Frameless Cabinets: Combining Modern Style with Smooth Function

Modern Kitchen with Slab Cabinet Doors 533766531
Getty / Camilo Morales

When choosing new cabinets for your kitchen, one of the first choices you face (and arguably the most important) is between framed cabinets and frameless cabinets. Framed cabinets were once by far the most popular style of cabinet in the U.S., but recent years have seen frameless cabinets gradually emerge as nearly equal in popularity. 

Framed Cabinets vs. Frameless

Traditionally, American-made cabinets have been constructed with rails and stiles that form a 1 1/2-inch wide face frame at the front of the cabinet box.

The doors and drawer-fronts rest against the frame, and the door hinges are attached directly to the face frames. There are advantages to this framed style of construction. The create a classic, vintage look, and there is a good deal of style flexibility, as framed cabinets can accept an almost infinite variety of door and drawer styles. Because the hinges are solidly anchored to hardwood face frames, these cabinets are very sturdy, and it is relatively easy to adjust the doors if they fall out of alignment. 

Frameless cabinet construction is a style originally known mostly in Europe. They are also known as Euro-style, contemporary, or modern cabinets. In this type of cabinet, there are no face frames. Instead, the doors and drawers rest directly across the edges of the cabinet boxes, and the door hinges are anchored to the side walls of the cabinets, often mortised into the side walls as "hidden" hinges.

Frameless cabinets have been around for many years, but it was not until about 2012 when AKEA's massive expansion into the U.S. made this cabinet style so popular. Some people think of frameless cabinets as "AKEA-style," but in reality, AKEA merely popularized a style that had been present in Europe for many decades.

As part of the Euro-style invasion of America, cabinets with sleek, smooth fronts made from laminates, glass, or metal became popular—all of which require frameless construction. 

Frameless cabinets are usually, but not always, associated with slab cabinet doors. However, it is increasingly becoming possible to find frameless cabinets with "traditional" style doors, such as raised panel, arch panel, Shaker, or cathedral.

Pros and Cons of Frameless Cabinets

Frameless cabinets have a number of advantages and disadvantages that should be weighed when making a decision between framed and frameless styles. 

Advantages of frameless cabinets:

  • Shelves are easy to mount. Because there is no center stile interrupting the space covered by double cabinet doors, you can slide shelves straight into the open cabinets. This may sound like a minor advantage—until you have tried to navigate a large shelf into a framed cabinet with a face frame that limits access. For this reason, frameless cabinets are sometimes known as full-access cabinets.
  • There is more storage space. Because there is no face frame to create a lip around the cabinet openings, it is much easier to store appliances such as restaurant-quality food processors, juicers, or bread machines in frameless cabinets. 
  • Provides a modern, smooth look. Frameless cabinets with the edges of doors and drawers butted nearly flush provide an elegant, sleek look in a kitchen—a look that is impossible to achieve with framed cabinets where frames are always visible. When slab doors are chosen for frameless cabinets, the seamless look is complete. 
  • Open shelving is possible. Because frameless shelves have no frames to form lips around the cabinet openings, the doors can be omitted entirely to provide open-shelf storage. 

Disadvantages of frameless cabinets: 

  • Hinges are less reliable since they are mounted to sidewalls that are often made from MDF rather than hardwood frames. Hinges on frameless cabinets may need continual adjusting in order to keep the doors straight and the cabinet fronts looking symmetrical. 
  • Cabinets may be harder to install since "squareness" is essential to the modern look. There is a smaller tolerance for error with frameless cabinets, which means that DIYers may find them harder to install, especially in rooms where walls and floors are slightly out of square. That being said, IKEA and other RTA (ready-to-assemble) cabinet manufacturers go to great lengths to make frameless cabinets DIY-friendly. 
  • They are less sturdy than framed cabinets. The hardwood face frame on framed cabinets serves to greatly reinforce the sidewalls to which they are anchored—an advantage that is missing from frameless cabinets. Frameless cabinets, especially economy types, may not last as long as framed cabinets. 
  • Frameless cabinets are trendy, and may, therefore, cost more. This is merely a matter of supply-and-demand​ since frameless cabinets actually contain no more materials (and often less) than framed cabinets. The cost factor is more of an issue with higher-end cabinets, not economy cabinets such as those represented by IKEA. 

In the final measure, frameless cabinets may be the perfect choice for any room where you seek a modern, contemporary look. The functional advantages, such as more storage and better accessibility are notable but aren't as important as the sleek style statement made by these Euro-style cabinets.