There are literally hundreds of different kinds of cabinet doors to choose from, from simple modern panels to gorgeous classical styles with inlaid moulding. Unless you’re a cabinetmaker (or some kind of memorizing savant), you probably aren’t going to be able to recite or identify them all from memory. But having a basic working knowledge of a few of the most basic styles (and how they get dressed up) can be a huge help in getting the look you want, whether you’re refacing or replacing your kitchen cabinets, or just looking for a new bathroom vanity.
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A flush or slab cabinet door is both the simplest and the most modern option out there. Quite simply, this is a smooth door face without any woodwork or ornamentation. Usually made with a high quality plywood core, slab cabinets can be veneered to have a variety of different styles, from authentic wood to a more modern wood “print” or, as is becoming more popular in kitchen cabinetry, a solid, bright color. These are best paired with simple hardware or, if you dare, no hardware at all for a totally seamless appearance.
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For almost all other types of cabinet doors, you need to think of the door not as a single solid piece, but as a frame holding a panel of wood in the middle, like a picture. The frame itself can be simple or decorative, while the middle panel can be made of wood or glass, with carved or painted details or even latticework. On a flat panel cabinet door, though, the panel is – as the name implies – simply flat. The frame itself can have some decoration, especially inlaid moulding, but on a flat panel cabinet door, that’s usually the only decoration.
Raised panel cabinets, on the other hand, have a middle piece that’s raised up and protrudes out from the surrounding frame. Generally there’s a deep groove surrounding the center raised panel (where the frame holds it in place), but otherwise the level of detailing is up for debate. The simplest ones will only have the raised center pattern, while Colonial of Victorian versions will have multiple inlaid rectangles of varying thicknesses, creating a frame within a frame within a frame. On an ornate bathroom vanity, each of these frames may even be hand carved in a different pattern.
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Many designers will stomp their feet about the obvious, dramatic differences between Shaker, Mission, and American Craftsman/Arts and Crafts style cabinets. And it’s true that, historically, each of the three designs has a different inspiration, was made using different techniques, and is generally associated with a different material. But practically speaking, there’s really no difference: all these designs consist of a simple, squared frame with a flat panel inside. This style has become especially popular lately, as it has a simplicity that works well with a modern decor, but just a hint of casual, old fashioned style.
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Beaded cabinets, or beadboard cabinets, are essentially flat panel cabinets where the flat panel has thin repeating vertical grooves reminiscent of traditional beadboard wainscoting. The frames themselves can be simple or more ornate, depending on the style of the bathroom or kitchen they’re used in, but are often painted white to evoke a simpler country or cottage style.
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Similarly, shuttered cabinet doors replace the interior panel entirely with simple shutters. These can be wide or very thin, but aren’t adjustable. In a bathroom, this style is a great way to evoke a Cape Cod design, and in a kitchen they have the slightly more practical application of helping improve ventilation in your cabinets. Better air circulation is especially nice for storing root vegetables that might need a little extra air, but that don’t look great stored out in the open.
Last but not least, it’s worth remembering that while almost all cabinet doors are based on a frame surrounding a panel, the inside edge of the frame itself doesn’t have to be perfectly square. A simple arch is a fairly common embellishment, either as a gentle curve over the top or bottom edge, or a slightly more pronounced bump up in the center of the top edge. Often an arch is paired with other embellishments, like inlaid moulding or other woodwork, latticework, or glass panels to evoke a Colonial or Victorian style.
While an exhaustive understanding of the different types of cabinet doors out there might be elusive, having a little vocabulary can go a long way towards being able to articulate (and get!) exactly the look you want. What kind of cabinets are you hunting for: kitchen or bathroom? If there’s a particular style you love, let me know in the comments!
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