Kitchen cabinets: without them, even the most beautifully designed kitchen would quickly devolve into a cluttered, disorganized mess. Though today, kitchen cabinets have vastly expanded their role beyond that of the simple storage container. In the 21st century kitchen, the best kitchen designs make maximum use of their expressive potential through the use of innovative materials, color and detailing.

A bit of cabinet history
Kitchen cabinets are relatively new additions to the American kitchen. Once upon a time – during the late 1800s — they were a rarity (storage of foodstuffs and kitchen implements typically took place in a completely separate room: the pantry). A key development in the evolution of the modern kitchen cabinet came in the form of the “Hoosier” cabinet, a standalone unit combining a working table with ample storage for foodstuffs and kitchen tools. Hundreds of thousands of these cabinets were sold in the 1800s (you can still find them on eBay if you’re looking for an authentic accessory to augment a vintage kitchen design).

By the early 20th century, kitchen cabinets (still widely referred to as “cupboards”) became built-in, and their essential role in the kitchen began to be more appreciated, as time-and-motion studies validated their importance in fostering efficient kitchen workflow. The frameless “Eurostyle” cabinet style – one that remains popular today – came into existence. In the early 1940s, the first Lazy Susan corner cabinet accessory was patented; in the 1950s, cabinets began to flaunt color, and in the later part of the century, as “foodies” became a demographic category and celebrity chefs ruled the airwaves, cabinets became true design elements highlighting the dramatic glories of cooking.

Kitchen cabinets today
Today, cabinets come in a dizzying range of styles, sizes, materials choices and configurations. Generally speaking, their styles can be categorized as Traditional, Contemporary/Modern and Transitional.

Materials used in today’s cabinets include lumber-based wood (hardwood, softwood) and engineered wood (including particleboard, plywood and MDF (medium-density fiberboard). Engineered wood cabinets are often adorned with veneer on their outward-facing surfaces, and this veneer is available in a wide variety of colors and styles, even steel, to match today’s generation of steel and chrome appliances.

Many – perhaps, most kitchen cabinets — in American homes today are of the traditional “framed” design favored by American cabinetmakers. In this design, the cabinet frame has a front face with a center stile (vertical piece) over which the cabinet doors partially overlap. The cabinet doors themselves often include decorative recesses. The look of these cabinets is homey, traditional and classic. Lately, however, frameless (AKA “Eurostyle”) cabinets have come into vogue. In this design, the cabinet frame lacks a front face and a stile, and concealed hinges allow the door to completely cover the front of the cabinet, thus achieving a flush, smooth, seamless design.

In terms of size, base cabinet size is standardized at 34 ½ inches high (without countertops), depth at 24 inches, with widths that begin at 12 inches and range up to 36 inches. Wall cabinets range from 12 to 48 inches in height, 12 to 24 inches in depth, and 12 to 36 inches in width.

Advances in cabinet functionality
Kitchen cabinets have come a long way in the last century, but innovation continues to race ahead. Today, cabinets are increasingly being accessorized with features that make them more functional (and often, more fun) to work with. Accessories and options include a range of pull-out and pull-down designs for base cabinets that can accommodate many different items and item types. The corner cabinet – while still a stronghold of the old reliable Lazy Susan – now has options including slide out bases, improved rotating accessory shelves and other storage-maximizing features. And cabinets – which have “wrapped around” major appliances for years, are now even being configured to completely conceal these appliances – providing the kitchen with an ultra-built-in look. Lighting options for cabinets are another new factor improving their utility and beauty. A wide range of LED and Xenon bulb-based under-cabinet and in-cabinet fixtures provide both extended life and new colors for the kitchen designer to work with.

The once humble cabinet – which began as an out-of-the-way, pantry-based utility — is all grown up today, packed with exciting new storage options and lighting possibilities – and ready for its close-up.

If you’d ever like to brainstorm with us on how cabinets can create a unique look and feel in your own kitchen, please reach out: we LOVE to talk about cabinets!