Framed vs Frameless Cabinets: What’s the Difference?

June 10, 2021

Choosing cabinets for a new home or remodeling project can be daunting. Whether you are working on a kitchen, bathroom, or special project, cabinets represent a permanent furniture choice that you will want to live with for a while. To make the best choice, do your homework and decide on a budget that may be a stretch, but will optimize every dollar spent. Do plenty of early research and planning, and you will choose the exact right cabinets along with the right company to install them.

For years, American consumers have primarily chosen cabinet designs in traditional cabinet construction. For the purpose of clarity, let’s refer to a traditional, typically American design as a face frame cabinet, and a more contemporary, European-designed cabinet as a frameless cabinet. What are the differences, and how do the unique features of each influence your choices?

What are the Differences in Construction?

Let’s start with construction. Face frame cabinets are what most Americans think of when they think of kitchen cabinets. Essentially, these are a six-sided box with a top, bottom, two sides, and a front and back for each cabinet. The front piece has openings through with a drawer is mounted or a door opening is placed for cabinet access. Their more robust construction style makes them an easier fit for uneven surfaces, and they are more common — so also more available — than frameless designs. They are also less expensive and can represent a wide variety of design styles, from very traditional to contemporary.

The box construction of frameless cabinets differs in one keyway — they have no front piece to frame that part of the cabinet. Because of this difference, many consumers mistakenly think that frameless cabinets are not as sturdy, or represent a “cheaper” alternative to the kind of cabinetry they are more familiar with. This is not the case, but it is also important to know that having a reputable company manufacturing your frameless cabinets is important. Because their construction is different, frameless cabinets should be made of thicker materials. This helps maintain their structure. Keep in mind that using them in a remodel may require additional prep time to ensure that mounting surfaces are even. 


Which Type of Cabinet Offers Better Storage?

Cabinet dimensions alone will not indicate the square footage of storage available. Though they may cost more, frameless cabinets can increase the useable space inside your cabinets. Because of the front face on a face-frame cabinet, the opening may limit the size of items that can be stored inside. Wider face frame cabinetry may also incorporate a center stile, which can make storing or removing larger items like serving platters difficult. Frameless designs place door and drawer mounts on the inside of the cabinet, so all the interior space is accessible and useable. 

What are the Aesthetic Differences?

With an array of design materials, colors, and styles to choose from, it is easier than ever to have a cabinet style that is just what you want. Face frame cabinets tend to represent more traditional styles and can accommodate doors and drawer fronts that have layered paneling or more ornate features. Their construction design allows for mounting doors that might be heavier with more room for adjustments at installation. Frameless cabinets lean more toward a lighter design aesthetic. The default design for most is a clean, modern look, but incorporating traditional design concepts, like Shaker details, is possible. Frameless cabinetry is also more likely to use traditional materials, like wood as well as less traditional materials, like polymers or acrylics. 

How do I Choose a Cabinet Vendor?

This is perhaps the most important question to answer before embarking on your kitchen quest. Both styles are available in build-your-own, ready-made, or custom-built options. To save money, building your own cabinets is one option. Just be sure that you factor in any special tools you will need to produce a good, finished product and the time investment you need to make. With do-it-yourself and ready-made options, you will also need to design around pre-measured cabinetry. This may require you to use spacers, which decreases the resulting available storage space. If you want the precision fit of frameless cabinets, working with a knowledgeable cabinet company will resolve many problems before they happen. Custom-building will ensure that your cabinets are made to precisely fit your space, incorporate the storage options that work for you, and are installed properly, no matter what kind of cabinet construction you use.

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