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Modern Cabinet Buying Guide: What You Need To Know When Designing A Modern Kitchen

Updated: Jun 30, 2021

If you are looking for modern design ideas for your kitchen remodel and want to express your individual style or match your home decorating theme, read on to learn what makes cabinetry truly modern.

Modern Cabinet Design and Color

It’s easy to think modern and contemporary designs are synonymous, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, we explore the idea of modern vs. contemporary kitchens in depth in a separate post.

Modern design, unlike its offshoot contemporary design, refers to a specific historical era generally identified as the 1920’s through 1950’s, followed by mid-century modernism through 70s’ postmodernism. Mid-century modern is one of the most popular styles of the 1950’s and 1960’s and you’ll often see this look referred to in articles about home decorating and interior design.

When we think of modern, we think timeless: homes or furniture pieces that were designed decades ago but look like they were invented yesterday. Consider Le Corbusier’s™ LC2 Sofa for example, was developed in 1928 but is still a best-seller today.

Cabinet Styles

Modern cabinets are identified by their clean lines, minimalistic approach, and open kitchen layout.

  • Shaker – Extremely popular in the US, shaker cabinets favor a simple, functional aesthetic featuring five-piece doors with flat recessed panels.

  • Flat slab doors – Unlike traditional dimensional door faces, these cabinets are characterized by a solid, flat door without any frames or panels.

  • Handleless – The most sought after style in kitchens today, handleless cabinets are flat slab doors that use finger pulls, J-pulls, or push latches instead of hardware.

Cabinet Materials

Modern cabinet materials often include wood and earthy elements for a timeless design. Contemporary interiors typically feature glass, metals, and trendier finishes which may become quickly outdated.

High-end cabinets are often built of a high-grade carb phase 2 furniture board with an impermeable melamine top layer that gives it protection and color. Carcass parts are connected by dowel and glue construction (if assembled and shipped) or by screws if built in a shop or RTA (ready to assemble). The best cabinet hardware generally comes from Germany.

Door Finishes

It’s no surprise that European cabinetry brands lead the market with a steady presence throughout the modern era. Super matt laminates, earthy hand-troweled concrete, or liquid patina’d metal finishes are common.

The 1931 Le Corbusier palette is a perfect example of modern colors; as esthetically pleasing then as they are today, the palette features hues in rust, olive greens, turquoise and brown. Le Corbusier colors are offered exclusively by the German cabinet manufacturer, LEICHT. The palette is available with their LARGO-FG and CLASSIC-FS styles in matt or gloss lacquered door fronts and back-painted glass.


Drawers are, of course, an important part of kitchen cabinetry. What used to be a simple cabinet feature has become a creative combination of style and function. More traditional styles feature wooden drawer boxes with side or undermount slides. While these may look better in a furniture piece, they will look out of place and may not provide good durability in a modern kitchen. German metal drawer boxes are a better looking and stronger solution (not to mention, easier to clean!) in a kitchen with large drawers holding heavy pots and pans. These standardized metal boxes also come with an array of drawer organization: perfectly fitted wooden, metal, or plastic inserts, where each utensil or gadget has its place.


Today’s cabinetry typically features LED lighting which lasts longer and saves energy. LEDs are offered in a variety of installation options including a flexible ‘plug and play’ system; a perfect solution for all you DIY’ers. Wires connect with male and female plugs, then simply plug into an outlet, eliminating the need for additional hard-wiring.

Cabinet lighting enhances your workspace and sets the mood of your space. It’s important to be aware of light temperature. Some LED’s are temperature adjustable via a driver and remote. One light source therefore, can be anywhere between 2700 (warm) and 6400 kelvins (cool). A good CRI (Color Rendering Index) rating is also important when choosing your light fixtures. The higher the rating, the better and truer the color rendering capacity will be, so select a rating above 80.

Lighting Options

  • Under Cabinet linear LED’s, dimmable, color temperature adjustable

  • Strip lights, many uninterrupted linear feet, could also be RGB

  • Puck square or round, dimmable or not

  • Don’t forget, natural daylight is just as important as artificial light


The sky is the limit when it comes to cost, but be sure to make an educated decision about what you really want because it may not be what you actually get.

Ask yourself: how long will I keep these cabinets? Is it a free-standing side board that I can easily replace later, or are the kitchen cabinets attached to my home, making it much harder to change at a later point? The more permanent a cabinet is, the higher quality it should be. Keep this in mind since it factors into your home value.

Do your homework when purchasing European cabinets! Many brands have similar products as far as look and quality are concerned, but price can vary greatly. This may be due to a dealer’s showroom structure: How many price-points do they offer? What is the cost for customization? Do they order directly from the manufacturer or through a ‘middle man’? Do they include installation, shipping, or delivery? Do the cabinets share shipping containers with other orders?

If you are considering modern custom cabinets, beware: if the woodworking shop is not equipped with the appropriate machinery and finishing booth, it won’t be able to achieve the quality you’re looking for; plus you may actually end up paying more than you bargained for. If the shop isn’t set up to produce modern parts, they may burn production hours without being able to produce a good quality product.

Insist on going to see, touch, and feel a few cabinets previously installed. Open the doors and drawers, and touch the surfaces. Photos simply can’t convey the quality or feel of a custom finish.

Wrapping Up

With a wide selection of modern cabinets on the market, you’ll find options for any budget. If you are looking for fast turnaround and are willing to put in some sweat equity, contemporary RTA cabinets can be shipped to your doorstep and installed yourself - but don’t expect longevity.

If you approach a cabinetmaker about building custom cabinets for you, be sure to ask what spray booth they have, what drawer boxes they install, and where the hardware comes from. If you hear ‘China’, or ‘we finish everything on-site’- run! Unless the budget is right, those comments mean you can expect lower quality cabinets.

But, if you prefer a truly modern style and have a ‘do it once and do it right’ mentality, European cabinetry is the way to go. It may cost a bit more up-front, but it pays off in the long run. We’ve worked with young home-owners who cooked in a temporary kitchen while saving for a few years until they were able to pay for their European cabinets in cash!

Kitchen cabinets are a major investment so take your time, make a point to compare German cabinetry to other European brands, and go from there.


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