The San Diego Homeowner’s Ultimate Guide to Selecting Kitchen Cabinets

SHI - Home Remodel Highlights

When it comes to kitchen remodeling in San Diego, cabinet design and selection are the main things to consider. The kitchen cabinets are like the body of a car, they form the basis for the overall layout and footprint of a kitchen. Essentially, once the cabinet design is completed for your kitchen remodel, everything else can be selected.


From the granite countertops to built-in appliances to the knobs and pulls selected for the cabinet doors, all of these choices and item selections will simply be applied into the kitchen that is formed by the initial footprint and layout for your San Diego kitchen remodel.


There are a few avenues to consider in having your dream kitchen designed. Some people go directly to the remodeling contractor. Often, the contractor will have kitchen designers, interior designers, or cabinet designers that he either works with or employs that can help with the new kitchen design. Some San Diego remodel clients will find a kitchen or cabinet designer first and then look for a home remodeling contractor to bring the designs to reality.


The best of both worlds many consider to be finding a design/build remodeling contractor in San Diego that can marry the design, build, and budget into a cohesive residential kitchen remodeling project that will last for years.


The Basics: Cabinet Boxes

Take a quick look at your kitchen cabinets. What do you notice? If you’re seeing what most people see, it’s mostly doors. Think about what kitchen cabinets in the San Diego remodeling scene and the rest of the world are — basically a box, mostly unfinished on all sides except the face, with a door attached. And, with the trend for the last decade or so being “full overlay” or “Euro-style” cabinets and doors, on many new kitchens, the doors will be the only thing you will see on the exterior of your kitchen cabinets.


There are a lot of details when it comes to cabinet boxes, but the bulk of those details can be left to the carpenters. The main homeowners should consider when thinking about cabinet boxes is if they want a traditional fully-framed cabinet box or a more modern, European-style frameless box.


  • Fully-Framed: This style of cabinet box has what’s called a “face frame,” essentially a piece of wood on the front of the box that the doors typically mount to. Face frames add a bit of extra stability to the cabinet box, but they can also impede access to the full width or height of the cabinet box because it overlays the opening by a bit on every side. There is a lot of opportunity for further customization with fully-framed cabinets, which we will cover in more detail shortly.


  • Frameless or Euro Style: Sometimes referred to as “full access” cabinets, frameless boxes don’t have that face frame piece on the front of the box. The doors will mount to the inside of the box, which means you’ll have full access to the inside space of the box. The only option for doors and drawers on frameless cabinets is the full overlay style, which we will explain momentarily.


Styling: Doors and Drawer Fronts

You would think that cabinet manufacturers would be pushing the envelope to develop new cabinet door styles and profiles to meet the whims and wishes of San Diego remodeling clients — a sophisticated lot always looking for the newest in design and remodeling options. Not so.


Cabinet doors can be installed in three different ways, depending on your box. As we mentioned above, face-framed cabinets allow for any of these three options. Frameless cabinets only allow for one. Let’s discuss:


How It’s Installed


  • Partial Overlay: With this style of door mounting, the doors and drawer faces are slightly larger than the corresponding hole in the cabinet, meaning the door or drawer face will sit about ½” over the face frame on all sides. This leaves a section of the face frame visible in between each of the doors and drawers. This is the most common style of cabinet and door installation.


  • Full Overlay: This is the only option available for frameless cabinet boxes, but can also be done with face-framed cabinets. In this installation, the doors and drawer face fully cover the opening in the cabinet, plus any extra space between doors or drawers if there is a face frame.


  • Inset: When installing inset doors and drawers, the doors and drawers do not sit on top of the face frame, rather they are flush with it. They aren’t any bigger than the opening in the cabinet, and they don’t stick out any further than the front of the face frame.



In general, when it comes to cabinet doors, there are really 3 basic styles: slab, recessed panel, and raised panel. 


  • Slab: These doors and drawer faces are completely flat, with no recessed or raised design features. If you struggle to keep dust out of cracks and crevices, this is one of the best options for you. It’s also an incredibly modern style.
  • Recessed Panel: A very common style of recessed panel is the Shaker door, which has a frame all the way around it. There are lots of variations on the recessed panel door, but for the most part, they lend a more transitional to contemporary feel to your kitchen.
  • Raised Panel: The most traditional of the door and drawer styles, the raised panel has detail work that has been beveled into the front of the door or drawer. There is variation in the amount of detail in the door panel.


Within these three basic styles, different trim options, moldings, or other applications are used to create different looks. By using these various options when designing kitchen cabinet doors, literally, an infinite number of styles would be available.


Personalization: Paints and Stains

For those of us that remember Grandma’s house, let’s take a stroll down Memory Lane. Think back to her kitchen cabinets… What do you see? Well, of course, the answer will be different for all of us, but, surprisingly, if you polled a certain number of people, the ratio of painted to stained cabinets would be about 50% either way.


Today, the trend in kitchen remodeling, especially in the San Diego remodeling scene, actually comes out to the same ratio when it comes to painted or stained kitchen cabinets. Even though many of our clients seem to believe that most cabinets are specified to be natural or stain-grade, we remodel contractors also know that they go through long periods where painted cabinets are in vogue.

Additionally, as stain-grade cabinets age, the easiest and least expensive way to go about making them look new again is…yes, to paint them. Another trend in the local San Diego remodeling industry is to mix and match. In the last year or so, in kitchen remodels throughout San Diego County, we have done many kitchens where the islands are painted and the upper cabinets are stained, or vice versa, or any combination that can be thought of.


From painted to unpainted, two-tone to monotone, the rule of thumb in design and remodeling in as chic a locale as San Diego is that sometimes there is no rule of thumb! Check with your local San Diego remodeling contractor or design-build contractor to see what the latest fashions and trends are in custom kitchen remodeling.



As with anything, an unlimited choice often leads to unlimited confusion. And, generally speaking, most of the really cool and popular door styles have already been designed. 


Interestingly, we find that often when our clients are agonizing over their final selection for their door style in their San Diego kitchen remodel, the difference is either a very big one or a very small one.


In other words, our clients may be torn between a shaker-style door (which is transitional and, depending on the pull hardware used can be either traditional, contemporary, or anywhere in between) and a raised panel door — or, they may be unsure as to whether they want that extra line of detail on the inner edge of their recessed panel door…or not.


Leaning on an experienced San Diego kitchen remodeling contractor or kitchen designer should help to clear up this confusion and get your project moving forward. There’s nothing worse than having your San Diego kitchen remodeling project unable to get through the doors…pun intended!


Take away all the confusion and leverage our extensive experience in San Diego kitchen remodeling by contacting us today.