Q&A / 

Cabinet Doors

DEAR TIM: Cabinet doors are swirling in my head as I approach a major kitchen remodeling job. There are so many different kitchen cabinet doors, I'm overwhelmed with the styles and finishes. I'm afraid they'll go out of fashion and I'll be bored with my choice. What should I look for in wood cabinet doors? Custom cabinet doors are out of my budget, so let's keep that out of the discussion. How would you solve this dilemma? Leslie K., Worthville, PA

DEAR LESLIE: Oh, do I remember those days where some of my customers had the same problem. They were paralyzed with fear fretting about making a mistake they would truly regret. It made perfect sense to me as the cost of the cabinets was often such that it would take the breath away of all but the most wealthy. It's easy to spend a sizable ransom on kitchen cabinets.

My daughter has taught me that these decisions are best made by following your heart. This may sound insane, but I'm a believer in her reasoning. She tells me that when selecting cabinet doors, you should be in touch with your inner feelings. When you see a door style and color that makes you feel good, you're zeroing in on one that will bring you pleasure each day, as you come into your kitchen to brew that first pot of bean juice, better known as coffee.

The biggest mistake you can make right now is trying to select cabinets that will make others think good things of you. This mentality is what keeps designers in business. They constantly are introducing new things trying to tug on the emotions on the those homeowners who try to keep up with the Jones, or who want to have the hippest fashion or style so they impress their friends. Don't fall into this expensive trap.

This glass cabinet door when mixed with a solid door adds considerable interest to the room. PHOTO CREDIT:  Tim Carter

This glass cabinet door when mixed with a solid door adds considerable interest to the room. PHOTO CREDIT: Tim Carter

As you restart your selection process, pay attention to glass cabinet doors. You may want to mix in some of these in your plan. A strategically placed wall cabinet that has glass doors can really add sizzle to your design. Be sure to consider a special glass used by picture-framing businesses that's called conservancy glass. This glass has a non-glare coating that makes the glass appear invisible. The items inside the cabinets appear to jump out at you. Be sure to consider indirect lighting behind these glass kitchen cabinet doors so the objects inside are washed in soft light at night. It's a breathtaking affect.

Don't underestimate the power of cabinet door hardware on the overall look of your new cabinets. The size, color and finish of the knobs, drawer pulls and any exposed hinges can change the look of the cabinet doors. It's mission critical that you pay attention to the hardware as you start to narrow your door choices. Be sure you place hardware samples directly onto the sample doors. Always look at full-size door samples, not a small block of stained wood. Basing your cabinet door selection on small samples of wood is death on a jagged stick.

As you talk with the cabinet company, discuss the attributes of the wood cabinet doors that they have. Not all doors are made the same. If you desire solid wood, make sure that's what you're getting. Some doors appear to be solid wood, when in reality they are composite doors covered with a paper-thin veneer made from solid wood. It's easy to be tricked by these lower-cost impostors.

Oak cabinet doors will undoubtedly be one of the wood species that you'll look at. It's very durable, but has a distinctive heavier grain that may or may not grab you. Oak can be stained a darker color, but beware of dark kitchen cabinets. They can overpower a room and make it appear smaller. If possible see if you can locate a cabinet manufacturer that uses red oak. When coated with a simple clear finish, red oak will take your breath away. You can get the same look, but without the heavy grain, if you use red birch for the wood in your new cabinets.

Be sure to look at new cabinet doors at a specialty business that just sells cabinets and countertops. You'll often see many smaller kitchens setup showing off both base and wall cabinets set up to show you in full scale what a particular door style and finish will look like when you have all the same doors next to one another.

It's vitally important that you make your decision looking at cabinets this way. Don't base your decision on just one door sample or a computer simulation you may see at a home center. You could make a mistake that you'll really regret once the home-center installers show up and throw the cabinets into place.

If oak or birch is not to your liking, take a look at cherry cabinet doors. I've had cherry cabinets for years, and they are a classic look. Cherry is a lighter to medium hardwood, but it reacts to sunlight over time. The wood will darken naturally, so keep that in mind. Try to see if can't locate a home that has cherry cabinets that have been in place for years to see how they look. You can do this by watching real estate open houses that advertise the cabinet wood species in the ad. Some Realtors will mention cherry cabinets.

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