Tips from the Architect: Kitchen Cabinet Design

Photo by Brian Vanden Brink
Kitchen Design by Catalano Architects – Photo by Brian Vanden Brink

For centuries, the kitchen has been the heart of the home. Although this space has evolved throughout the ages, in most homes today the kitchen is still the primary room where families come together to cook, eat, and entertain. During this time of year especially the kitchen is by far the busiest and most occupied space in the home, filled with the aroma of holiday cooking and baking and the sounds of people gathering to celebrate.

Since the kitchen is such a heavily used space, it is important to take this into consideration as you design your room. The information provided below will help you to choose cabinets that will not only look great but will also function well and stand up to the stresses of everyday use.

Cabinet Boxes: The Foundation

Sturdy, well-built cabinet boxes are an essential foundation for beautiful and long lasting kitchen cabinets. The boxes – the sides, rear, and bottom of each cabinet – should be constructed from solid wood. While it may be less expensive, using particleboard results in cabinets with doors that begin to loosen and shift after just a few years. Particleboard is also far less sturdy and can chip and break easily. Solid wood boxes are more resilient to water, which makes them more suitable for a kitchen than particleboard boxes, as they can withstand daily use far better.


Cabinet drawers should also be made from solid wood, and their joints should be dovetailed for sturdy construction. For maximum usage, the installation of full extension slides is key. This type of hardware allows the drawer to be pulled out to the entirety of its length for easy access without any obstruction. Drawer slides can be mounted along the sides or underneath each drawer. Aesthetically it is nicer to have the slides mounted below and out of sight, this way when the drawer is open the mechanism is not visible.

Cabinet Fronts & Door Panels

When it comes to the cabinet fronts, they too should be well built. Again solid wood is preferable, and the door and drawer fronts should be at least 3/4” thick, ideally 1” in thickness.

While there are numerous options for cabinet door panels, kitchen cabinet doors are installed in one of two ways (see examples in photos below).

  • Full overlay doors – the doors sit on top of the cabinet frames
  • Inset doors – the face of the door is flush with the frames of the cabinets

In both options, it is important to avoid placing vertical dividing rails in areas where there are pairs of doors.


The choice of the final finish for the cabinets should be considered carefully, as this will be the most visible feature of your cabinets and it will be exposed to everyday wear and tear. For wood cabinets, the options are to either stain or paint the wood. Hand painted cabinets that are air-dried can be quite beautiful, but may not be as durable as a baked-on finish. For an extremely smooth and flawless finish that is very resilient to dents and scratches, a sprayed on paint that has been heat set is a good option.

Hopkinton, MA Kitchen: Designed by Catalano Architects - Photo by Eric Roth
Hopkinton, MA Kitchen: Designed by Catalano Architects – Photo by Eric Roth

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