Cabinets may be either face-frame or frameless in construction. Each option provides features and drawbacks.
Most kitchen cabinets feature matching tops and bottoms and are available in different styles.
In Europe, there is a DIN standard dimension where the height of a base unit is 720mm + 150mm for the bottom plinth and 40mm for worktop thickness, providing a working surface height of 910mm with an area of 600mm x 600 mm. This “60cm square” horizontal area (or its multiples) accommodates many standard floor-standing electrical appliances.
Traditional cabinets are constructed using face frames which typically consist of narrow strips of hardwood framing the cabinet box opening. Cabinet carcasses were traditionally constructed with a separate face frame until the introduction of modern engineered wood such as particle board and medium-density fiberboard along with glues, hinges and fasteners required to join them. A face frame ensures squareness of the cabinet front. It also increases rigidity and provides a mounting point for hinges. Face-frame cabinets retain popularity in the U.S. An important distinction between modern (manufactured) and traditional custom-built face-frame cabinets relates to the catalog-selection of cabinet components entailed by mass production. Original custom face-frame cabinets accommodated multiple sections (cavities) in a single carcass. But stock (or semi-custom) face-frame cabinets are constructed individually and joined during installation. As a result, modern face-frame cabinets differ in having significantly wider (double-width) stile materials overall after installation. Two 1 1⁄2-inch (38 mm) stiles joined as adjacent cabinets result in, effectively, a 3-inch (76 mm) stile. Wide stiles can interfere with access to the cabinet interior. When base cabinets were typically shelved, this was not much of a drawback. But with base cabinets increasingly being fitted with trays and drawers (using modern hardware), the extra stile width results in significantly less access to the cabinet cavity space. This drawback does not pertain to custom face-frame cabinets.
Custom face-frame cabinets offer more efficient use of space because double width stiles (see above) can be avoided. They also provide far greater flexibility with regard to materials and design, since kitchen cabinet heights, widths and depths can be designed and produced according to the client’s specifications. Every aspect of custom cabinetry can be made to specifications, which makes it both the most desirable and the most expensive choice in the majority of kitchen installations.
Frameless (full-access) cabinets.
Frameless (a.k.a. “full-access”) cabinets utilize the carcase side, top, and bottom panels to serve same functions as do face-frames in traditional cabinets. In general, frameless cabinets provide better utilization of space than face-frame cabinets. A preference for frameless cabinet design developed in Europe in the 1950s and 1960s following the devastation of World War II and the increasing cost of lumber. A burgeoning market for reconstructed housing in Central Europe offered a fertile environment for developments in efficient hinge and cabinet designs. Frameless cabinets rely on manufacturing methods that permit the production of modern cabinet hardware (hinges and slides) and engineered wood products (for strength, dimensional tolerance, and stability). The intent of the frameless design is to achieve a more streamlined appearance and a more efficient use of space, with ergonomically designed moving components such as drawers, trays, and pull-out cabinets providing better access to interior components. A number of benefits stemming from frameless cabinet design have been successfully applied to face-frame cabinets, such as multiple drawers in base cabinets, full-overlay doors, and cup hinges. With the rise in popularity of European style frameless cabinetry, a significant proportion of the hardware used by U.S. cabinet manufacturers is imported from Europe.