Frameless Cabinets Combine High Modern Style with Smooth Functioning

Modern Kitchen with Slab Cabinet Doors 533766531
Modern Kitchen with Slab Cabinet Doors. Getty / Camilo Morales

Nine times out of ten, the type of cabinets found in modern or contemporary kitchens and baths will be frameless.  A frameless cabinet is a type of kitchen or bathroom cabinet whose door and drawer fronts blend together to form a seamless facade.  

From a visual standpoint, when all of the doors and drawers are closed, a smooth surface is created, broken only by the protrusion of cabinet hardware.

From a structural standpoint, frameless cabinets open wide and clear, with no obstructing stiles or face frames.

If Modern, It's Probably Frameless

Often called unframed, full access, or overlay cabinets, frameless is somewhat of a misnomer as these cabinets are built on a frame.  The only difference between these and framed cabinets is that the frame is invisible when the doors are closed.

Frameless cabinets are considered to be Euro-style, modern, or contemporary.  These cabinets have long been popular in Europe, which IKEA being famous for selling only framelss cabinets.  Around 2012, the frameless trend began to take hold in the U.S. as part of an overall push towards modern that included integrated pulls, premium laminate countertops, and sleeker, harder surfaces, such as stainless steel and glass.

They 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.

Framed vs. Frameless Cabinets

Kitchen cabinets can be either framed or frameless. The traditional framed cabinet, sometimes called American-style, uses a flat, rectangular frame to strengthen the box. This allows a single cabinet box to sturdily hang on its own.  Doors are attached to the front of this frame.

While frameless kitchen cabinets can be installed singly, they lack the strengthening benefit of the frame.  They gain their strength in numbers. A row of ganged frameless cabinets is strong enough to hold the heaviest loads.

Frameless wall cabinets are further strengthened and "made square" by being attached to the wall.

Pros

  • Mounting Shelves:  Easy to mount shelves. Slide the shelf straight in, rather than diagonally as you would do with framed kitchen cabinets.  For this reason, these cabinets are also called full-access cabinets. 
  • Slightly Larger:  Slightly more storage room is available because there is no obstructing "lip" (frame).  If you have large appliances such as a restaurant quality food processor, juicer, or bread machine, you may want frameless cabinets solely on the basis of added storage space.
  • Smooth Look:  You can achieve a "door to door" look. You can give your kitchen a contemporary look of doors running seamlessly across, rather than having intervening frames between doors.  When the doors are slabs, that seamless look is complete.
  • Open Look:  Open shelving (no doors) is possible.  With framed cabinets, even with doors removed, you would still have the center stile and outer frame visible.

    Cons

    • Hinges:  Less reliable interior hinges are required, which need continual adjusting.
    • Squaring Issues:  While frameless cabinets are built reasonably "square," it is the job of the cabinet installer to properly square them out while attaching to the wall and to the other cabinets.
    • Pulls Required:  Because there is no place for your fingers to grab, cabinet pulls are required.  On framed cabinets you can eliminate the pulls if you wish.
    • Less DIY-Friendly:  Due to these squaring problems, frameless cabinets tend to install cleaner and smoother under the hand of a professional, rather than an inexperienced homeowner.  Framed cabinets have a higher tolerance level for errors.  However, by no means should a homeowner avoid self-installing frameless cabinets--IKEA and other ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinet companies sell frameless.
    • Cost:  Solely on the basis of materials cost, frameless should not cost more than framed cabinets.  However, since frameless cabinets are currently trendy, they command higher prices.  

    When Should You Buy Frameless?

    • When modern kitchen style is your main priority.  Even though frameless cabinets are not accurate to the mid-century modern period, they can add to that look.
    • When you want the look of IKEA cabinets (IKEA sells primarily frameless cabinets).
    • When you want slab cabinet doors.  You are not required to use slab doors; rather frameless cabinets lend themselves well to using slab doors.
    • When you want to buy RTA cabinets.