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When people think of kitchen cabinets, more often than not the first thing that comes to mind is natural wood.
While that may be a preconceived notion, these days it’s certainly not a given.
If you haven’t looked at cabinets in 15 to 20 years, you might be surprised at just how many high-quality alternative materials are available. With regards to contemporary kitchen design, homeowners are becoming more and more likely to go the route of modern cabinet materials.
At Deslaurier, we have over 40 years of experience specializing in custom cabinet manufacturing and kitchen design. In that time, we’ve designed hundreds of kitchens to include modern cabinet materials tailored to our clients’ unique preferences.
From PET to metal frames, this article will tell you everything you need to know about 5 of the best materials you can use for modern style kitchen cabinets.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
What is a Modern Style Cabinet?
First thing’s first: what is modern kitchen design?
Technically speaking, modern kitchen design sits somewhere between transitional and contemporary. Modern design was initially characterized by flat surfaces, geometric forms, and little to no ornamentation.
Now, modern kitchen design has become a part of a larger trend emphasizing clean lines, open spaces, and minimalistic design elements, featuring highly functional post-industrial materials.
A modern kitchen design will incorporate several of the following characteristics:
- Horizontal Lines
- Frameless or Full Overlay Cabinetry
- Monochromatic Colour Palettes
- Minimalistic Details and Ornamentation
- Simple Hardware
- Industrial Accent Pieces
Driven by simplicity, modern kitchen design maximizes functionality by utilizing space and organized cabinetry.
What does that mean for kitchen cabinets? Think 1-piece doors, or 5-piece shaker doors with slim borders and clean edges, and durable, man-made materials.
Now, let’s look at 5 of the best materials you can use for modern-style cabinets!
1. Thermofoil Cabinets
Thermofoil kitchen cabinets are a PVC vinyl material that is applied to MDF doors through heat and vacuum pressure, fusing the two together. The thermofoil process produces a seamless surface, typically in a solid colour, but sometimes also a faux wood grain pattern.
Thermofoil is an extremely popular cabinet material, as their matte and high-gloss options can replicate a painted aesthetic at a cheaper price point. Thermofoil cabinets also withstand daily use and general household damage better than painted cabinets, making their combination of durability and appearance a perfect match for modern-style cabinets.
Thermofoil only comes in 1-piece doors, as opposed to 5-piece options available in natural wood or painted MDF. While slab (flat) doors are a popular choice, there are various detailed profiles that are available in thermofoil.
It should be noted that all edges of thermofoil doors will be rounded to an extent. This is because in order to apply the thermofoil finish to a cabinet door, there needs to be a radius. Since this radius is required, the edges and corners of the detail in thermofoil doors won’t be as sharp as most other cabinet materials.
The real benefit of thermofoil as an alternative to painted cabinets is their price point. Thermofoil has cabinet options for almost every price range, and their standard products are significantly more cost-effective than painted MDF — making them a great budget-friendly material.
2. PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)
Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) is a thermoplastic polymer, laminated to an MDF substrate (with a proprietary glue) under high heat and pressure. While it sounds confusing, it is essentially plastic. In fact, it’s most commonly used for water bottles and soft drink bottles.
Thanks to the nature of the material, PET is easily recycled at all stages of manufacturing, making them one of the most environmentally-friendly cabinet materials you can find.
PET and thermofoil are similar materials, but they do have several key differences. Unlike thermofoil – which is a material applied onto an underlying substrate – PET is manufactured as its own sheets. This allows PET cabinet doors to be the same material on all 6 sides, with edge-banding (exposed edges of raw material are wrapped with PET) done to unify each door.
PET cabinets are prized for their matte finish and are popularly selected in solid colours. Unlike thermofoil, which can be adhered to different door styles, PET is much harder to mould onto a 3-dimensional door – and as a result – is typically found only in a flat panel cabinet door.
Further, PET is a much thicker laminate than thermofoil, giving it an impressively durable quality. It is more scratch resistant and durable and is not vulnerable to heat or moisture.
In terms of price, PET is considered a mid-range modern cabinet material that can rival the cost of some pretty luxurious cabinet woods. PET’s price is right around cherrywood, sitting just underneath the more high-end walnut and rift-cut white oak.
Acrylic is a high-quality synthetic material that provides a smooth and glossy-looking cabinet door. If you’re after a high-gloss cabinet aesthetic, acrylic is your best option.
Acrylic cabinets are popularly utilized with solid colours, especially for high-gloss products. However, depending on the manufacturer, you will be able to find acrylic cabinets in other various patterns.
What makes acrylic such a perfect material for high-gloss cabinets is its durability. A high-gloss door will always show damage more than something with a matte finish. High-gloss will essentially show everything—there’s really no hiding any scratches.
Acrylic’s impressive scratch resistance (it’s even better than PET) is the best way to reduce the likelihood of noticeable damage on a vulnerable high-gloss finish. Even more, unlike PET and thermofoil, acrylic cabinet doors can actually be repaired for scratches!
It should be noted that acrylic cabinets will only come in flat (slab) panel doors. Their manufacturing process does not lend itself well to 3-dimensional door moulding, so acrylic will leave you limited to a slab door cabinet.
As we’ve discussed the high quality of acrylic cabinets, it should come as no surprise that they are an expensive material. Think of acrylic as the next step up above PET in the modern material pricing scale. In comparison with PET, you can expect to pay roughly 10% more for acrylic cabinets.
4. Textured Melamine
Textured melamine boards consist of a strong, raw particleboard substrate with resin-infused decorative paper permanently fused to both sides under immense heat and pressure. They are designed to reproduce the look and feel of realistic paint, wood grain, and even metal cabinets.
Melamine cabinets will actually produce a more uniform and consistent wood grain appearance than a natural wood species. This is because hardwoods are natural materials and in turn, no two cabinets will have the exact same grain patterns. Thanks to melamine cabinets’ unique manufacturing process, they’re able to produce a perfectly constant grain pattern.
There’s even a more high-end product in European Textured Melamine.
European textured melamine is considered a higher quality, luxury line of melamine. ETM produces a prestige material with deeper textures and colours, a more realistic-looking wood grain that even feels more like natural hardwood!
Modern melamines offer a quality and high-performance solution that meets the aesthetic demands of contemporary design with a simple, slab-style cabinet door.
5. Metal Frame Cabinet Doors
Aluminum metal framed cabinet doors are a contemporary material that is solely unique compared to other cabinet options. Further, it is a match made in heaven for glass door display cabinets.
It is a durable material that doesn’t scratch too easily—especially on something like a matte black finish. You also don’t need to worry about moisture, heat, or humidity.
Metal cabinet doors aren’t the most flexible when it comes to design styles. They are only available as flat doors with no design or routering. Their colours are also extremely limited – most manufacturers will only carry a variety of black, grey, and stainless steel – with black being far and away the most popular.
However, where they do have the opportunity to get creative is with the variety of glass inserts available. There’s standard, leaded (crystal), acid wash, mirror, or frosted glass, and even jet black, to name a few. You can even go glassless and have the metal frames on their own.
Expect to pay a premium price for metal cabinets, as they are the most expensive option on this list. However, it isn’t so much the material that is expensive as it is the additional costs involved in a metal cabinet.
You’ll want to finish the interior of the cabinet, which doesn’t come cheap; there are glass inserts (if you opt for them); and there’s also the cost of interior lighting, which is an element commonly added to emphasize display within the cabinet.
That can add up to metal cabinets being roughly 75% more than a standard painted MDF cabinet. Thankfully for your budget, metal-framed cabinets are almost exclusively used as an accent piece — you typically wouldn’t include more than two in your kitchen design.
Design with Deslaurier Custom Cabinets
If you’re looking to install the perfect modern-style cabinets in your dream kitchen, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets has everything you need!
Deslaurier proudly carries each material listed above in our product catalogue, and we believe we have a cabinet selection that will fit any budget and kitchen style!
With over 40 years of experience to our name, we provide our clients with a fully customized design process with our talented team of designers.