11 April 2014

Cabinet Door Styles: Architectural Periods and Design Elements

Quick! Think of a kitchen cabinet!

What did you picture? Did you picture a dado joint, a cutlery divider, or a braid molding accent? Probably not. Chances are, you saw a door.

If you read our earlier post on Wood Species, you know that there are many choices when it comes to your cabinet appearance. If you are having your cabinets custom-built, your door style options are practically limitless, but it helps to have a basic understanding of some of the terminology and standard construction methods. This is also helpful if you are trying to be faithful to a particular architectural period, or draw out particular design elements.

In general, you have two options for how a door is set on a cabinet: inset or overlay. An inset door is one that is cut out of the panel that covers the face of the cabinet. When the door is closed, the face of the cabinet is smooth and unbroken (barring decorative pieces and
hardware). An overlay is a door that is attached directly to the frame. It “lays over” the opening at the front of the box. Overlays can cover the whole face of the cabinet – called a full overlay – or leave some of the frame exposed in varying widths.

Full overlays are usually seen in “Contemporary” kitchens to compliment the smooth lines of the appliances and construction materials, whereas “Traditional” kitchens will have exposed frames.

Some cabinets have tambour doors that slide up into the cavity on tracks (think of a garage door). You see these most often on countertop appliance garages, where you can hide your blender, food processor, etc.

Once you’ve decided how the door will be set onto the frame, you can further refine its appearance. The simplest is a slab door, which looks just like you’d expect it to: a solid piece of wood with no decorative scribing. Next is a paneled door, and that’s where it starts getting fun.

Panels can be raised or recessed, and there are several ways to achieve either look. A raised panel can be created by routing around the outside edges of the door to leave a decorative shape in the middle, or by attaching a separate piece to the front of the door. Recessed panels are created by either routing out the center of the door panel, or by attaching framing pieces around the edges. The edges of the routs and panels can be straight cuts, decorative scribing, or have accent moldings, and all of these elements can be mixed and matched in just about any combination.

Panels, whether raised or recessed, can be any shape, but the most popular are squares and arches. Arches can be further subdivided into semicircular, gothic, corbelled, bucket, ogee, Roman, and many more.

As you can see, the basics of cabinet construction are pretty straightforward, but the details can quickly get complicated. This is especially true if you are trying to stay faithful to a particular building style. If you are restoring a Colonial home, for example, your cabinetry can have either overlay or inset doors, but they’ll need to be paneled either way. If you’re doing your kitchen in the Art Deco style, however, slab doors contribute to the sleekness of the design.

An important element in interior design is repetition, and having cabinets custom-built gives you a clear advantage in this. If the centerpiece of your kitchen is an elegant curved hood or arched brick oven, for example, you may not be able to find “off the shelf” cabinets with that exact same arch, but cabinet makers such as the Artisan Cabinet Company in Chaska, Minnesota, can recreate it on your door panels, or shape the door itself to match, providing a consistent aesthetic in your home.

Because details matter.


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