Frameless Cabinets: If You Make Them Will They Buy?
August 8, 2012 | 6:03 pm CDT
Cabinetry for Export: Earn Euros in Your Spare Time

While the U.S. is the only country in the world that manufacturers a traditional face frame cabinet - an American icon, perhaps - the evolving kitchen coincides with reduced tolerance for added cost (i materials and time to build) without benefits.

I recently conducted a highly unscientific poll of consumers and installers on their preferences and found they had no preference at all.

Consumers were on a continuum from uneducated (misinformed) on the construction choice to blasé (I’m only interested in the look, features and quality, not their construction technique).

Installers essentially said they didn’t care, they approach the project with consideration to cost and quality and the style of cabinet is of little consequence.

Designers I spoke with were complimentary of the traditional face frame cabinets, but were quick to point out that the door is the primary design element. With the popularaity of full overlay design so dominant, the presence of a face frame is irrelevant - no one sees it.

Without it, you get space savings, and a wider rane of hardware accessories - advantages that probably outweigh the added strength provided by a wooden frame, as cabinetmakers who prefer frames have told me.

My same unscientific research uncovered a fairly simple reality: most consumers placed a greater measure of preference on the look and utility of the kitchen than on the construction technique. Most were also very vocal of the cost vs. value equation. Consumers almost always had significant budget constraints but retained their desire for a useful and attractive kitchen.

In larger production settings, manufacturers streamline their process by adopting an international design using doweled construction and providing abundant hardware choices to match the customers’ preferences. The benefit to the manufacturer would come from reductions in WIP and the elimination of all costs associated with building the face frame, notorious for the high cost of material, labor and the challenges of finishing. A properly constructed box made by skilled craftsmen can provide strength and flexibility not available when utilizing a face frame. As an example, what would happen if upon installation the home owner changed their mind and instead of a drawer over door, preferred just a door to accommodate a new appliance? We have almost no choice other than to replace the whole box, effectively stalling the entire installation. In contrast, we only have to order the door and some hardware in a cabinet without the traditional face frame. Other changes to accommodate a shifting lifestyle are also easily made with a 32mm doweled construction kitchen.

Technology has changed the way we live and work. Technology can also change the way we build the cabinets that are so central to our time at home. Sustainable practices cannot endorse the use of finished, wooden frames that serve very little purpose in the use of a modern kitchen.


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