How to Buy Kitchen Cabinets

A modern kitchen with stainless steel stove

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Buying kitchen cabinets is one of the most important tasks you'll undertake for your home. While it also has the potential to be a confusing, expensive project, it doesn't have to be that way. Knowing how to buy kitchen cabinets can be simple once you know a few basics that narrow down your options and help you find cabinets you'll love, within your budget.

What Are Kitchen Cabinets?

Kitchen cabinets are a connected set of fixed, permanent base, wall, and tall cabinets that hold the kitchen countertop and sink, plus provide storage for kitchenware and food items.

Before You Buy Kitchen Cabinets

Develop a plan for the kitchen remodel. Everything flows from that plan—most importantly, the kitchen cabinets.

Begin with one of several established kitchen plans, like an L-shaped layout, galley, one-wall, or U-shaped layout. Most kitchens can use or adapt one of these layouts.

Kitchen design software allows your creativity to flourish, and most programs incorporate a basic range of kitchen cabinet types and sizes. Many kitchen cabinet manufacturers offer free planning software, as well as kitchen design and layout. This is a great benefit for a comprehensive design.

Kitchen Cabinet Categories

Kitchen cabinets fall into one of three distinct categories: base cabinets, wall cabinets, or tall cabinets. 

Base Cabinets 

Base cabinets are a core, required element of kitchen cabinetry. Base cabinets not only comprise the bulk of the cabinets but form the footprint of the kitchen itself. 

Base cabinets rest on the floor and support the countertop, sink, and small appliances. They also contribute vital storage space underneath the countertop, with large shelves and opportunities for extras like lazy Susans and pull-outs.


Kitchen cabinet plans always include base cabinets and typically include wall cabinets. Tall cabinets are optional if there is space in the kitchen.

Wall Cabinets

Wall cabinets work in conjunction with base cabinets and provide accessible storage for plates and glasses as well as for small, frequently used foodstuffs. Wall cabinets are attached to the wall, usually directly over base cabinets. 

Tall Cabinets

Often called pantries or tall cabinets, tall cabinets fit their name because they extend from the floor up to the ceiling, or close to it. 

Tall cabinets are usually located off to the side of the main cabinet layout and hold items that aren't needed all the time like bulk food and accessory kitchenware.

Buying Considerations for Kitchen Cabinets

Base Cabinet Types

  • Sink base cabinet: Wide cabinet that has a large opening to accommodate the depth of a kitchen sink basin
  • Corner base cabinet: L-shaped cabinet which connects two perpendicular legs of base cabinets
  • Drawer base cabinet: Spacious cabinet with two to four large drawers to help store kitchen implements and smaller food items
  • Single-door base cabinet: Narrow base cabinet that fills spaces between other cabinets or appliances, while still providing a decent amount of storage
  • Double-door base cabinet: Roomy enclosed cabinet with shelves for storing large items like pots and pans, as well as for food storage

Wall Cabinet Types

  • Single-door wall cabinet: Narrow wall cabinet that tucks into spaces along the side or middle of the cabinet layout
  • Double-door wall cabinet: Generously spaced eye-level cabinet above the countertop for plates, glasses, and other daily kitchenware
  • Wall refrigerator cabinet: High, deep cabinet for that little-used area above the refrigerator

Base Cabinet Sizes

Most base cabinets are 34-1/2 inches high and 24 inches deep. Common widths vary:

  • Sink base cabinet: 26 to 60 inches
  • Drawer base cabinet: 12 to 36 inches
  • Single-door base cabinet: 12 to 21 inches, with some as narrow as 9 inches
  • Double-door base cabinet: 24 to 42 inches

Wall Cabinet Sizes

Most wall cabinets are 12 inches deep. Refrigerator cabinets are 24 inches deep. Common widths and heights:

  • Single-door wall cabinet: 9- to 26-inch widths and 30- to 42-inch heights
  • Double-door wall cabinet: 24- to 36-inch widths and 30- to 42-inch heights
  • Wall refrigerator cabinet: 30- to 36-inch widths and 12- to 18-inch heights

Cabinet Construction

Kitchen cabinets are either framed or frameless. With framed kitchen cabinets, a frame lies across the front of the cabinet. While some cabinet space is lost, the frame strengthens the box and provides an attachment point for the hinges.

With no frames, frameless cabinets have a sleek, modern look and a bit of extra space, but do require special hinges that attach to the inside of the box.

Framed Cabinets
  • Front face frame

  • Classic look

  • Door hinges attach to face frame

  • Center vertical stile on double-door cabinets

Frameless Cabinets
  • No face frame

  • Modern look

  • Door hinges attach to inside of cabinet box

  • No center stile

Most semi-custom kitchen cabinet boxes are made from a combination of furniture-grade plywood and engineered wood (either low- or medium-density particleboard). A greater degree of engineered wood will be found on less expensive stock kitchen cabinets.

Types of Kitchen Cabinets

Stock Kitchen Cabinets

Stock cabinets are pre-manufactured. Certain stock colors, styles, profiles, and doors are in place, so changes are not possible.

While they aren't customizable, stock cabinets are economical and work well in small- to medium-size kitchens. 

Stock cabinets are the least expensive type of kitchen cabinet. Delivery tends to be quicker than with semi-custom or custom cabinets. Many stock cabinets are on the shelves of local home centers, ready to take home.

Semi-Custom Kitchen Cabinets

Semi-custom cabinets, like stock cabinets, are pre-manufactured—to an extent. But semi-custom cabinets can be personalized with more features, styles, colors, stains, and glazes. 

A wide range of profiles, doors, and drawer fronts is available. Plus, a number of extras are found that aren't usually on stock cabinets: roll-out shelves, sliding racks, organizers, wine racks, plus design touches like molding, trim, feet, and hardware.

Custom Kitchen Cabinets

Custom kitchen cabinets literally can be customized to any style, any need. While the cabinets often begin from standard base units, everything beyond that is tailored for the homeowner: sizes, woods, finishes, as well as any unique features and add-ons.

The most expensive type of cabinet, custom kitchen cabinets are offered by most large, name-brand cabinet manufacturers. Local cabinetmakers may also offer custom millwork kitchen cabinets built from scratch.

Styles of Kitchen Cabinets


Ever popular and versatile, Shaker style cabinets have an outer frame and a center recessed panel. Clean and simple, Shaker style kitchen cabinets fit with a variety of kitchen styles, from traditional to modern.


Slab kitchen cabinets have a flat front with no details, sometimes even eschewing pulls and knobs to emphasize smooth horizontal lines. 

Slab kitchen cabinets run the gamut from inexpensive, mass-produced, and ready to assemble units up to designer-driven cabinets made of fine hardwood veneer or lacquer.


Contemporary is a large kitchen cabinet style that can encompass slab cabinets. If they do have hardware, contemporary cabinets favor bright metals like chrome or nickel. Cabinet colors are bright and cheerful, with white being a preferred contemporary color.


With rustic style kitchen cabinets, it's all about the wood. Wood grain, often natural and unstained (but always coated for protection), leads the way with rustic, country-style kitchen cabinets. The general feeling is one that is authentic and unfussy.

Urban Rustic

Blending the sophistication of the city with rich textures, urban rustic kitchen cabinets use dark colors on base cabinets and lighter colors on wall cabinets. 

Matte black is a favorite color of urban rustic cabinets as it lets the texture of the wood grain show through.


Like contemporary, traditional is a meta kitchen cabinet style that captures a host of other style subsets. 

Traditional cabinets are built with dark, heavy woods such as oak and walnut and are coupled with plenty of eye-catching features like arches, showy hardware in brass or gold, plenty of trim work, raised panels, or beadboard.

Cost of Kitchen Cabinets

The lowest cost kitchen cabinets are stock cabinets found on the shelves of local home centers. Unfinished or in a few basic colors, with MDF cabinet boxes, a 30-inch by 30-inch wall cabinet costs $150 to $200.

A basic 10x10 self-installed, ready-to-assemble kitchen with Shaker-style doors and 1/2-inch thick grade plywood box construction begins at about $1,800, not including taxes or shipping. A 10x10 kitchen with slab lacquer finish doors starts at around $5,800.


A 10-foot by 10-foot kitchen is often used as a benchmark for pricing and comparing kitchen cabinet costs. 

Installed kitchen cabinets start at around $125 to $325 per linear foot for stock cabinets and range up to over $600 to $1,200 per foot for custom-made kitchen cabinets.

Semi-custom cabinets, the most popular type, can be installed for as little as $150 to $200 per foot, topping out at $400 to $700 per foot. The middle range and more realistic price point for semi-custom cabinets is around $200 to $600 per linear foot, installed. 

Cabinet Price Per Linear Foot Price Per 10x10 Kitchen
Stock cabinets $125 to $325 $1,250 to $3,250
Semi-custom cabinets $200 to $600 $2,000 to $6,000
Custom cabinets $600 to $1,200 $6,000 to $12,000

How to Choose Kitchen Cabinets

Are You Choosing Kitchen Cabinets for the Kitchen?

Or are you building the kitchen around the cabinets? With so many available styles and options, it's easy to get carried away with kitchen cabinets. 

But ultimately, you need to choose kitchen cabinets for the available kitchen space, style, and your needs—not the reverse.

Will You Do a Lot of Entertaining?

Kitchens are the focal point of most homes. But some kitchens see more activity than others. If you entertain, you might need extra kitchen base cabinets to build a kitchen island or a dining bar. 

Will You Do a Lot of Cooking?

Dedicated home chefs will love to have extra cabinet features like blind corner pull-outs, pot and pan dividers, spice rack rollers, peg dividers for plates, baking pan pull-outs, and more.

Are All Styles Consistent?

Forming so much of a kitchen's wall area, kitchen cabinets essentially create the look of the kitchen. It's difficult, if not impossible, to install a certain cabinet style—slab flat panel contemporary, for example—in a kitchen intended to go another direction like traditional or farmhouse.

Keep the style of the cabinets consistent with your larger plan for the kitchen's style. And also keep the kitchen's style in line with the overall style of the home.

Where to Shop

Buying From Kitchen Design Centers

It's helpful to see, touch, use, and experience kitchen cabinets in person before buying them. Some stores in your area may display assembled kitchen cabinets, along with design services.

Franchise or independent kitchen design centers usually have a showroom with a few representative display cabinets. Because design centers can't display every available cabinet, they also have samples, swatches, books, and a design team to work with you.

First, you bring your initial ideas and room dimensions to the center. After the team helps you focus your ideas, they'll draw up the cabinet design with CAD in 3D, so you can see how the cabinets will look in your home.

Working within a specified budget, the design center creates an estimate based on the square footage of the cabinet, cabinet type, profile, and features like doors, drawers, molding, and hardware.

After you pay a deposit, the kitchen cabinets are outsourced to a manufacturer. Turnaround can be anywhere from four to 12 weeks.

Buying From Home Centers

Local home centers offer stock cabinets that you can purchase pre-assembled or flat-packed off the shelves. Some centers may have in-house design desks that allow you to meet with a design representative to design and order semi-custom kitchen cabinets.

A benefit of shopping for kitchen cabinets at home centers is that they tend to have a number of kitchen cabinets on display, both the stock cabinets and even a number of semi-custom cabinets.

If you have transport, you can take home any of the available stock cabinets. Semi-custom cabinets can usually be shipped to the store for customer pickup, saving delivery charges. Or they can be delivered straight to the home for curb-side or white-glove delivery.

Buying Online

When you buy stock and semi-custom kitchen cabinets online, you take on every role in the process: from measuring the kitchen and designing the layout to assembling the cabinets and installing them. 

While you won't be able to touch and use the cabinets beforehand, many online retailers offer sample door fronts for a small fee that's refundable if you purchase the cabinets.

A full range of kitchen cabinets is available online. Order cabinets individually; as a 10-by-10 kitchen (around seven to nine base and wall cabinets with accessories); or according to plans you've created on the kitchen planning software.

Online cabinets are shipped by common freight carriers, delivered curbside straight off of the truck. Some companies offer optional lift-gate or in-house-delivery services for an extra fee.

  • How much should you spend on kitchen cabinets?

    Since they comprise so much of a kitchen, cabinets can cost anywhere from 15- to 35-percent of the total kitchen remodel budget.

  • How do you know if you need new kitchen cabinets?

    Kitchen cabinets can be repainted, restained, refaced, and refurbished in numerous ways to extend their lifespan. The major indicator that your kitchen cabinets need to be replaced is when the cabinet boxes are structurally falling apart, and repairs are too costly or difficult.

    Doors, drawers, and shelves can occasionally be replaced or repaired. Kitchen base cabinets are difficult to repair without affecting adjacent cabinets and appliances.

  • How long do kitchen cabinets last?

    Well-built kitchen cabinets can last 25 to 50 years. Budget kitchen cabinets built on engineered wood boxes may last five to seven years. 

    Cabinet manufacturers routinely offer 25-year or even lifetime warranties on their products. Cabinet warranties are often non-transferable from one owner to the next.

  • When should you buy your kitchen cabinets?

    With a kitchen remodeling project, shop for and buy kitchen cabinets as early as possible but not before the kitchen plan has been established. 

    The kitchen layout dictates which cabinets to buy, what the cabinets will do, and where they'll be located. After that, you should buy the kitchen cabinets early to account for order completion and shipping times.

  • How do I dispose of my old kitchen cabinets?

    Full-service remodeling done through a kitchen contractor will include disposal as a separate line charge. 

    When you're removing your own kitchen cabinets, renting a roll-off dumpster is often the most cost-effective way to do this. A hauling company will come to your house and take the debris away. The cabinets need to be removed from the kitchen in advance.

    To save on disposal, upcycle your kitchen cabinets by distributing them throughout your house, as needed. Kitchen cabinets can take on a new life in the workshop, office, or garage.

  • Can I sell my old kitchen cabinets?

    In some cases, premium, on-trend kitchen cabinets in good condition may be able to be sold through online brokers for a commission. 

    Generally, it's difficult to sell used kitchen cabinets. Kitchen cabinets in moderate condition can sometimes be donated to a local Habitat for Humanity ReStore or given away through online listings.