Ever Wondered What Kitchen Base Cabinets Are?

The Building Block of Your Kitchen

Refaced Kitchen Cabinets with Quartz Countertop
Refaced Kitchen Cabinets with Quartz Countertop. TownePost Network/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

If you are unclear on the concept of kitchen base cabinets, you are not alone.  Many homeowners, prior to kitchen remodeling, give little thought about the different classifications of cabinetry.

With a few exceptions, kitchen cabinet systems are mostly composed of two distinct types of cabinets:

  1. Base Cabinets - The true workhorse of the kitchen scheme, base cabinets sit on the floor and provide a base for other services and storage. Base cabinets also define the kitchen floorplan.  They are considered to be permanent, attaching to the studs on the back wall.  Base cabinets either have exposed legs, though this is not common, or have legs that are covered by a long strip of wood called a toekick.
  2. Wall Cabinets - A "helper" for some kitchen functions, wall cabinets mainly provide storage space.  These attach to the wall with screws.  They can be open (no doors) or with solid or glass doors.  Typically wall cabinets mirror arrangement of the base cabinets.  Wall cabinets are rarely installed without base cabinets below.

You can say that base cabinets perform these functions:

1. Bases for Other Things, Like Counters

There is a reason they are called base cabinets. They act as a base on which other things rest. Kitchen base cabinets are very much the workhorse of the kitchen. They:

  • Hold up kitchen counters.  Countertops are sized with base cabinets in mind and can be adapted to fit nearly every configuration.
  • Host the sink within the countertops.
  • Act as a base for a wall oven.
  • Can be combined to create a kitchen island.

2. Define the Floorplan

Kitchen layouts are really quite simple. Most kitchen layouts form an "L" shape or "U" shape. Or they might be galley kitchens. Or they might be "double L" kitchens. In any case, pre-determined shapes define most kitchens.

Other cabinets, such as pantries, do come into play. The refrigerator also is a major building block of the kitchen layout. But for the most part, kitchen layouts are defined by base cabinets.

Like it or not, the base cabinets will be the sole determining factor in terms of traffic flow, open floor space, and where you can place other items like kitchen tables.

3.  Building Blocks For Kitchen Islands

While kitchen islands are often built from scratch by custom remodelers or home builders, a majority of the time they are built by starting from kitchen base cabinets.  Two or three base cabinets are joined (on the inside, invisibly) and a counter spans all of these bases.  Seams between the bases might be covered by molding, but often they look fine enough without the trim.  

Using inexpensive kitchen base cabinets is a classic IKEA hack.  In fact, IKEA has pre-sized laminate counters that fit across their base cabinets.  

4. Large Storage Spaces

Most people may be familiar with the idea that base cabinets hold pots and pans, cleaning accessories, canned goods, and the like.

Sometimes, the storage area is just a big, open box (namely, under the sink). Most often, the storage area is enhanced by slide-outs, drawers, box-columns, lazy susans, and the like.

Base cabinets are not the ultimate storage place. Pantries are better for food that you use only occasionally. Wall cabinets are better for frequently used food items.

Large 48 inch base cabinets are good for pots and pans, and 12 inch cabinets are well suited for baking sheets, muffin tins, and other large, flat items.

5.  Installation Considerations

Most kitchen base cabinets are installed by professional technicians.  But with the influx of RTA--ready to assemble--cabinets, homeowners have taken charge of cabinet installation.

  • Cabinets will need to be shimmed from below before attachment to the wall.  This is one installation where absolute level is needed.
  • Freestanding cabinets often have legs that can be adjusted independently to gain level.
  • Quality cabinet boxes tend to be made of furniture grade 1/2 inch plywood.  MDF, or medium density fiberboard, is considered to be a less solid material for building the boxes
  • Euro style cabinet doors are also called frameless because there is no center stile.