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Guide to Quality Kitchens
by Diana Font

Kitchen cabinets are classified as high quality considering a few essential factors like craftsmanship, materials, structure, hardware and warranty. Let's examine their importance.

Very often, buyers choose price over quality, and soon after they suffer the consequences. There are two sides to a kitchen. One, the aesthetic and design part. Two, the well-organized, easy to access, smooth workflows that will make you enjoy your kitchen, not only its beauty but also its functionality and practicality. If you want to obtain a kitchen of superior quality, individualized, sophisticated and at the same time functional, don't forget these recommendations.


Craftsmanship

As an aesthetic response to industrialization, there is a movement that celebrates craftsmanship, timeless design, quality materials, and naturally strong hardwoods. Well-constructed furniture and cabinets are crafted using mortise and tenon joinery. It is easy to find woodcutters, carpenters and assembly line workers that produce the fast and cheap pieces of furniture that are popular today. But to find the best, you must find the expert craftsmen.

Old World craftsmanship dates to pre-industrialization. For centuries, man has been perfecting the art of handmade hardwood creations. There are expert craftsmen, gilders, carvers and finishers that manage to preserve these secrets. These artisans pass forward these time-tested techniques to their apprentices. They also spend their lifetime learning and perfecting their crafts. These are the experts capable of producing the fine pieces that can be considered an investment, that appreciate with time and that each generation will treasure and recognize for their value and beauty.

Cabinet Materials

Most kitchens cabinets in today's market are made of natural woods, synthetic and processed materials. But among them, the best quality comes from noble hardwoods like Mahogany, Cedar and Elephant Ear. There are many lower cost alternatives being used. They are very popular but you get an inferior product in order to save money now, that eventually will cost you more.

Hardwoods

Tropical hardwoods are valued between $7.00 to $9.00 a footboard. Depending on the variety and choice, they can go up to $29.00 a footboard. The most attractive hardwoods come from South and Central America. The favorites are Mahogany, Cedar and Elephant Ear. This last one has a beautiful dramatic grain.

Hardwoods are grain dense, therefore they are pressed tightly together. This quality aids in dent resistance. Finishes will also look better and last longer especially if polyurethanes are used. Low quality woods are less dense and highly porous and can be permeated by bacteria leading to a smelly and less hygienic environment. Cedar and Mahogany have a sweet scent that never goes away with the years. You will notice it as you open the door and enter the room. Hardwoods are extremely rot resistant so they can get wet.

High bidders always get first choice. Of course, they get the best wood, the knot-free, perfect grain wood. This happens when important projects in first world countries are being built or renovated, like a luxury hotel or a palace. Then, the resellers choose what's left of the pile. These pieces are also of good quality but not perfect. The best option is to buy the tree to get the first choice.

Grain continuity must be part of the design. The kitchen cabinets manufacturer that is getting the first choice, can also follow grain continuity inside the cabinet drawers and doors. The grain in some varieties is very dramatic. If its continuity is portrayed, the aesthetic value of the kitchen design is enhanced. This is a detail that adds value to a kitchen.



Hardwoods Alternatives

Particleboard has little tolerance for holding screws to fasten hardware like pullers or sliders. Even the holes for the hinge screws will become loose and the hinge will become unhinged with use. Hard woods will hold them tight for years.

They are also highly sensitive to moisture. This is a disadvantage because water is necessary in a kitchen, especially for overall hygiene. Around faucets and sinks, moisture will cause particleboard to bloat and create fungus. The veneer that covers it will become unglued once it swells. The benefits of using solid hardwoods is that it will never be unglued with changes in temperature or be damaged by moisture.

Plywood is more durable than particleboard, but it can have gaps in plies and nails won't stay firm. This can also cause warping.

It also has the same problems as particleboard and medium density fiber board (MDF). These materials are made of scrap wood and sawdust, considered waste in the industry. They are glued together with phenol formaldehyde, a volatile compound that tends to release gases. The glue that holds these products together must be of the very best quality. Nevertheless, since this product is so affordable, usually that is not the case.

Eventually, particleboard and its derivatives will disintegrate. Therefore, it will not provide many years of durability. Plywood quality depends on the number of plies and the thickness of the face ply. Fewer plies makes it less stable, plus its resistance depends on how well the plies are glued together. It is easily gouged or scratched and eventually, if it is not mahogany or cedar, termites will affect it. Particleboard is not the best choice for aerial cabinets.

Finally, there is PVC, also known as polyvinyl chloride. It is durable, attractive and resistant. PVC kitchens have a very modern look and it is being sold rapidly everywhere. PVC kitchen cabinets create the illusion of being cheaper at first glance. But PVC is not as sturdy as hardwoods. PVC can be prone to warping and there is a maintenance and replacement cost that needs to be considered.

More important, there is a reason why these composite materials are all made to mimic the look of natural wood. Fine hardwoods have an unmatched beauty and elegance that only mother nature makes. A PVC kitchen will always feel as artificial as plastic.

Therefore, the most important factor that leads to define kitchen cabinets as high-quality is that they are made with the best quality hardwoods. Tropical hardwoods have a track record of desirability over time. That makes any kitchen go up in value as the years go by. If your kitchen is made with an extremely durable wood, it will last a lifetime. You can consider it an investment that adds to the value of your property.

Structure

The structure of kitchen cabinets is paramount for stability and durability. Since they house drawers and doors that are going to be in constant movement while in use, they must withstand physical damage. They are often mishandled, banged shut and generally not treated with care.

A solid hardwood structure will also hold marble or any stone top with ease through the years, as well as any weight of appliances you need to add. The strain put on cabinets is immense. They carry dishes, pots, frying pans and their lids, bottles of oil, sauces, cans, etc., plus appliances. They carry hundreds of pounds. No worries with solid hardwoods; the cabinets are up to the task.

A solid hardwood frame with a solid back panel, plus 1” thick solid hardwood panels on the sides will add strength and stability making the use of its components comfortable and able to endure wear and tear through the years. No sagging will occur, and the structure of the cabinet will remain intact, no matter the frequency of its use or the weight applied. Also, when installing pipes, plumbing, electric cables or sockets, cuts need to be made. In particleboard it is necessary to reinforce the structure when this happens. Not so with solid hardwoods.

We recommend cabinets with a 1.5” frame of solid hardwood. It provides for overall stability and a better base for the hinges, allowing them not to become loose over time. A frameless cabinet will not last long with use.

Hardware

A high-end quality kitchen requires the appropriate hardware. Hinges, gliders, and joinery are intrinsic components of your cabinets. A quality piece of hardware prevents drawers and doors from getting stuck, unleveled or simply not working as expected. Even a squeaky drawer takes away from the experience of a fine kitchen.

Hinges

Cabinet hinges are very important for quality kitchens. High-quality hinges aid in the smooth and efficient function of the doors. Poor quality hinges cause uneven, stiff and loose doors. Cabinet doors that open with difficulty get stuck, which will cause them to be unleveled. A quality hinge must have a slow closing mechanism built in, so the doors remain leveled and adjusted. It should also have six ways to adjust it so that the hinge can be readjusted when cabinet drawers expand or contract due to seasonal changes.

Gliders

Our best suggestion for kitchen cabinet drawers are under-mount Blum motion gliders. They need an additional wooden structure for each drawer to slide with ease, stability and support, causing the drawers to stay in their designed and desired position. This leads to durability of the drawer and prevents sagging no matter the weight you need to house in the drawer. The under-mounted gliders also provide for more drawer space because you don't have to reduce the sides to install them.

The preferred system is the telescopic one. It provides full and total access to everything inside the drawer, even what is stored in the back. Back straining or knee hurting is avoided. You can see everything in the drawer at a glance. Easy access, full overview and smart drawer organization make working in the kitchen a pleasurable experience.

Everybody has had the experience of dealing with lesser quality gliders that get stuck, interfering with the movement of opening and closing, or becoming unhinged because of the drawer's weight. Gliders should ensure slow, effortless motion, regardless of the force used or the weight of the drawer. The Blum motion gliders hold 65kg or 143lbs. Your kitchen cabinet drawers should open as if by themselves.

Joinery

Usually commercial kitchen drawers tend to bow, bend, or the front falls off after a short time of use. This happens because they are not bench made by an artisan. They lack detail and craftsmanship. They are basically secured with industrial staples and notched butt joints. This type of joinery is the weakest because, unless some form of reinforcement is used, it relies upon glue alone to hold the drawers together. Once the daily use and wear and tear start kicking in, the drawer will start falling apart.

The Old World joinery system like, for example, dovetail is a centuries old, time tested, technique that is sturdy and secure and will never fail. The sides of the drawer are milled to include interlocking teeth that connect both sides of the drawer together. The bottom 1” panel slides in on a wooden track on each side of the drawer locking the five components of the drawer together into one solid piece. Durability and the fact that the drawer does not come apart with use, establishes the artistry of craftsmanship and beauty of the interlocking teeth joinery (dove tail) every time you open the drawer.

With this type of joinery in the construction of the cabinet you avoid warping or bending. It ensures construction strength without having to use nails or screws.

Kitchen Appliances

Appliances are a very important aspect in obtaining your ideal quality kitchen. After all, the kitchen's primary function is preparing the family meals. The kitchen is the heart of the home, the place where family and friends gather to share and celebrate. The efficient functionality of every component will make the time spent in the kitchen one of pleasurable memories and joy.

For your kitchen planning and design, always start with the major appliances. Quality features can justify a hefty price tag. If you like the look of the professional-grade range and built-in refrigeration units, and those dramatic and highly effective hoods for ventilation, there are many brands on the market today, that allow you to get that look and quality at a very reasonable cost.

It is very important to consider your ideal appliances from the designing phase. The dimensions and requirements of these appliances will have an impact on the layout and design of your kitchen.

Determine the style for your kitchen first. It will be easier to find appliances that match the theme you have selected. A common mistake is to just throw in any appliance once the kitchen cabinets are in place. Attention to these details makes a huge difference to the overall look of the kitchen.

Electric Appliances

Cooktops Gas, electric or induction? The choice is personal, though you don't often hear of people who go from gas to electric. When choosing a cooktop for performance, consider efficiency.

Ovens A high-performing convection oven, which circulates heat with a fan to cook food faster and more evenly, will help you get dinner on the table faster than a traditional oven. Bakers, on the other hand, will want the traditional bake/roast/broil. In a perfect kitchen world, you can have both with a stacked or side-by-side oven station.

Ventilation Hoods A serious cooktop demands a ventilation system that will usher exhaust out of the kitchen without excessive motor noise. Hoods are often the focal point in some kitchen designs, and they are available in modern to traditional designs, and in materials from stainless steel to glass.

Refrigerators/Freezers Freestanding models slide into a space and generally stick beyond counter depth. When evaluating refrigerator performance, quality comes down to the compressor. A good unit costs more but will allow you to keep fresh food longer.

Microwaves Microwave ovens can consume a lot of space no matter where you put them: on the counter, built in to cabinetry or above a cooktop. If you want your microwave to work hard for you, consider a convection microwave that also works as a fast-speed oven, eliminating the need to purchase a double oven.

Other Considerations Items like dishwashers and sinks are also important. Make sure you take into consideration all indispensable appliances, lighting, your favorite music, espresso machine, or your favorite bread maker. A kitchen is as personal and individual as you.


Warranty

Warranty is very important in the process of purchasing a kitchen. Read the warranty's fine print before buying. How long the manufacturer is willing to back up their product is tale telling of the quality they are selling. If the warranty is limited, you can conclude its durability.

Poor quality will begin to break within the first year of use. You will notice the drawer gliders will get stuck or won't open smoothly. Not to mention if the particleboard gets wet, especially around the sink or dish washer, it will bloat and create fungus.

You can live up to five or maybe six years for the cabinets to become a nuisance to use and operate. By then, the warranty will have expired. A lifetime-limited warranty gives the client the assurance that the manufacturer will guarantee proper function of the cabinetry for as long as the client owns the product. This warranty will provide the client with repairs or replacement in the event of any malfunction.


Expert Kitchen Design

A good kitchen expert incorporates all these to provide the clients with the best quality. It starts by planning for your space and designing for your taste. A list of all the items you use by priority as to maximize efficiency of movement and accessibility of items, is paramount. Both the daily used ones and the occasional ones too. The spice containers, bottles like oils and vinegars, and frequently used sauces should be measured. The same should be done with design racks and holders for all your day-to-day items.

The shelves should have gliders for easy accessibility. You can reach the items placed in the back as easy as the ones in the front. A wide variety of woods and finishes should be offered. If the color of your dreams is not in stock a high-end company should be able to provide it.

There are various computer design programs in the market. The latest design technology allows the clients to visualize what they are going to get. Production should not start until the client is completely satisfied and sure that what he is getting is exactly what he wants. It should not matter how long the creative and decision-making process takes. The final product will be a timeless, high quality kitchen design; an investment that will add great value to your home.

Give us a call or send us a message with your comments and inquiries. Let us know how we can help you to obtain the best quality kitchen cabinets.

About our Kitchen Designer

Diana Font has been nominated for the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Museum Design Award. She has more than twenty years designing furniture for individual clients and institutions as varied as the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Dorado Beach Hotel, The Vanderbilt Hotel, Royal Isabela Hotel and Resort, Santa Catalina Palace, and the Church of the Jesuit order. In addition, Diana Font is now designing kitchens and cabinets for restaurants and individuals in search of a high-end quality kitchen.

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