, beginning with the top cabinet door types, and then moving to the most common kinds of materials and finishes. Read on for what you need to know to transform your kitchen.

Cabinet door types

First things first: you need a solid frame. If your cabinet frames are in good condition, you can keep them and just swap out the doors for an easy remodel. Here are the basics to consider.

  • Partial overlay doors. These doors are attached to the frame on the outside, cover the opening completely, and partially cover the frame around it. This allows for many options for hardware, including concealed or visible hinges. This is by far the most common type of cabinet doors.
  • Full overlay doors. These doors cover up the frame entirely. This creates a very consistent appearance, because the doors cover up the entire space and leave no "blanks" in between. The good news is that this can increase storage; the bad news is that installation must be incredibly precise in order to make everything fit properly.
  • Inset cabinet doors. A very traditional look, these doors fit neatly into the openings in the frame, resulting in a flat appearance. Hinges might be visible, but they are more often hidden away behind the door. This means less space inside the cabinet.

Choosing the right cabinet door materials

Once you've picked a door type, there are the materials to consider. Classic wood, sophisticated stainless steel, and versatile laminate lead the pack. Here's what to expect from each type:

  • Wood. Solid wood doors are heavy, but the longevity is impressive, and so is the durability. Just remember that larger doors can warp or become misshapen over time, so smaller doors are necessary to truly take advantage of this material.
  • Stainless steel. This industrial material is often found in restaurants, thanks to the fact that it can take a true beating and still work just fine. Scratch marks are an inevitable patina with these cabinet doors, but the best of cooks liken them to badges of honor.
  • Veeners. These doors are made of a certain material pressed into a substrate, resulting in a durable, lighter cabinet door. Veneers might be premium wood, such as cherry or maple, or they might be an easy-to-paint laminate that allows a quick and inexpensive change in the look of a kitchen.

In addition to these basic types of cabinet door materials, remember the enhancements. For instance, a cabinet door made of wood with a beautiful glass inset is a great way to showcase dishes, and etchings on any type of material can give you a unique look.

Let's talk about finishing touches

Some materials offer a finished look all on their own; for example, there is no need to put a layer of paint or stain on that already-pristine laminate -- unless you really want to. But what if you choose wood cabinets and want to spruce them up in your own way? That's where stains, paints, and other finishes make their mark.

  • Natural finishes. Leaving your cabinets all-natural means a simple coat of clear sealant, which allows every grain to shine. This is especially wonderful for woods such as bamboo, or those that already stand out on their own, such as white oak.
  • Stains. Stains are designed to sink into the wood and bring out the nuanced beauty of the grain. There are numerous stains on the market that are designed to give you exactly what you want with only a few coats. But you can go even further than a stain; for instance, a vintage look can be had by scraping and sanding over the stain until it looks distressed.
  • Paints. Most cabinet refacing ideas include paint: versatile and cheap, paint can make a kitchen look like a whole new world. With so many finishes, glazes and colors, the options with paint are indeed endless. And it works well on veneers, too.

Which cabinet door types are good for DIY installation?

Remember that not all cabinet doors are created equal; some are very complex and require serious handyman skills, while others are so homeowner-friendly that they can be installed within a day or two. Most homeowners who have some skill under their belt can handle partial overlay doors and even inset doors, but full overlay doors require the help of a professional.

If you do choose to try DIY installation, be sure to do your homework first and understand what you are getting into. Also do some research to find the right contractor as your backup plan -- and if you get in over your head, don't hesitate to give the pros a call.

Photo credit to Myryah Shea

About the Author

Shannon Lee is a freelance writer and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.