Framed Cabinets Pros and Cons

One key decision when installing new kitchen and bath cabinets is framed or frameless cabinet construction. Framed cabinets have a front face frame with visible edges around doors and drawers. Frameless cabinets utilize full overlay doors covering the front evenly from edge to edge without a face frame. Understanding the pros and cons of framed and frameless designs helps you choose the best cabinet style for your kitchen remodel.

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What Are Framed Cabinets?

Framed kitchen cabinets have long served as a staple construction style for traditional to contemporary kitchen layouts. They utilize a visible wooden face frame attached to the front surrounding all cabinet doors, drawers, and openings. This front frame adds structural stability while also providing an integrated decorative furniture-like element.

Face Frame Cabinets

The face frame on framed cabinets typically consists of horizontal rails along the top and bottom connected by vertical stiles along the sides and drawer fronts. Wide side and face stiles bordering doors and drawers may feature raised panels or decorative grooving. Narrower interior stiles divide separate cabinet openings.

Hardwoods like oak, maple, cherry, and hickory are commonly used for the stable frame and the box itself. Premium options include all-wood cabinet boxes while budget-friendly framed cabinets utilize plywood sides or particleboard wrapped in melamine or veneer.

Advantages of Choosing Framed Cabinets

Opting for framed cabinet construction offers several notable benefits for many kitchen settings:

Added Structural Quality

The wooden front face frame significantly boosts overall cabinet box sturdiness and rigidity. The long joints between face frame pieces interlock tightly with the side, top, and bottom panels. This reinforced connection prevents loosening or sagging over years of use that could otherwise compromise both storage function and visual appeal.

Framed cabinets also commonly feature thicker 3⁄4” side, top, and bottom panels compared to frameless construction. These thicker framing parts prove essential to firmly anchor mounting screws when hanging cabinets. The resulting heavy-duty structure reliably supports years of frequent use and weight loading in an active kitchen environment.

Defined Cabinet Openings

The picture frame-like front visually conveys dimensions, aiding planning and installation. The horizontal and vertical face frame pieces surround each cabinet opening, clarifying the door and drawer openings, width, and height. This allows easier ordering of correctly sized doors and drawers to be installed after painting or finishing.

The face frame also assists exact placement of hardware like knobs and pulls to align with existing mounting points. Rather than precise measurements, the integrated frame provides helpful relative positioning guidance during hardware installation.

Design Detail and Customization

The visible face of a flat picture frame morphs into a decorative focal element, opening abundant customization opportunities. Wood species, finish, profile details, panels, and ornamentation can be mixed and matched for unique looks.

Faced framed cabinets even allow matching other kitchen trim work styling cues. Blending ornate traditional or sleek contemporary flairs through the integrated frame proves simple. This aesthetic flexibility lets plain boxes transform into stunning kitchen furniture that impresses.

Durable Factory Finishing

Because face frame pieces are applied early during construction, factories can pre-finish them along with cabinet box components. This allows durable, uniform stains, glazes, and paints to be expertly baked on for smooth, consistent beauty less prone to damage during installation or use.

Easier Refacing/Updating

Should you choose to refresh your kitchen down the road, the replaceable face frame doors make framed cabinets easier to reface. Leaving boxes intact while swapping cabinet door side profiles, species or finishes allows cost-effective upgrades.

Potential Drawbacks of Framed Cabinetry

While the face-framed cabinets do offer structural and design advantages, the integrated face-frame design also comes with a few potential drawbacks:

Reduced Interior Space

The width of the front face frame and side stiles nibbles interior capacity compared to frameless cabinets. With dimensions needed to ensure adequate structural integrity, framed cabinet interior storage space gets reduced by 5-15% on average.

Trickier Alignments

Doors and drawers must cover the face frame completely since rails and stiles remain visible. The two layers mean precise alignment proves more difficult during installation. Even slight offsets become clearly evident and risk cheapening the built-in furniture aesthetic framed cabinets aim for.

Limited Door Swing

Framed cabinet hinge options also restrict swing radius more than frameless models. With raised panels and protruding frames colliding sooner, accessed storage space suffers compared to 180-degree (or beyond) opening angles most frameless hinges facilitate.

Cost Differences

Quality solid wood face frames do bump up base prices over frameless options before adding finishes, hardware, and specialty features. The materials and intricate joinery labor needed to yield durable, seamless frames carry a real cost.

However, choosing a medium to higher grade cabinet lines better ensures adequate framing stock thickness and seam strength. Top brands like American Woodmark, Midcontinent Cabinetry, and KraftMaid rely on proven construction methods honed over decades to balance cost versus durability.

Matching Other Finishes

Since the visible face frame arrives pre-finished from the factory, matching existing trim work finishes later during installation proves tricky. Variability in site paints and stains often leads to slight hue differences. Blending the fairly small face frame area alone risks a patchwork look.

Limited Modularity

The set widths and dimensions of framed cabinet components allow less flexible layout options during space planning compared to totally modular frameless products manufacturing cabinets. Significant design changes mid-project usually require entirely new cabinet orders.

Comparison Factors: Framed and Frameless Cabinets

Beyond core construction differences, several other factors come into play when weighing framed vs. frameless kitchen cabinets:

Door/Drawer Alignment

According to the kitchen & bath industry’s leading architectural research organization the NKBA, the visible outer face frame included on framed cabinet boxes boosts overall strength and rigidity levels by up to 20% over frameless cabinetry. This allows durable support of door/drawer loads and interior contents weighing 100 lbs or more long-term.

Weight Capacity

Framed cabinets with thicker side pieces and structural front frames bear very heavy loads better. Frameless boxes work well for standard home kitchen needs.

Cost Differences

Basic frameless boxes start at a lower cost. But higher grades with thick structures rival framed cabinet durability with crisper design lines.

Style Suitability

Framed cabinets flex traditional to transitional looks easier with integral face frame accents. Frameless excels in contemporary, sleek designs.


It may even prove you don’t have to choose strictly framed or frameless cabinetry for your whole kitchen. Perhaps combining them in different areas strikes the right balance where each shines brightest. Savvy planning, informed cabinet design selections, and expert installation then clear the path to make your kitchen beautiful and brilliantly practical for years.


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