When it comes to kitchen spaces, it’s important to acknowledge that kitchen cabinets play a crucial role. Whether you’re seeking to overhaul your entire kitchen or simply swap out the cabinet doors, it’s imperative to explore the various kitchen cabinet materials available to ensure you discover the ideal style for your household.
Naturally, attractive appearance is a significant factor, particularly when replicating preferred kitchen cabinet designs. However, numerous other considerations must be taken into account to ensure that you select the ideal match for both your financial resources and way of life.
We interviewed several kitchen designers to gather information about the various types of materials available for kitchen cabinets, including their advantages and disadvantages regarding aspects such as maintenance (including cleaning), durability, and cost.
Which Material Is Best To Use For Kitchen Cabinets?
For kitchen cabinet boxes and door fronts, you will come across four primary kinds of materials: solid wood and synthetic materials such as MDF, plywood, and metal. Each of them has advantages and disadvantages, and it is essential to take into account factors like cost, durability, style, and ease of installation before making a final choice. It can be challenging to decide on the appropriate material for your area, but it is crucial to do so.
According to Dean Palmer, the Managing Director at KNB, a supplier of designer kitchens at reasonable prices, the initial stage in selecting the design and layout of a kitchen is to pick a suitable cabinet material. It’s important to consider the intended usage of the kitchen, such as cooking, hosting guests, or feeding children before making a decision since these factors may impact the selection process. Once you have weighed the practicality and aesthetics of each material, the rest of the kitchen will come together smoothly.
According to Carlos Coronado, Muretti’s Lead Designer, solid wood is a luxurious option that offers easy maintenance since you have the option to change individual pieces instead of undertaking a complete overhaul necessary with materials like MDP. However, solid wood requires higher maintenance, carries an expensive price tag and is susceptible to humidity. On the other hand, laminate is a popular choice that is highly versatile and a cost-effective solution with minimal maintenance needs and maximum durability.
Plywood Kitchen Cabinets
If you’re planning to create your own cabinets, plywood is a viable choice. The cost and sturdiness of the material depends on the quality grade. Teri Simone, Nieu Cabinet Doors’ Chief Kitchen Designer, emphasizes the versatility of plywood which comes in ample sheets and a variety of wood species, allowing you to achieve a wood-like interior for your cabinet boxes. Painted doors usually go well with plywood, making it an easy-to-use material for DIY cabinet building.
Palmer highlights the advantages of using plywood for kitchen cabinets as follows:
- Easy to repair: Plywood is quite easy to manipulate, which means if it ever gets chipped or damaged, it can usually be repaired to a high standard. It’s possible to sand down or fill a chip with wood filler, making the damage next to impossible to spot.
- Lightweight: It’s lightweight, meaning it’s easy enough to erect, and can withstand a heavy load such as cans of food and casserole dishes.
- Can be inexpensive: Depending on the grade, plywood can start at as little as $10 per panel or around £11per square metre.
According to Simone, while not commonly utilized, plywood can be the preferred material for certain cabinet makers when creating flat panel or slab doors. By using furniture-grade plywood comprised of hardwood veneer faces and a softwood plywood core, sturdy slab doors can be produced. To guarantee a seamless match with the fronts, veneer tape can be applied to the edges. Due to the layered structure of plywood, it is unsuitable for door styles other than slab.
Palmer acknowledges that plywood has certain unfavorable characteristics that can pose difficulties, particularly when employed for kitchen cabinets by uninformed installers.
Disadvantages of plywood:
- It’s imperfect: As far as planks and panels of wood go, plywood is far from perfect. It’s important to look out for knots and gaps in the panels when building, especially for kitchen cabinets, as these can be unsightly or even lead to areas of weakness.
- Thinner plywood can break: Plywood comes in different thicknesses, and if it gets overloaded, thinner planks will snap. Thick plywood should be used for kitchen cabinet shelves and exteriors, and thinner ones can be used as a backing.
MDF Kitchen Cabinets
When it comes to selecting kitchen cabinet materials, many people opt for Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF) due to its affordability and diverse array of styles and finishes. It’s also low-maintenance and durable, meaning it will last for a considerable period of time. Essentially, MDF is like plywood as it is a man-made wood product formed by compressing panels made up of wood fibers bonded with resin.
If you are aiming to achieve a professional appearance while painting your own kitchen cabinet doors, MDF is the perfect choice due to its lack of grain and smoother finish, which is denser than hardwood.
Simone states that MDF is a suitable material for creating cabinet doors with various 3-D profiles using high-speed CNC cutting tools, owing to its uniform structure and high density.
When constructing a two-piece shaker cabinet door, MDF will be utilized to create the four-sided frame and center panel. While MDF is known to expand and contract, this occurs to a lesser extent than hardwoods. Since both pieces are made from the same material, the frame and center panel move in unison. This single-piece shaker frame ensures that there are no joints to deteriorate, unlike solid wood rails and stiles. The smooth surface of MDF is ideal for achieving a high-quality painted finish, whereas solid wood doors with deep grains and knots can create rough areas that paint enhances.
Palmer acknowledges the widespread popularity of MDF due to its flexibility in being cut into various shapes and its compatibility with laminate coating, thus presenting a vast array of design possibilities. He highlights the advantages of opting for this material for kitchen cabinets.
Benefits of MDF:
- Moisture resistant: Because MDF is made with wax and resin, this material is watertight. This is ideal in a kitchen where cabinets often come into contact with water. Its resistance to moisture also stops cabinets made of MDF from getting warped.
- Varying size options: MDF is easy to cut into different sizes, making it ideal for awkward-shaped, or extra-large kitchen cabinets.
- It has a flat, even surface: Being man-made, MDF panels are made perfectly smooth and even. The flat surface means it’s easy to apply laminate or even wood veneer onto the panels. It also means that paint can be applied to achieve a neat and attractive cabinet.
Disadvantages of MDF
Palmer also mentions some downsides of MDF that one should be mindful of.
- It’s not suitable for high temperatures: The manufacturing process of MDF means that unfortunately, it’s not suitable for extremely high temperatures. While this is not ordinarily a problem for most kitchens, it could be a factor in a commercial kitchen with multiple ovens/hobs.
- It’s weaker than other cabinet materials: A more common complaint about MDF, when used for kitchen cabinets, is regarding its strength. Being made of a wood blend, rather than a solid material, MDF is quite weak in comparison. This means it can sag, or even break if shelves are overloaded with weight over a long time.
Metal Kitchen Cabinets
Although metal kitchen cabinets are more common in commercial kitchens rather than homes, they can still be a choice for those looking for a modern look. According to Palmer, stainless steel is often linked to public building cafeterias or commercial kitchens, but it is now popular in modern kitchens. Additionally, stainless steel cabinets can also be painted to have a more colorful and appealing appearance.
Advantages of Stainless Steel:
- Easy to clean: Red wine and coffee stains on cabinets are a thing of the past for anyone opting for stainless steel. It’s easy to wipe down again and again with no wear on the material making cleaning a kitchen a breeze on all fronts.
- Water and heat-resistant: Stainless steel cabinets can withstand high temperatures and repeated water contact, unlike wooden cabinets.
- Durable: Stainless steel is an extremely durable material that is rarely affected by general wear and tear so it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need to replace your kitchen cabinets again.
Disadvantages of Stainless Steel
Palmer points out that despite its advantages, this material has several drawbacks that have prevented it from becoming a popular choice for kitchen cabinets.
- It’s a very niche style: There’s no denying the fact that stainless steel kitchen cabinets are not everyone’s cup of tea. While it is a practical option that can be very stylish, this is only true if you like the modern look. Those looking for a traditional farmhouse-style kitchen, or similar, would likely steer clear of steel.
- Stainless steel is hard to repair: While it is resistant to substantial damage, stainless steel can become scratched or dented – especially in a busy kitchen. When this happens it is quite difficult to repair in a way that would go unnoticed, so cabinet fronts may need replacing to maintain aesthetics.
Solid Wood Cabinets
Many of the most stunning and ornate kitchen designs feature the coveted solid wood cabinetry, though its higher price tag is no secret. The allure of these cabinets lies in their individualistic beauty and the potential for natural wood grain to shine through depending on the specified finish. Despite their prestige, their risk of warping and steeper cost may deter those with budget limitations from pursuing them during a kitchen renovation.
Simone points out that maple, oak, or cherry solid hardwood doors are frequently utilized for stained doors due to the enhancement and protection of the wood grain through a professional finish. Solid wood cabinets are visually stunning but can be costly depending on the wood. Framed cabinets are usually composed of wood or a mixture of wood products and wood, resulting in a strong interior and paint-friendly exterior. Luxury kitchens often incorporate solid wood cabinets with corresponding doors to create cohesion in color and grain between the interior and exterior.
Simone suggests that homeowners who desire a timeless kitchen design that showcases the strength and attractiveness of wooden doors should opt for stained wood options. Additionally, these doors can easily be repaired with minor sanding and application of matching stains to address scratches or dents.
Palmer points out the advantages of having kitchen cabinets made of solid wood.
- Strength and durability: Especially when treated, wood kitchen cabinets can last for years.
- Environmentally friendly and more sustainable: Anyone looking to make their kitchen more eco-friendly should opt for responsibly sourced solid wood for their kitchen cabinets. As long as it’s produced in a sustainable way, solid wood is better for the environment than manufactured materials.
- Available in many styles: Solid wood kitchen cabinets can be made using lots of different types of wood. Some of the most popular include oak, walnut, cherry, and maple, each of which offers various tones which can completely change the style of a kitchen. Not only are there different woods to choose from, but it’s also possible to paint or treat the wood in a way that still showcases its natural textures.
Downsides of Solid Wood:
Simone points out some flaws of using solid wood, stating that when used as a painted door, it has its limitations. Despite its durability, solid wood is susceptible to expanding and contracting when exposed to fluctuating humidity levels. For instance, cabinet doors made with solid wood stiles and rails framing a center panel will expand in high humidity due to added moisture and contract during winter when the air is drier. As a result, even the slightest expansion or contraction of the wood can cause the joints between the rails to shift.
When there are slight movements between joints on a door that has been painted, it can lead to a fine crack appearing in the painted area, which creates a dark line on the joint. As time goes by and the wood continues to change size due to seasonal changes, these cracks can cause the paint to chip away completely from the joints, resulting in an imperfect-looking door in only a small number of years.
Palmer has shared:
- Solid wood is very heavy: Even though its weight lends well to its durability, it can be a hindrance to making cabinets. Solid wood cabinets need to be constructed well and installed properly in order to last, otherwise, they may come away from the walls or rest too heavily on hinges, causing breakages.
- High price point: The main negative of solid wood is undeniably the price. It is high quality, and sustainably sourced, and furniture and cabinets are usually well made – all of which contribute to a higher price tag than alternatives like MDF and plywood.
- It’s more susceptible to stains: Anyone choosing to use solid wood that has had minimal treatment should be aware of the fact that it can stain easily. In a kitchen, where splashes and spills are frequent, this can be a nuisance.
What Is The Most Durable Kitchen Cabinet?
Opting for a cabinet material that can be finished with a high gloss will provide greater protection against scratches and dents if your primary concern is durability when making a decision about your kitchen cabinets.
According to Diana Viera, who is the managing partner of ITALKRAFT, wood is an excellent choice for kitchens since it brings warmth and luxury. However, it is a less durable material compared to technical veneer, meaning it may require repairs or replacement sooner. Additionally, wood is more costly.
If durability is your main concern, consider the recently developed Fenix laminate which is highly durable and can withstand scratches and abrasion.
Opting for certain durable materials can entail drawbacks such as a reduced range of finishing choices and a lack of the tactile experience characteristic of natural materials, such as wood and stone.
If certain woods sustain damage, repairing them can be challenging. Walnut is a prime example since its color will alter as time goes on. If you have to change a door or panel, it will not be consistent with the other surrounding ones.
Simone observes that if one intends to replace their entire kitchen cabinet box, melamine serves as an excellent option for durability. Melamine is a favored material for both box-store brands and custom cabinet makers. These cabinets usually consist of a particleboard core covered in sturdy and moisture-resistant melamine. Although most stores may offer white interiors, custom cabinet makers can provide imitation wood grain options to resemble solid wood while retaining the qualities of melamine, such as durability and affordability.
Best Material for Painted Cabinet Doors
According to the abundance of painted exhibits at the 2016 Kitchen and Bath Industry Show, painted cabinets and cabinet doors are enduringly attractive and widespread among various price ranges.
Which base material makes the best-painted cabinet door is a source of much debate between cabinetmakers. Below we give the pros and cons of the most common options so you can weigh the differences and make the decision for yourself.
Open Grain Wood Species
It is not typical for us to suggest open-grain woods such as red oak, white oak, and ash for painted cabinet doors. This is due to their porous and noticeable woodgrain texture that can result in a rough finish when painted. Occasionally, those renovating or homeowners looking to use existing open-grained cabinet doors may take additional measures such as filling the woodgrain with putty or sealer and sanding the surface until smooth before painting.
Closed Grain Wood Species
The typical materials used for painting cabinet doors with a closed-grain texture are soft maple, hard maple, poplar, and a hardwood frame furnished with panels made of Medium Density Fiberboard (MDF).
Painting Solid Hardwood vs MDF
The combination of a hardwood frame for painting and an MDF panel is highly popular. Cabinetmakers typically opt for MDF panels due to their stability against movement and potential cracks in the paint at the point where the panel and frame meet. The narrow stiles and rails that form the framing around the panel tend to be more stable than the wider piece of wood that comprises the door panel.
Hard Maple, Soft Maple, Poplar: Top Picks for Painted Cabinet Doors
Solid wood cabinet doors are favored by certain cabinet makers and homeowners who wish to avoid the use of adhesives that join the fibers in MDF or who desire the option to strip and repaint the material at a later time. Typically, this category picks solid doors made from hard maple, soft maple, or poplar frame and panel.
Soft maple, despite its name, is classified as a hardwood and has a Janka Hardness rating of 950, which is lower than hard maple’s rating of 1450. Although the difference is notable, soft maple is still considered a hard type of wood, surpassing the hardness of alder, African mahogany, and poplar. Therefore, it is a suitable option for cabinet doors that require painting.
When it comes to paint-grade materials, poplar is usually the most affordable option, while soft maple falls in the middle price range and hard maple is the most expensive. Poplar is not as reliable as maple, but many customers select it due to its more affordable price.
Despite not being as hard as soft maple or hard maple, poplar is still classified as a type of hardwood.