Build a Kitchen: Kitchen Cabinets Design Tips

The style and layout of the kitchen cabinets chosen can make the same available kitchen space range from a sleek and elegant to a cozy country look. There’s a myriad of choices when designing the kitchen cabinetsfrom deciding on whether to have plenty of over-counter cabinets or simply a few open shelves, to deciding on specialized options such as built-in knife drawers, spice racks, and pull out drawers for dishes.


Determine Kitchen Layout Before Starting Kitchen Cabinet Design

The first step before designing kitchen cabinets is to choose the ideal kitchen floor plan. The five most common kitchens are: L-shaped, U-shaped, galley, G-shaped and one wall or straight. All of these layouts have their pros and cons.

To evaluate each of the kitchen floor plan styles, consider:

  • The available space for the kitchen being designedincluding any existing walls, electrical or plumbing fixtures,
  • The way the kitchen will be used,
  • Who will be using it,
  • Kitchen work sequences (for instance cleaning up after supper or getting a meal to the table from the kitchen).

Keep in mind that not every available square foot of wall and floor space need to be taken up with cabinetry. Many kitchen cabinet manufacturers create brochures showing kitchens with an overwhelming number of cabinets in a single kitchen. Instead of giving the warm and comfortable feeling that most want for their kitchens, this style of kitchen can feel imposing.

Kitchen Space Planning

To reduce the amount of cabinetry (and cost), consider what really needs to be stored in the kitchen and what items would be simply left unused in drawers or cabinets. Also consider items that may be used only once a year for special suppers such as Thanksgiving or Christmas and decide if they are better off stored in a storage room other than the kitchen.

The extra space freed up by using less cabinetry can help create a roomier feel to the kitchen or can be used in other waysperhaps a cozy settee or window seat right in the kitchen or a table for in-kitchen meals or socializing.

Once your layout or kitchen floor plan is determined, the amount of available space for kitchen cabinets can be calculated. Sketch the basic outline of the kitchen from a top view and include on the drawing:

  • Counters, sinks and dishwasher,
  • Windows, doors and any other unusable wall space,
  • All major appliances.

Affordable Kitchen Cabinets or Custom Kitchen Cabinets

The next major decision is whether you will be buying factory cabinets or custom kitchen cabinets. Brochures from the kitchen cabinet manufacturers in your area will state the various sizes in which their stock cabinets are available. An affordable kitchen cabinets design is possible by using these standard sizes. It is also possible to use a mix of factory-made cabinetry and custom kitchen cabinets.

When doing this, it is best to contrast the factory and custom cabinets by using different colors or designs since it will be difficult to exactly match the cabinet materials and colors. A simple example of this is having a custom built kitchen island that is contrasted with stock cabinetry around the walls.

Style and Color for Kitchen Cabinets Design

Next consider the style of cabinet. When choosing the cabinet style consider the overall style of the home and what mood and atmosphere is desired for the kitchen. For a traditional style, look for cabinets with lots of detail and furniture-like features such as molding, corbels and cabinet legs.

For a modern look, choose kitchen cabinets with doors that fit flush to the edges of the cabinet and use sleek kitchen cabinet pulls or even no pulls at all.

Consider also whether stained natural wood, painted wood or man-made materials would look best with the overall home design. Here also, it is possible to mix and match a bit. Cabinets can be two-toned with the outer frame around a cabinet door one color contrasting with the main cabinet color. For a farmhouse or more traditional look, a single kitchen cabinet can be made to look more like a piece of furniture by using a different color or material than the rest of the kitchen and putting it on raised legs.

Build a Kitchen Cabinet Design Without Going Overboard

While designing the kitchen:

  • Keep focused on the functionality and livability of the kitchen.
  • Think first of how the kitchen will be used before starting in on the cabinet design.
  • Avoid simply copying another kitchen or a brochure kitchen since it may not meet the family’s needs or lifestyle.
  • Try to pare down what will be stored in the kitchen cabinets to the things that are truly used.


  • Atkinson, Scott. Shelves and Cabinets. Menlo Park, Sunset Books, 2004.
  • Siglag, Lisa S. Your Dream Home. New York, Hearst Books, 2007.

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