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Base Cabinets: Framed vs. Frameless

Base Cabinets: Framed vs. Frameless

Homeowners choosing to install new cabinets in their kitchens have a lot of choices and decisions to make. From the color of the cabinets to the material they are made out of, choosing a new cabinet is rarely as straightforward as simply to pointing to one on the shelf. One lesser known choice that homeowners may also be faced with is whether to use framed or frameless cabinet construction. Both American face-framed and European frameless cabinets have their positive attributes, often making the choice dependent on things like space, style, and material costs.

Face Frame Construction

Until fairly recently, most homeowners were usually given only one type of cabinet box construction to choose from – the face framed cabinet. In this construction, the cabinet box, which is usually made of plywood, is given a finished, hardwood frame over the exposed front edge or face. Because there are different ways that a door can be hung or placed on the cabinet, this frame may be exposed even when the door is shut, giving the cabinets a more substantial appearance. Traditional, semi-overlay cabinet doors, as well as inset doors need this face frame to help complete the look of the cabinet.

Face-frame construction affects more than just the look of the cabinets, however; the face frame also adds structure to the cabinet box, strengthening it. This means that the box itself can be made out of thinner or weaker material, provided that the frame is durable; the frame will add the support necessary to hold the cabinet doors in place.

In addition to surrounding the edges of the cabinet box, a face-framed cabinet will also have a finished “stile” running down the center in a double cabinet box. This helps further strengthen the box construction, and gives the doors something to close against to complete the look of the semi-overlay or inset door.

Face-framed cabinets may be less expensive than frameless cabinets, simply because the box can be made out of thinner or less expensive material, as long as the frame is strong.

Frameless Construction

Frameless cabinets have been used in Europe for much longer than they’ve been found in the US. In a frameless construction, the door is hung directly onto the cabinet box with no finished “frame” around the edge. For this reason, a frameless cabinet will use a full overlay door, or a door that completely covers the front of the cabinet. Without the strengthening frame, the cabinet box on a frameless cabinet will therefore need to be much thicker and stronger in order to support the door. There is no need for a center stile in a double cabinet, and the lack of frame means that you can have easier access to the entire interior of the cabinet; face frames cover a small portion of the cabinet’s interior, meaning that you lose a small amount of space.

Also without the face frame, frameless cabinets take up less space in each row, meaning that you can potentially fit more or larger cabinets into the same amount of space than if you use a face-framed cabinet.

Typically, because the box construction needs to be so much stronger, a frameless cabinet may cost more than one that is face-framed.


In some cases, the style of the cabinet door may be dependent on the type of cabinet box construction that you choose. Both sets of cabinets can make use of a full overlay cabinet door. However, this look tends to work better with more contemporary cabinets. For this reason, it’s more common to find Shaker and slab door styles on frameless cabinets, while more traditional raised panel doors are more common face-framed cabinets. If you want the more traditional look of a semi-overlay or inset door, then a face-framed cabinet is necessary as well.

Both types of cabinets have a wide range of different wood species and color options, as well as other decorative choices for end panels, kickboards, and filler panels. Ultimately, while frameless cabinets tend to lend themselves more toward contemporary looks and face-framed cabinets toward traditional, the choice between the two is usually personal; there is no wrong choice.

Find The Right Cabinet

Cabinet box construction is just one component that homeowners need to consider when choosing new cabinets. While at times overwhelming, often things like style and accessibility may make the choice easier. Start the selection process by selecting the overall cabinet style; the box construction is likely to follow from there.