Kitchen Cabinet Buying Guide

Replacing your kitchen cabinets is one of the easiest ways to make your kitchen look new and to provide your whole home with a modern look. Whether you opt for wall, base or tall cabinets, you'll also want to look at material type and other factors to ensure you buy the best cabinets for your kitchen.

Types of Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen cabinet types typically fall into one of four categories. Base cabinets are the most common type. The name comes from the fact that these cabinets sit on the floor and against the wall to provide a base for all other cabinets. Most are around 36 inches high and 24 inches across, but you can purchase custom cabinets in larger or smaller sizes.

Kitchen cabinets also come in a wall variety. Designed to hang on the wall, these cabinets provide extra storage without taking up a lot of space in the room. Manufacturers typically make these cabinets with an internal depth of between 12 and 17 inches. You can choose different heights to cover a larger portion of the wall or to fit in the space above your refrigerator.

Another type of kitchen cabinet is a tall cabinet. Unlike other cabinets that have limited space inside, these designs usually have much more space and are taller than both base and wall cabinets. Most measure at least 80 inches tall, but some custom designs can fit a space that is seven foot tall or higher. Homeowners generally use these cabinets as a pantry or an additional closet.

You may come across some specialty cabinets as well. Manufacturers design these cabinets with a specific purpose in mind. Some feature slanted walls on two sides and fit effortlessly inside a corner, while others have racks inside designed to store wine and liquor bottles. Other cabinets have slide out drawers inside. You'll also find cabinets that pull or slide out from the wall to reveal hidden storage.

Pay Attention to

Grade type

Think about the type of grade that you want when choosing new cabinets. Plywood cabinets, also known as ready to assemble or RTA cabinets, feature a plywood construction that can hold up well to minimal wear and tear but won't last as long as other grades. Stock cabinets often feature a hardwood construction that is a little more costly but will last much longer. You can also opt for custom or semi-custom cabinets. The main difference between the two is that semi-custom cabinets use existing cabinets with some minor modifications. Custom cabinet designers build those cabinets from the ground up based on your needs and wishes.


The cost of kitchen cabinets ranges based on material and grade. RTA cabinets may cost as little as $100 per cabinet, but when you opt for custom cabinets, outfitting your kitchen can cost as much as $20,000 or even more. The cost also depends on whether you do the installation yourself or you hire contractors to install those cabinets.

Stain or finish

You can save money with kitchen cabinets that come unfinished. You'll need to prime and either paint or stain the wood yourself, and you may want to add a coat of sealant to the wood too. Kitchen cabinets also come with the paint or stain already applied. Some, like RTA cabinets, use a wood veneer on the front. When you open the doors, you'll see the plain wood on the back and sides of the cabinets. The most expensive cabinets feature stain or paint applied to all surfaces and visible areas of the wood.

Ease of installation

Not all cabinets are as easy to install as the next. Stock and RTA cabinets are among the easiest to install because the cabinets come already built and ready for use. With custom cabinets, you'll need to ensure that the floor is even so that the cabinets sit level on the floor. You'll also need to hang the cabinets on the walls in a way that keeps each one from falling off. Hiring a contractor to install those cabinets will add to your total cost.

Cabinet Hardware

Shop for cabinets that have hardware you like but hardware that is easy to remove. If you decide to update your kitchen later, you can remove those drawer pulls and knobs or handles and replace each one with new hardware. The finishes found on cabinet hardware include modern stainless steel and traditional looking antique nickel or brass.

Kitchen Cabinets Manufacturers Association approval

Make sure that the cabinets you select have the seal or approval or a certificate from the Kitchen Cabinets Manufacturers Association. This organization tests cabinets to see how well each one holds up to regular wear and tear. A high rating from this organization ensures that those cabinets will hold up to at least 10 years of regular use.

Top Brands and Product Lines


IKEA makes affordable kitchen cabinets that range in price from under $20 for a new door to more than $100 for a single cabinet. You can also shop for different products to give your kitchen a customized look.


KraftMaid has more than 40 years of experience helping homeowners choose cabinets for their kitchens and includes a lifetime warranty on all cabinets it makes.

StarMark Cabinetry

As one of the only companies that still makes cabinets and hardware in the United States, StarMark Cabinetry offers styles like Shaker cabinets and offers various stains that include hickory, cherry and oak.

Mid Continent Cabinetry

All cabinets manufactured by Mid Continent Cabinetry, which received recognition for its commitment to the environment, have certification from the KCMA.

Kemper Distinctive Cabinetry

Kemper Distinctive Cabinetry offers kitchen cabinets in Shaker and other styles and in stain options like cherry, alder, oak and maple.