Main Line Kitchen Design compares Kitchen Cabinetry Brands Circa 2015
Note: Several of the brands mentioned here have as of 2019 upgraded their cabinet construction. For example, Yorktowne now offers excellent construction.
There are two basic ways cabinetry is made. Cabinets can be framed construction or frameless construction also called European or easy access construction.
Frameless cabinetry is made with either a 5/8″ or 3/4″ thick plywood or particleboard box. Of course, thicker is better and a plywood box is superior construction wise but will not work with some of the high gloss laminate and foil finishes that are popular in the European style cabinetry. With these finishes only particleboard sides are possible.
Knowledgeable cabinet professionals usually agree on a few things. First, that streamline frameless cabinetry looks better with modern door styles because of how close the drawers and doors are. This is due to how the European style hinges operate. Second, that traditional and shaker style doors look equally well in both framed and frameless cabinet lines. Third, that a well-made framed cabinet is a much more durable cabinet.
In a framed cabinet the frame holds the cabinet box square, and each solid wood cabinet front is screwed to the ones next to them adding considerable strength. The hinges and drawers are attached to solid wood in framed cabinetry as opposed to the particle board in most frameless lines. A well-made framed cabinet will last almost forever, however, will simply become scratched and possibly out of fashion with the passing years. Frameless lines require designers to consider the frameless cabinetry’s construction limitations and to keep door widths and drawer widths to a minimum to avoid undue stress on the cabinetry. Even designing this way, the average lifespan of a well-made frameless line is probably 20 years, especially if you are hard on things in general.
With frameless cabinetry lines since the construction is nearly identical from line to line the construction quality difference between each European line is negligible. Expensive lines will have better drawer options but if the drawers are upgraded to at least a solid wood box and blumotion tracks the longevity of each cabinet line will be very similar whether you are buying inexpensive IKEA or very expensive Poggenpohl cabinetry.
Popular frameless cabinetry lines are:
IKEA, Kitchen Craft, Poggenpohl, Merit Kitchens, Pedini, Ultra Craft Cabinetry. Design-Craft and most Merillat and Omega styles. The majority of the cabinetry coming from Europe and Canada is frameless.
All of Main Line Kitchen Design’s frameless cabinetry is upgraded to the best construction possible. Frameless construction is available in our Bishop, Wellsford and Fabuwood cabinetry lines.
With framed cabinetry there are many variations in construction. To make framed cabinetry durably you need several construction minimums, or the construction advantages of a framed cabinet are lost. Cabinet fronts are always 3/4″ solid wood. All plywood box construction is far better than having any particle board. Cabinet sides, tops and bottoms must be at least 1/2″ thick. Base cabinets can have plywood tops or beam construction. Drawer tracks should always be upgraded to either Blum’s BlueMotion tracks, or the equivalent and drawer boxes should be solid wood dovetail drawers with a captured plywood bottom. Soft close doors are a nice feature as well as full depth shelves.
Main Line Kitchen Design only sells cabinetry with all these features. Our framed cabinetry brands include Fabuwood, Timberlake, Bishop, Brighton and Wellsford.
Even some more expensive framed cabinet lines will need to be upgraded to this minimum level of construction quality. Examples of more expensive lines that need to have their construction upgraded to meet these minimums are DuraSupreme and Medallion. Often, if you can’t find out on a cabinet company’s website how the cabinets are constructed it is because they don’t meet these minimums. A company’s website might highlight their cabinetry being green, carb compliant, or American made but if they are avoiding showing you how the cabinetry is constructed watch out!
One of the largest cabinet distributors in the United States is MasterBrand Cabinets. Up until a couple of years ago all of the popular lines that they carried with the exception of their Decora and Homecrest lines fell short on construction quality. They have since upgraded about half of their lines.
The popular framed cabinet lines below CANNOT be upgraded to this level and DO NOT meet these minimums:
Yorketown, Aristocraft, Armstrong Cabinets, Showplace Cabinetry, Marsh, and Mid-Continent Cabinetry.
Many builders use these lower quality lines as the standard cabinetry in their homes. Even though the added cost for better made cabinetry is usually no more than 10%. When a builder uses these inferior lines, I wonder where else they are cutting corners.
One important fact that consumers should be aware of is that both Consumer Reports and JD Power publish inaccurate cabinetry ratings based on customer satisfaction. IKEA and other lesser made cabinet lines always do very well in these reports because customer satisfaction is rated immediately after the cabinets are purchased. Consumers buying less expensive cabinetry have lower expectations which are easily met, and the cabinetry hasn’t had time to develop the problems caused by poor construction.
Kraftmaid, the best made cabinet offered at both Lowes and The Home Depot, consistently does poor in these reports despite being easily upgraded to the best framed construction. This I believe is due to the much higher expectations of the consumers buying a home centers “top” brand and to the fact that home center designers are usually less knowledgeable and have less time to explain the properties of the cabinets that they sell.
Both Consumer Reports and JD Power also rate the same cabinetry being sold under different names at different places completely differently. Cabinet professionals know that these reports are misleading, and consumers should be advised not to consider them when evaluating the quality of cabinetry.
Here are some of the other relevant blogs we have on this topic:
Main Line Kitchen Design