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Making a Modern Kitchen: A Buyer’s Guide to Making the Best Cabinet Choices for Your Style

Jo’s Understated Retro Rock Style

Modern kitchens are sleek, sophisticated, and clean-looking. They’re also simple, sharp, and relaxed. If that all appeals to you, one of the main components that can help you achieve the look is the right cabinetry. Here are some suggestions for how to choose cabinetry that will make your modern kitchen sing.

Cabinet Construction & Doors

Framed vs. Frameless

There are a few key options when choosing which type of cabinet construction you want. The two major categories are framed and frameless, as seen in this helpful illustration from Coastside Cabinets. As you may expect, a framed cabinet has a face frame, while a frameless cabinet doesn’t. Frameless cabinets require full overlay doors (more on that in a minute), and they tend to look more modern. Framed cabinets can skew either traditional or modern, depending on which types of doors you choose.

Sarah & Jeremy’s Quirky ’70s-Inspired Apartment

Standard Overlay

Standard overlay doors, like those in Sarah and Jeremy’s kitchen above, leave part of the frame exposed. This look tends to look vintage, traditional, or—in some unfortunate cases—dated.

Charlotte & Boris’s Quintessentially English Rectory


Inset doors are attached within the cabinet box, like they would be in a piece of furniture, instead of covering the cabinet box; this configurations is seen in the lower cabinets in Charlotte and Boris’s home. Again, these often have a more traditional look.

Lori and Jeromy’s Stylish Family Home

Full Overlay

Full overlay doors are the most common choice for modern cabinetry. These doors overlap the face frame so that the doors of the cabinets seem to meet. This gives a kitchen a sleek, polished look, and the surfaces look more continuous. It is, of course, possible to have full overlay doors in a traditional style, but this is the most common foundation for a modern kitchen.

Door Fronts

Edith’s Clean & Colorful Oslo Townhome


One easy way to take your kitchen to the modern side is to choose flat-front cabinet doors. Smooth finishes, without any additional trim, continue the sleek look, drawing attention to the crisp lines of the cabinetry.

Andi & Dean’s Modern Meets Victorian

Simple Shaker

But as Andi and Dean’s home shows, basic Shaker fronts can also have a modern look. The idea is to keep everything clean and crisp. If you want a modern kitchen, your cabinetry should be relatively simple, without too many decorative elements.

Ricky & McCary’s One-of-a-Kind Style

Minimal Detailing

I offer this image as a counterpoint to show how certain types of door fronts can change the modern feel of a kitchen. The rounded elements and the deep contouring on these doors give them a more traditional feel. Modern cabinetry revolves around the adjectives “sharp” and “sleek.”


Duncan & Tanya’s Textural Kensington Cottage


Glossy laminate is a popular option for modern kitchens. In Duncan and Tanya’s kitchen, it adds a bit of sheen. As you might suspect, moving away from traditional materials will help you move away from traditional styles.

Judith & Benjamin’s Warm and Cozy Loft


If you do want to go for wood construction, try to choose a finish that is relatively smooth. Salvaged wood can, with the right design, still look modern, but if you want to keep things simple, remember that smooth is the way to go. Avoid materials with too much distress.

Laura & James’ Principles of Design

Glass & Metal

Glass and metal are versatile materials that work well for modern designs, provided there aren’t too many decorative flourishes.


Before & After: A Modern Vintage Loft Kitchen Makeover

Bold Colors, Natural Woods

We are all familiar with the modern, white kitchen, as well as with the fact that painted cabinets have had a resurgence. Cabinets are prevalent in every color, and the two-tone look is quite popular. If you opt for wood cabinets, know that yellowy and reddish finishes often look traditional. Natural wood tones or warm browns are probably your best bet.

(Image credits: Natalie Jeffcott; Coastside Cabinets; Jacqueline Marque; Rebecca Bond; Nancy Mitchell; Jacqueline DuBois; Lindsay Tella; Hayley Kessner; Judith Cossette ; Mike Hetu; Melissa DiRenzo)

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