A lot of people ask us what exactly European cabinets are, so we felt it was time to compare our preferred cabinet style to another very popular style, American.
Here is a great article from Sweetwood Cabinet in Boise, Idaho discussing the difference:
Photo Courtesy of Bray and Scarff
How do you tell which is which?
It is easy to tell the difference between a face frame cabinet and a frameless cabinet at a quick glance. The main difference is whether you can see a wood face frame without opening any doors or drawers. American Style face frame cabinets typically have large gaps between the doors and show the wood face frame all the way around the door. There are two types of face frame cabinet styles. There is the American style face frame where the doors lap on top of the face frame, and a flush inset style where the doors fit perfectly inside the frame. We will stick to talking about the American style face frame cabinet because this is by far the most common style. European Frameless style cabinets will have very small gaps between the doors that are typically less than a quarter inch and should look more like a shadow line. Frameless cabinets still have a matching edgeband on the cabinet box that is visible when the doors are open, but you should not really be able to see this at a quick glance.
What are some of the main differences between these two styles beside the face frame?
American Style Face Frame:
Face frame cabinets carry most of the structure in the face frame and usually have thinner cheaper materials for the cabinet box material. They will have door mullions, which are additional frame pieces, between all of the door and drawer faces. So if you have a cabinet with a pair of doors there will typically be piece of wood in the center of the cabinet where the door lands. The doors on American style cabinets are typically attached to the face frame with concealed compact hinges. The most commonly seen face frame cabinets are red oak cabinets ordered out of a catalog in three inch increments.
The lower cabinets usually have half depth shelves and the upper are reversible so that they can be hung right side up or upside down. If they were built by a custom shop they will most likely be medium stained alder or painted white and built in custom increments, but they can be stained or painted any color that is desired. Some custom shops will build the frame for an entire wall as one piece to add additional structure to the cabinets, but we do not see much of that here. Typically face frame cabinets will have doors that are not very square, because they really do not need to be. They will usually be finished to the walls with a piece of trim mold, which is a thin piece of wood about an inch wide that is pressed to the contours of the wall and nailed on to the face and sides to fill any gaps that may exist after installation.
This style of cabinetry was created to keep costs low and to allow cabinet builders to get away with a much less precise product. Which usually correlates to a less expensive final product for the customer.