Choosing the right cabinet carcasses.
One aspect of a kitchen which is often overlooked or misunderstood is the construction of the cabinets themselves. We all enjoy thinking about the finishing touches, the doors, the granite, polished brass, brushed nickle. But the cabinets themselves are the soul of your kitchen, they are the fabric upon which everything else will hang, and getting them right is the first step to getting your perfect, dream kitchen.
So what are your choices? A lot of kitchens are bought and sold on the strength of their cabinet construction, and there may not be a single right or wrong answer. Each materiel will have it's own strengths and weaknesses, hopefully this post will help you make an informed choice as to which best suits you. There are four main groups which most carcass materials will fall in to. These are; MFC (or melmine faced chipboard), real wood veneered MDF, Birch plywoods and solid timber construction.
Melamine faced chipboard.
MFC is probably the most commonly used material for kitchen cabinet construction. It generally gets a bit off an unfairly bad reputation, as poor quality MFC is almost exclusively used for the budget mass manufactured kitchen market. However there are several MFC board manufacturers who produce a far better quality product. These come in an unrivaled array of finishes and textures, and are easy to wipe clean and require zero maintenance. They can also be particularly suitable for some contemporary designs, where an unusual finish is required. Good quality MFC has a thicker outer skin than its cheaper equivalents, making it harder wearing. By using solid backs (instead of the more commonly seen hardboard) and thicker boards, a very solid and long lived cabinet can be produced.
Real wood veneer.
Real wood has a character, appearance and tactile quality that just can't quite be matched by man made materials. There is a warmth to the random grain, and varying tones which make it a really attractive prospect for kitchen cabinets. MDF gives a perfectly smooth and stable substrate for the application of real wood veneers such as oak, walnut or ash. By using a stable base material like MDF, large cabinets can be made with the beauty of real wood, and yet still remain stable in the kitchen environment where temperatures and humidity can fluctuate rapidly (steamy stews, slow roasts)! There is however a couple or downsides. Real wood veneers need maintenance. There are lots of different options for finishes. These include lacquers, oils and waxes, but all of these have the potential to wear, and with a relatively thin layer of actual wood there is a limited number of times that the surface can be safely re-sanded without going through the veneer. The second issue to consider is that MDF does not do well when it gets very wet. This is not a major concern under normal conditions, but in a disaster (think burst water pipe) MDF carcasses will suffer with swelling and potentially start to break apart, as they absorb up the water.
Birch ply is constructed using many alternating layers of thinly sliced birch timber, sandwiched and glued together to form an incredibly strong and stable material. The Birch itself is a fairly plain light coloured timber, which can be finished like any other veneer to give a beautiful real wood finish. As well as this it is possible to add another wood veneer to the surface for different real wood finishes. Birch ply is also very stable, and handles exposure to severe moisture better than MDF does in emergency conditions. The main disadvantage for most people will be cost. Plain birch ply is relatively inexpensive, but if a different decorative timber veneer is needed, then the costs can quickly climb, making it a more expensive option than most.
Real wood construction.
For many this is seen as the holy grail of cabinets, made exclusively with solid wood, much like the old farmhouse furniture that has lasted the last two hundred years. However it is not quite as simple as this. Real wood is a natural material, which expands, contracts and shrinks and moves with variations in the environment it is in. Kitchens tend to provide an environment that is particularly likely to have these conditions, especially in the presence of under floor heating and large range cookers. With the furniture fixed to the fabric of the building (unlike an old dresser or farmhouse table), the cabinets are restricted in their ability to swell and contract, which can often lead to splitting of the wood or twisting of the cabinets. This becomes a particularly big problem with larger solid wood panels (like those used to form a cabinet carcass) where even a relatively small percentage increase in size can add up to a very tangible amount of movement. On the plus side solid wood handles emergency soakings very well, and can be sanded hundreds of times without the need to worry about going through veneers. Solid wood carcasses just require a bit more planning and thought, to create a design which makes allowances for its ability to move, and this tends to have quite sizable cost implications when setting out your budget.
So what to choose?
What will work best for you will largely depend on three main factors. They are, the look you want your kitchen to have, how you will be using the space, and what your budget is. It is worth looking at samples, and thinking carefully how you feel about periodic maintenance down the line, then talking through any ideas and concerns with your kitchen designer/cabinet makers. Hopefully after a bit if discussion an obvious choice will come to the fore, which suits your style, your space and your wallet.
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