Renovating a Kitchen, think like a designer!

DSC_0016Part 3 Cabinets or Built-ins…… they are not all made alike Quality 101

Cabinet may look the same but are they? What are the differences I should be looking for? How do I know what I am purchasing? Let’s decipher how the cabinets are made and what to look for when purchasing your new built-ins.

What are boxes?

Boxes are the sides (gables), front and backs of the cabinets that hold the drawers and support the counters. They can be made of Medium Density Fiberboard(MDF), Plywood or Particle board 3/8”or 3/4” material, with 3/4” being the best. Construction methods vary with lower quality being stapled, butt jointed, glued and, no bracing. Preferred construction would be: dado, screwed, glued and dowelled with appropriate bracing.

Decorative Panels and Doors

We have 3 main material types used as the decorative exterior panels that will be stained or painted.

MDF is affordable, provides a great surface to paint but, dents and chips easily. Off gassing from the urea formaldehyde is not ideal.

JondreausinkafterParticle Board is a composite material made of wood fibers and glue and then pressed together under pressure. Quality varies because of the glue used and/or the type of wood fiber: either softwood or hardwood. Look for products made in North American, certified by ANSI A208.1. as materials from overseas may contain abnormal level of carcinogens.

Plywood is made up of thin layers of wood applied to each other in different directions to create stability. Plywood can have different number of layers with the better companies using 9 ply. Canadian plywood is certified by Certiwood, it is environmentally responsible (managed forests and nothing wasted).

I prefer painted or stained cabinet doors to have wood rails with a floating panel in the middle. If you are painting then a center MDF slab will be less likely to shrink and therefore not show cracks in the joints.

Drawer Construction and Slides

Drawers take a beating. Less preferred construction would be particle board, fiberboard bottoms, glued and stapled, while better quality will be Baltic Birch plywood, dovetailed, glued with ½” sides and ½” bottoms. Use European soft close slides, you won’t be sorry.


Prep work like sanding is so important to get that superb finish. Using post catalyzed lacquer, which won’t yellow and all work done in a controlled spray booth adds to the quality of the final finish. A great stain that is absorbed into the wood is far superior to a stain that sits on top and shows every scratch.

Who is going to install your kitchen?

Look for local companies who install their own kitchens as they will take the same care and pride as went into building them. Other companies have 3rd parties who install. Some of the pitfalls of this option maybe a rushed job or you’re your kitchen install isn’t a priority.


This is what people can’t see until x number of years down the line, when the finish is deteriorating, drawers start coming apart and the company is not there when you call them.  A great company will answer your calls and emails promptly, delivering the cabinets when they said they would. They will be detail oriented and service driven so clients will have a positive experience and recommend them to others.

It is tough comparing apples to apples and in my experience there is always a really good reason for pricing differences, choose wisely…. Think outside the box…… Think like a designer!