Framed vs. frameless cabinets?

13 years ago

I'm kind of torn between two cabinet companies - Hanssem (frameless) and Medallion (framed). In both cases I'll be using particleboard boxes with maple Shaker-style doors.

I'm trying to figure out the pros and cons of going one way or the other. I think the prices will come out pretty close, so that's not a factor.

With Medallion, the doors would be full-overlay, so I don't think there would be much difference in looks when the doors are closed. When the doors are open, however, in the frameless case I'd be looking at cabinet edging in laminate; in the framed case I'd be looking at hardwood frames. This appeals to me - I like wood better than laminate. :-) (Maybe I should just pay for the plywood upgrade? The cabinet salespeople themselves keep telling me particleboard is fine, they have it themselves, and it's not worth the extra money for plywood!)

OTOH, I understand that the frameless cabinets will give me more drawer space (since the drawers don't have to clear the frame), and easier access to the insides of cabinets with doors.

Also, a friend of mine made a big deal of the fact that with frameless, the drawers and doors have no spaces between them, while with framed (even full overlay), there is a little bit of space. She *hates* the way that looks. (I don't know if I do or not...)

Anyway, just trying to see if I'm missing any other differences between the two types of cabinets. (I need more points to agonize over!)

Thanks in advance for any information, insight, calming thoughts, etc.!

Comments (24)

  • cheri127
    13 years ago

    I probably really shouldn't respond to this because I'm so biased toward frameless cabintets. I agree with you that framed cabinetry looks better both when closed and open. Unlike your friend, I happen to think it looks very nice that you can see just a tiny bit of the frame when the drawers are closed. However, I have a small kitchen, at least by today's standards, so every inch of storage space matters to me, especially in the height of the drawers. With frameless, I can get 4 very useful drawers in one cabinet, but with framed, only 3. And regardless of whether its a 3 or 4 drawer base, each drawer is at least an inch taller in a frameless cabinet. I know it doesn't sound like much, but it makes a big difference such as being able to store spice jars and cereal boxes standing up.

    Another consideration is how plumb your walls are. With wood boxes and framed construction you need less fillers because the cabinet can be scribed to the wall it its a little off square. I know you can't do this with MDF and I'm not sure about frameless plywood but my guess would be that you can't.

    I considered Medallion because I love their finishes and think they are well priced, but in the end, I decided to do frameless though I still haven't decided on the manufacturer. Good Luck. HTH

  • lowspark
    13 years ago

    The two main differences between framed & frameless are:

    1. Looks.

    Some people prefer the look of the frame between the doors. Keep in mind that "full overlay" framed cabs will still show some of that frame. How much will depend on the manufacturer. Sometimes as much as an inch.

    Some think that frameless = contemporary. Not necessarily. It's the door style that dictates the style more than whether the frames show, and you can have a traditional style kitchen with frameless cabs. (I do!)

    2. Space

    Frameless cabs inherently give more useable space (especially in the drawers) and easier accessibility than framed. HOWEVER, this is not always necessarily true. Much depends on the manufacturer. How to be sure? Measure the usable space in both brands you're considering.

    Framed or frameless, beware the center stile (I've seen it in both kinds). Center stile is ok and necessary in cabs over a certain width, but in smaller cabs it can and will limit what you can put in there. Avoid it!

    Don't let anyone tell you:
    - frameless are less sturdy - not true
    - frameless won't last as long (my old kitchen had frameless which lasted ~25 years)
    - frameless are harder to install - also not true. If an installer tells you that, don't let him install your cabs.

    Here is a link that might be useful: my framed & frameless cabs list + pix & explanation

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  • talley_sue_nyc
    13 years ago

    I have frameless, and therefore I can actually *use* a 9" cabinet.

    In framed, a 9" cabinet would be worthless.

    If I'd gone w/ framed, it would have greatly affected my layout--I'd have ended up w/ no cabinets, or had to greatly change one wall.

    The 9" cabinets have limited use, but they actually are useful. I can put things in them. (I can *barely* put things in them, there's no room to spare, but I *can* put them in there)

    If your layout won't require any skinny cabinets, you might not notice a huge difference.

    But in a small kitchen, I think I'd go w/ frameless just because it would make my blood boil to see open gaps inside my cabinets where nothing can fit (even if in reality it doesn't make a difference--just seeing them would make me crazy).

    Also, some frames are bigger than other frames.

    (also, I have frameless, but the usable *height* in my top drawers is still only 2.5 inches or so--frustrating after my old Ikea cabinets w/ the MetaBox-style drawers)

  • rococogurl
    13 years ago

    I have both. Frameless IKEA (MDF) sink cab in the mudroom with a drawer stack next to it. Framed inset plywood Plain & Fancy in kitchen. Because of the inset doors with hidden hinges there is a slight loss of space due to clearance.

    Honestly, I like both.

    One thing with frameless full overlay is that doors can require adjustments on a periodic basis so they don't bump each other or sag. So I'd say consider hinges carefully.

    On the MDF Ikea we had to be very careful to drill holes and not have to remove or reinsert screws for fear of making the m loose (though gorilla glue can solve that).

    Door styles being equal it can be a different type of decision -- overall kitchen size, how heavy the use will be, relative investment vs return etc.

    Which do you really like? Or, to phrase it another way: what do you return to over and over again?

    I was speaking to marthavila about cabinets and she's going for painted, as I did. We were both talking about the surface quality of the painted -- so clearly that was important to us. Everyone has different priorities. I don't mind laminate inside at all. They clean easily and good quality will hold up for years.

  • madeyna
    13 years ago

    I bought the cabnets from that have partical board inside and its already a problem even though my kitchens not a year old. The problem comes in if something spills in a cabnet and you don,t find the spill for a few days it seeps past the overlay on the parical board and gets the partical board wet so it then creats a unsightly raised area. I have added selve laying floor vinal glude to the shelve of each cabnet to prevent anymore problems and it has already saved a drawer that jar of pickles leaked in.

  • charlikin
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Thanks for everyone's responses! This has been really educational...

    Cheril, I have a very small kitchen too, so eking out whatever extra space the frameless cabinets give me is definitely a consideration. An inch taller per drawer does not sound insignificant at all!! As for how plumb my walls are - ha! It's an old apartment building (1948), and I'm not sure there's a single right angle in it. LOL. My contractor hasn't tried to steer me one way or the other though, so I assume he can handle either type of construction.

    Lowspark, thank you for your warning about checking for a center stile! This is the kind of invaluable point that would never have occurred to me!!! Wow. Also about actually measuring the usable space in the drawers. Good point.

    Madeyna - what brand of cabinets do you have?

    Hey, Talley Sue and Rococogurl! Great seeing you both last Saturday!! Talley, most of my cabinets will be fairly wide (24" - 30"), but I'm sort of hoping to fit one 9" cabinet between the stove and the wall... (The idea of 8-9" of filler will make me INSANE!!!!) So that tells me if it's at all possible to fit that cabinet in, I'll need to go frameless to make it usable.

    Rococogurl - you've just scared the heck out of me - DOOR ADJUSTMENTS ON A PERIODIC BASIS? This is greatly disturbing to my no-maintenance frame-of-mind. I'm ready to order the Medallion cabinets now!!! (Unless I can fit in that 9" cab next to the stove, which Talley Sue tells me has to be frameless...)

    As for what I like - I found a door style I love in the Hanssem frameless. It's called Eureka, and it's a wide flat Shaker - it looks a little more contemporary to me than a standard Shaker, and I like that the inset portion in the middle is very shallow. I always feel like a standard Shaker is a dust trap!

    I've seen wide Shaker's on the Medallion web site, but it's hard to tell the depth of the inset. If they don't have a "flat" one, that could clinch it for Hanssem. If they do, they're still in the running.

    I've got to decide on cabinets soon or my contractor's going to kill me. :-)

    Here is a link that might be useful: Hanssem cabinets - click on Eureka

  • mustbnuts zone 9 sunset 9
    13 years ago

    I have a tiny kitchen and went with frameless. They are currently being installed but I can tell I am going to love them. I need to eek out every bit of cupboard space I can get in my kitchen. I have Columbia cabinets. They are natural maple and espresso glazed maple shaker style. Oh, and I love it that I can pull the drawers out the entire length of the drawer. GREAT!

    Yes, that is a tiny pull out cab by the stove for my spices. Wouldn't have been able to do that with frame cabs.

  • charlikin
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Mustbnuts, your cabinets look beautiful, even in their semi-installed state! I like the legs on the dark sink base. (I think that's the sink base...)

    So I spent *hours* today walking around Expo (I had never been there before - it's a little out of the way for me), and (among other things) I paid a lot of attention to cabinet construction. I think I do seem to like the *look* of the framed cabinets. For one thing, I do like opening the door and seeing the wood frame, and for another, the frame hides the not-so-pretty edges of the shelves where they rest on the, er, shelf thingies. ;-)

    So I suspect it's going to come down to whether Medallion has the wide flat Shaker door style I want, and whether any of my cabinets are going to be so narrow that frameless is necessary.

    Stay tuned!

  • designgirl
    13 years ago

    Have you heard of Access Cabinets? I found them in an advertisement for a factory outlet store... the ad was in the classifieds section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I'm not ready to buy yet, but if I compare them to IKEA, they have a lot going for them. They are frameless construction and they're advertised as eco-friendly. They are built in Minnesota and a sign by the outlet store says it's a Medallion facility and there was a Medallion truck at the loading dock the day we were there. The guy working the store says this line will be available through Medallion dealers everywhere within the next month or so. Has anybody heard of them?

    Here is a link that might be useful: Frameless Eco-Friendly Cabinets

  • sally123
    13 years ago

    Gee, how can you pick between all those door choices? :-)

  • charlikin
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    LOL - Sally, I'll let you pick first, and I'll take the other one.

    One-year warranty too! Please tell me how you warranty kitchen cabinets for only ONE YEAR! What do they think this is, a toaster oven??? (I had spoken to a design/build place in NY that wanted to sell me Canac cabinets. Canac also came with a one-year warranty - I walked away. More door styles, though. :-))

    Seriously, thanks for the link, designgirl, but I don't think these address any of my issues.

  • jayne s
    13 years ago

    With frameless, if you are getting undercabinet lighting, you might need an additional light rail or some kind of moulding trim to help hide the fixtures. If you get this, it's better to have it made from the same material/color as your cabinets. This might affect the amount of space between your upper cabinets and your countertop. Just something to take into account. The underside of the cabinet box is flat (as shown in one of the photos in an earlier post)

    I have a friend who just had this kind of moulding installed and it is not matched to the cabinets and looks like an add on. My cabinets have a couple of pieces of additional moulding since the lights weren't well enough covered. The pieces are from Brookhaven and are the same color/glaze as my cabinets. They look like they are part of the cabinet itself and I'm the only one who knows how much work was done to make it look that way.


  • charlikin
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    I visited a home that had the frameless cabinets I'm considering (it was one of my contractor's references). She had a 2" light rail. It did match her cabinetry, but it bugged me - it still looked like it was an extra piece of wood attached (and in one long run, the seam between two pieces was in an unfortunate place), and I didn't like that it reduced the height to the countertop. I'm planning on a very lovely backsplash, and I'd like all of it to show! If I do go frameless, I'm hoping I can get low-profile lights and do a smaller light rail.

    I guess the fact that framed cabinets don't need light rails means that the frame comes down around the bottom of the cabinet, leaving some space on the bottom? And effectively reducing the interior of the cabinet by that amount? Ugh. But I guess the space has got to come from somewhere.

    I saw a very nice line of frameless cabinets where, if you wanted undercabinet lighting, instead of attaching a light rail, they built the inside of the cabinet up a little so the door still covered the entire thing. Kind of like a framed cabinet, I guess, but it's still frameless. Very elegant solution - but these were Brookhaven cabinets and they would have been nearly twice as expensive as what I'm getting!

    Hmmmm...I seem to be leaning toward framed right now. I hope Medallion has the door style I want! On their web site they show EIGHT different Shaker door styles, with no text describing the differences between them. EIGHT!

  • lowspark
    13 years ago

    My light rail is 1". I have xenon strips under the cabs.

    Also, I have Brookhaven, they cost me about 10% more than Kraftmaid would have. I don't know how that compares to Medallion... but Brookhaven prices can vary greatly according to who's selling them, so in case you're still interested in shopping around you might get a brookhaven quote from other dealers. I absolutely love my cabs, they are excellent quality.

  • maydl
    13 years ago

    I chose frameless cabinets for all the good reasons previously stated. In fact, next to the dishwasher I've got a 6"-wide base cabinet with a hinged door and 5 shelves (looks like wine bottle cubbies inside) that will be perfectly useful for storing rolled-up dish towels. In a framed cabinet, the cabinet opening would only have been 3" wide.

    I've only one small disappointment: I've realized that the shelves and pullouts won't be as infinitely adjustable as I'd thought. The problem: The hinges eat up some of the space where the shelf clip holes are located, leaving two height levels per cabinet where shelves and pullouts can't be placed. With framed cabinets, the hinges are on the frame and don't interfere at all with shelf placement.

    Nevertheless, the frameless cabs are giving me LOADS more space in all the drawers and on the Super Susans, which I think is a fine trade-off.

  • paul_ma
    13 years ago

    As mentioned above, at least some framed cabinets extend down below the bottom of the cabinet, giving a built-in light rail. But there is a disadvantage to this: Often the sides are also built down, so the space under the cabinets is divided up into a lot of little compartments. With frameless, its all one flat space. The matters when you are trying to install undercabinet lighting, or plug mold.

  • charlikin
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Lowspark, interesting about the Brookhaven cost! The quote I got *was* from an expensive place, but I assumed they were just expensive cabinets. And I think that thing I described where the cabinets are built up so you don't need a light rail - that was an upcharge, I'm not sure how much. I'll have to look around for other Brookhaven quotes...

    Maydl, what brand cabinets do you have? I would *love* a 6-inch wide cabinet!

    Paul, thanks for that point about the undersides of the framed cabinets! Seems obvious now that I think about it, but it wouldn't have occurred to me.

    There is *such* a lot to know when you're putting together a kitchen! I feel like we're all getting post-graduate degrees in all the sticky little details, all this incredible knowledge that we then do what with? How many times in our lives do we remodel a kitchen?? (Unless I quit my dayjob and go on to become a KD... LOL)

  • maydl
    13 years ago

    Charlikin, I have DeWils frameless cabinets (I think they're called the "Horizon" line). They are beautiful, and the builder says they're very well made (he had that brand in his own house).

    It was explained to me that my 6-inch wide base "cubbie" cabinet is usually built to be only 12 inches deep, designed for wine bottle storage. I asked for mine to be made full-depth, so that I could store rolling pins and rolled up dish towels in it. Unfortunately, I didn't specify that the shelves should be full-depth, too--I guess that's one of your "sticky little details"! So the shelves that came with this cabinet are 14 inches deep and set at the back of the cabinet.

    The good news is that the cabinet sides are bored for full-depth shelves, so I can have my builder cut new shelves out of material I saved from my old kitchen.

  • waconiamn
    13 years ago

    charlikin, let me try to help you with Medallion's Shaker Door line up.

    1. Bayside and Potters Mill are the same door profile, except that Bayside has a solid wood insert and Potters Mill has a veneer flat panel insert. Because of that, the two doors are available in different wood species. (i.e. you can do Maple in either a flat panel or a solid wood, but you can really only do Rustic Maple in a solid wood.) Both Bayside and Potters Mill have 2 1/4 stiles and rails and a 5-pc drawer front.

    2. Central Park West and Park Place are not true Shaker doors because they both have a beaded inside profile. But it's the same with these two doors as above. Central Park West has a solid wood insert and Park Place has a veneer flat panel insert. Both have 2 3/4" wide stiles and rails and a 5-pc drawer front.

    3. Mendocino and Sonoma are technically shaker doors, but the wider stiles and rails give them a more modern look. Mendocino has the solid wood insert and Sonoma has the veneer flat panel insert. Both have 3 3/8" wide stiles and rails and a slab drawer front.

    4. Mission and Quaint both also have the Shaker look. The mission door has a veneer flat panel insert. The Quaint door has a solid wood center insert with reversed raised construction. Both have 2 3/4" stiles and rails.

    In general, if you want a more modern look, consider wider stiles and rails. If you want to add interest, consider a small beaded profile as in Park Place, or a center stile as in Santiago or a cleanly stepped profile as in Stockton.

    Hope this helps you.


    Waconia, MN

  • waconiamn
    13 years ago

    charlikin -

    Oh, sorry I missed this in your earlier post, but you'll probably want to ask your Medallion dealer about the recessed lighting cabinet rail modification. This mod changes the bottom rail of your cabinet from 1 1/2" to 3" to allow for undercabinet lighting.

    Waconia, MN

  • charlikin
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Wow - Waconia, thanks! Very helpful information, and it does help clear up my bafflement at Medallion's proliferation of door styles.

    I would assume the doors with solid wood insets would be more expensive then the veneered doors?

    Also, since you seem to know a lot about this - do you know which of the door styles might have a "flatter" insert? Some Shaker styles I've seen have such deep inserts that I feel I could almost balance decorative objects on them. I'm convinced (it may be wishful thinking) that a flatter insert will catch less dust...

    Thanks also for the info about the bottom rail - if 1-1/2" is standard, I think that would do it for me since I'm planning on very low-profile fluorescent lights that are no more than an inch high.

  • waconiamn
    13 years ago

    Hmm... I'm not sure which doors have the least recess. You'll want to actually go to your dealer and look at the samples. Or... have you thought about a totally flat door style. Go to the Medallion web site and look that pictures for the kitchen which combines the Bella door and the Gable door.

    Also, remember when you look at the stile and rail dimensions, those dimensions are for the front (i.e. the face frame), so you'll want to account for the bottom of the cabinet behind it which will take up some of that space. Again, just ask your dealer about the modification to extend that rail a bit to totally cover your low-profile lighting. You'll love it. Plus the cabinet will just come from the factory ready to install and you won't have to mess around with having your installer try to put molding there to cover your lights. If you figure the cost of your installer's time & material, you'll probably save money doing it that way.

    Just a thought.

  • charlikin
    Original Author
    13 years ago

    Nope, don't want a completely flat door, as practical as I think it is. (I decided on ceramic tile floors despite the fact than vinyl would be easier-care, too. And stainless steel appliances despite the fingerprints. My whole low-maintenance philosophy that I had at the beginning of this project seems to be all shot to heck these days!)

    Thanks, Waconiamn - I appreciate your help!

  • spotted_towhee
    13 years ago


    You provided so much useful info re: Medallion cabs....

    and then I realized, duh, it's because you work for them...aren't they in Waconia?

    We're about to order Schuler....

    most likely the Holbrook in rustic maple....

    so, since it's that wood, it's a reversed raised inside panel?

    we wish schuler carried it in knotty alder, the way Medallion does

    and, those deeply recessed styles are very seems too many kitchens here in so cal have the shaker look and it's getting stale....

    also don't much care for the narrow rails and styles.....

    the Holbrook has the more modern looking wider rails and styles, plus the more deeply recessed inner panel...

    yet, the drawers are a challenge

    why do the cab companies insist departing from flat slab drawer fronts on larger drawers?

    thanks for the info, spotted