Category Archives for "Kitchen Cabinet"

I have an architect, but no kitchen design. Help?

We are in process of designing a 540 sq. ft. addition that will be part kitchen and part screened porch. The working plans for the space are in process; however, my architect is a young fellow who shares that he spends about 3 minutes per week in the kitchen and that we won’t get much help from him when it comes to kitchen layout.

On my first trip to (big box store), I met a kitchen planner who did some early cabinet layout work and shared that if I had just 4” more on the wall between the kitchen and porch, she could squeeze in a 9” cabinet and make a little more use out of one of the blind corners. I am a little frantic that this seems to be an odd way to design a cabinet layout…the walls are still flexible but I am unsure if I want to definitely use (big box store) and their brand of cabinets. I can’t go high end with cabinets, but I do want quality that will last.

Any ideas on how to proceed? We are spending a pretty penny on architect fees and it feels wrong to spend more money on design and layout…but I am willing to be convinced if it is the best way to go. –K.”

I sympathize – for both you and your architect. With regards to the architect fees, think of it this way: it’s not much different than a chef in a restaurant who brings a pastry chef on board. He can make a decent flan, but the pastry chef is capable of making desserts that the chef doesn’t even know about. (Of course, this analogy only works if you like desserts, I suppose.)

The challenge is that kitchens are no longer “standard” – almost every item can be customized. Not all products work in every kitchen and not every product even works well with other products. So your architect has done you a favor by admitting that he’s not an expert in the field.

Smaller studios and businesses may have some very experienced/trained kitchen designers and/or Certified Kitchen Designers and they might not even be more expensive than the big box stores. I know because I worked for years in my family’s showroom and my current company has a retail cabinet division where the prices are very competitive.

There are two reasons why a comparable price cabinet may be different:

  1. The company is using them as a “loss leader” – e.g. selling next to cost to bring you into the store (in which case, this is a deal for you – go for it.)
  2. The designer is actually designing the kitchen for you. Let me explain what that means. A professional designer designs for your lifestyle. Budget is an important consideration but a waste of money if what you receive isn’t as useful as it can be, especially in kitchen design.

As a designer, I see poor design layouts based on budget all the time. The areas where corners are cut are only apparent if you have some idea of what to look for. For example, corners designed with a less expensive blind corners rather than a lazy Susan corner, adding a lot of spacers or fillers between cabinets where they shouldn’t be in order to save extra cabinets, or omitting a 2-step crown molding off the design. This isn’t to say that all cabinet sales work towards that goal but merely to point out what you may not have considered. Any and all of these can affect the bottom line, especially moldings, which can add anywhere from $ 500.00 – $ 1,300.00 in a mid-size kitchen design depending on amount and style. Don’t always assume a higher price is higher simply because it’s overpriced. There are too many custom choices in kitchens today to be sure of that…even if you’re a designer!

I can’t speak for all designers, but the kitchen designers I know design for the client’s lifestyle, not simply the bottom line. Of course it’s our livelihood too, but there’s also professional pride at stake; our reputations make or break our career. Basic, cookie-cutter layouts aren’t what we specialize in – we want to find out what your storage requirements are, where we need to position the small appliances, how we can get the kids making their after-school snacks out of the way so you can work in your kitchen.

See if you can’t arrange some interviews with smaller companies with the same cabinet lines or similar. If you can find family businesses, even better, but I’m cheerfully prejudiced. There is either no cost or minimal cost to have the designer work with you if you’re buying the cabinets from them.

As another option: consider hiring an independent kitchen designer. Pay them for their expertise. Get them to work with your architect for the best fit. A good designer will charge anywhere from $ 50.00 – $ 150.00 depending on experience. The more experience, the less hours it takes. (At least it did for me and my clients.) Get the design hammered out first.

You never want look back and say, “If only I had done this…” While it may feel wrong now to spend all this money on the architect and have to spend more for a kitchen design, you won’t feel that way at all if it doesn’t turn out the how you want.


Morisseau, Kelly (2011-12-06). 20 Kitchen Design Questions Answered (Kindle Locations 76-77). Springline Media. Kindle Edition.

Painted Cabinets — M.D.F. vs. Hardwood?

Let’s provide some background first so others might know what we’re talking about:

M.D.F. or medium-density fiberboard, is a recycled wood product, densely packed with binders and resins to bind it together. The entire board is squeezed under pressure to be very, very dense.

Hardwood is actual wood – perhaps maple or birch or any wood with a tight grain – which is used for the frame, while the center panel is M.D.F.

So the question is why one over the other?

To answer this question, we first have to go back to why we’re not using woods in the first place, which is simply: wood is not a stable product. It expands and contracts according to humidity and temperature. Wood-workers are aware of this, which is why the center panel of any door is not fixed to the frame – it fits inside a u-channel of the frame which leaves enough space for the center panel to swell and shrink.

In the early days of wood-working, solid wood doors were made with the center panel out of an entire piece of wood, which is why you see 200-year-old doors with cracks in the center.

So when someone talks about a “solid center panel” in a door, today’s woods center panel is made by joining the pieces à la butcher block fashion. Each piece has the grain running the opposite way to its neighbor. A center panel may be made out of as many as 6-8 pieces, depending on the width, and it’s much less susceptible to cracking and warping like its early cousin was.

The frame construction of the door is called a mortise-and-tenon joint. Swelling or shrinking of the grain runs lengthwise. (Ever had your old interior doors on your house stick in the summer with a big gap in the winter? That’s why – shrinks in the cold and expands in humid warmth).

Structurally, this is superior to a picture frame joint, where the corners of the door meet at a 45-degree angle. This style, while pretty, is more susceptible to the joints moving, because the grain expansion and contraction of the frame is pinched at the corners. None of the wood takes a poll and says, “Oh today we’re all going to expand at the same time – let’s go!” Each section will move and adapt in such a way that you might have all four corners opened, or none.

Now when we’re talking about applying paint onto the door with a glaze, this is why the M.D.F. and hardwood centers and frames become important. We want to minimize that expansion and shrinkage – especially with glazes because as the center panel shrinks, it exposes a line where the glazing ends. I’ve certainly discussed with some worried clients over the years when we’ve had a particularly hot, dry summer.

If I were to suggest which one I would use, I’d have to say it depends on three factors:

1) Whether the door is mortise-and-tenon, or picture-frame— The stiles, or side frame, of a mortise-and-tenon door extend the full height of the door on both side. Imagine them as two pieces used to snap together the center rails and center panel together.

A picture frame door is made where the corners are joined together at a 45-degree angle, exactly like a picture frame and hence the name. The mortise-and-tenon as a wood frame expands with less cracking at the seams than a picture frame because the two stiles prevent the top and bottom rails from expanding (much). The picture frame allows all of the outside stiles and rails to contract, sometimes at the same time.

It’s for this reason I might recommend M.D.F. for the picture frame door.

2) If the design calls for cabinet doors as appliance panels — M.D.F., while stable, is also heavy. Not all appliance doors can bear the weight of MDF-panels.

3) How much we care about paint cracking at the seams — No matter how well the door is made – your climate, location, home humidity and even how you slam or don’t slam the doors will have an effect on the finished paint.

Outside of the U.S., many countries dislike the cracking and if I have clients from, say Canada or Europe, we might use the modern European methods for door construction: the doors are fabricated out of a single piece of M.D.F. – no seams, no cracking, and no worries. Many Americans find this a bit too smooth, but to each their own, right?

Morisseau, Kelly (2011-12-06). 20 Kitchen Design Questions Answered (Kindle Locations 415-420). Springline Media. Kindle Edition.