How to Choose the Best Kitchen Cabinet Materials [2021]

hamish murray kitchen with white countertops, grey cabinets, and gold hardware
Project: Vancouver Galley; Builder: Hamish Murray; Architect: Howells

As one of the most essential components of your kitchen design, cabinets are a key decision to the cohesive feel of your home. Kitchen cabinets are hard-working, beautiful, and an important part of your culinary workflow. Deciding which materials to use in your kitchen cabinet design or remodel depends on the look you want and how you want it to wear. Here is a guide on the pros and cons for different kitchen cabinet ideas and how to decide what is right for you. 


hardwood kitchen cabinets in modern kitchen
Project: Family Entertainment; Builder: Hamish Murray; Architect: Vanessa Wolf Golding

As one of the most popular kitchen cabinet door material choices, hardwoods have been used in kitchen design and cabinets for over a hundred years. Just like hardwood floors, hardwood kitchen cabinets are highly valued for their durability and long lifespan. Each type of hardwood has its own beauty with different grain patterns and characteristics that create light and airy spaces or dramatic finishes. 

It is good to know your hardwoods and consider the pros and cons of the material you are getting. Most people don’t realize that some hardwoods act like softwoods, making them less durable. For example, poplar and alder are “soft” hardwoods that are on the low end of the density scale. They are often stained to look like cherry but don’t have the durability of cherry as they dent easily. 

Types of Hardwoods for Kitchen Cabinets

Consider how your family uses the kitchen – are they hard or gentle on furniture – when deciding on kitchen cabinet material. Types of hardwoods to consider for your kitchen cabinets include: 

Maple: durable with a fine texture and smooth grain for a variety for unique looks

Oak: distinctive wood grain patterns that complement contemporary kitchens

Cherry: highly durable and known for its naturally rich dark color that varies between yellow and pale red

Hickory: straight grained and very durable, this wood has a beautiful light finish

The Pros of Plywood 

High-quality plywood is another popular kitchen cabinet face material that offers a host of benefits. Often misunderstood, premium plywood has been used for years by high-end carpenters to create furniture and cabinetry. Created by putting together thin layers of wood in alternating angles to create strength, plywood is less prone to warping and splitting. Premium grades of hardwood veneer plywood range from cherry or red oak to maple or walnut. Because plywood can handle heavy loads and holds screws well it is also a good material for cabinet sides, backs, shelves, and drawer bottoms. 

Plywood rated AA or A grade is an excellent option for quality kitchen cabinets that open up a variety of possibilities for homeowners. Real wood plywood veneers also offer a variety of choices that give a rich character to your kitchen cabinets. When paired with your choice of floors and countertops your plywood veneer kitchen cabinets will create a long lasting and cohesive custom cooking space that is both functional and beautiful.

Paint vs Stain

beautiful modern kitchen with blue tiles and white cabinets
Project: Tiles; Builder: Hamish Murray; Architect: Howells

Most homeowners ask this question at some point in the kitchen planning process – paint or stain? Because your kitchen cabinets will set the tone of your style for years this is an important decision to consider. Both painted and stained cabinets have their strengths and weaknesses. 

There is no right or wrong choice here – just personal preference, budget and desired kitchen design. 

Painted Kitchen Cabinets

Paint comes in a variety of colors and can be applied in matte, satin or glossy finishes to hardwood or plywood kitchen cabinet doors. Because painted kitchen cabinets are uniformed you won’t see any grain. This lets you use a less expensive material and still have a beautiful kitchen that shows off your personal style. Some of the cons of painted cabinets is that they can be more expensive than stained and they tend to show fingerprints and dirt more easily. It also can be harder to touch up painted cabinets when they get scratched. 

Stained Kitchen Cabinets

Stained cabinets are a traditional look that lets the natural wood grain shine through. Wood finishes that are stained add warmth to either a classic or modern look kitchen. Natural light wood stains offer a touch of earthiness while keeping your kitchen light and grounded. Darker stains are the perfect backdrop for light countertops and floors for a classic look. An advantage of stained kitchen cabinets is that they are easier to touch up than painted kitchen cabinets. Stain is also durable, often staying fresh more than twice as long as painted kitchen cabinets.

Other Kitchen Cabinet Materials

beautiful glass cabinets with china and dishes inside and a black countertop below in a kitchen
Project: Blooming in Buckman; Builder: Hamish Murray; Architect: Mairi Kidd

Many luxury kitchens mix in glass front cabinets to increase the openness of the space. Glass cabinet doors offer a variety of unique looks that add interest and unique, personal style. However, glass front cabinets can be more fragile than standard doors so if your family tends to be hard on doors, glass may not be a good option.

Another popular style of kitchen cabinets is stainless steel, an ultra-modern look that offers a clean, industrial feel. Steel does have some drawbacks. As a metal, steel has a tendency to scratch and dent and can be quite loud, unless properly padded. 

Materials to Avoid


Particleboard and fiberboard are both materials to avoid for your kitchen cabinets. Both are not moisture resistant and can degrade quickly. Made of recycled fibers, particleboard and fiberboard are weak, do not hold screws well and tend to sag under weight. When planning your perfect kitchen you don’t want materials that will need constant fixing and replacing. Over time those costs add up, along with the headache of having a situation where you can’t use a drawer or cabinet while you wait for repairs. 

Choosing Kitchen Cabinet Hardware

gorgeous kitchen with silver hardware and wood cabinets
Project: Irvington Kitchen; Builder: Hamish; Architect: Mairi Kidd

The finishing touch to any kitchen cabinet is the perfect kitchen cabinet hardware. Kitchen cabinet hinges have a huge impact on the style, functionality, and performance of your cabinets and doors. There are a wide range of options from swing to closing choices that should be considered. 

Kitchen cabinet pulls and knobs are also important to both the look and functionality of your kitchen. Look for kitchen cabinet hardware that is high-quality and works with the cohesiveness of your kitchen’s beauty. With finishes like gun metal, glass, bronze or brushed nickel, hardware can add a creative touch to your kitchen design that allows your personal style to shine.

Let Hamish Murray Help You Select the Best Kitchen Cabinet Material

At Hamish Murray, we believe that every aspect of your home should be all about you – from kitchen cabinets to door hinges. We are builders who ensure quality craftsmanship, following the architectural vision and integrity to create a finished project that is beautifully liveable, just the way you want. 

As collaborative planners and detailed executors, we work with architects, trade partners, and other construction professionals to keep your project going smoothly, on schedule and on budget. Our talented team takes your vision to build or remodel a home from start to finish, creating a result you will love.

We would love to hear about your project. Contact us or reach us at (503) 460-7203 with any questions you may have and let us help you make your home or remodel dreams come true.