When choosing new cabinets for your kitchen, one of the first and most important choices you face is between framed cabinets and frameless cabinets. Framed cabinets were once the most popular style of cabinet. In recent years, frameless cabinets have gradually emerged as equal or greater in popularity, driving demand and raising prices.
Framed Cabinets vs. Frameless Cabinets
Traditionally, U.S.-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. They 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 IKEA's massive expansion into the U.S. made this cabinet style so popular.
It's easy to think of frameless cabinets as IKEA-style, but IKEA 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. It is increasingly possible to find frameless cabinets with traditional style doors, such as raised panel, arch panel, Shaker, or cathedral.
Shelves easy to adjust
Hinges need frequent adjusting
More difficult to install
Higher demand, prices
Frameless Cabinets Pros
Shelves 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.
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.
Smooth, Modern 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 Shelves 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.
Frameless Cabinets Cons
Hinges That Often Need Adjusting
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.
More Difficult Installation
Cabinets may be harder to install since exact precision 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.
Frameless cabinets 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 popular and trendy and often will 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.