After a certain point construction jargon just becomes mental mush, which is not good when you’re having to make choices you’ll have to live with for years and spend lots of money on. What is thermofoil? What does melamine mean? I’m pretty sure you know what paint is. When making your final decision on your cabinetry, there are no universal right answers or wrong choices. It’s important to do your research, speak to the providers about their product, and figure out what aspects of your cabinetry you are willing to compromise on and which you aren’t. At the end of the day, this is your space. It should be a reflection of what you love, what you value, and what you’ll enjoy for years to come.
Thermofoil: Thermofoil is a specific process by which a vinyl layer is laminated onto fiberboard or MDF (plywood and wood tend to warp under the heat treatment). It’s fairly durable, easy to clean, and gives you more options for colours and patterns than stains will. If you lean more towards a high-gloss or matte finish then this’ll be your best option. There are some downsides to thermofoil cabinets though. They are a lot less heat resistant than many other cabinet options and if they’re installed too close to a heat source – such as a stove – the thermofoil layer may start to peel away from the underlying particle board or MDF. Homeowners can install metal heat shielding trim to help avoid this. Another downside to Thermofoil is that the cabinets tend to be a lot heavier and harder to handle than other options due to the particle board/MDF construction so you’ll have to invest in proper professional installation. Once the vinyl layer of a thermofoil cabinet is damaged it cannot be repaired.
Melamine: Melamine consists of a chemical resin compound which is heat bonded over MDF or particle board with a layer of patterned or coloured paper in between. Because the patterning on these cabinets is print based, it will be consistent throughout the kitchen unlike natural wood cabinets which will contain natural variation. These cabinets are easy to clean, and are more durable against heat and drip damage than thermofoil cabinetry. Because the outer coating is similar to enamel it can shatter, chip, and splinter and is difficult and expensive to repair. If the composite material of the cabinet structure is exposed it will be more susceptible to water damage than a wood cabinet would be. Screws and anchors can cause the coating to chip or shatter, and these are heavy cabinets so it’s a good idea to invest in a trustworthy professional installation crew. These cabinets don’t last as long as wood cabinets do, and the hinges/drawer glides can pull away from the cabinet box over time. If your melamine is damaged there are steps you can take to repair it:
- For peeling sections: Carefully apply glue to the entire underside of the peeling section and press down firmly. Ensure that all the edges are also firmly attached and lying flat and evenly to prevent additional peeling or flaking.
- For chipping you can use wood filler in any gouges, and then an enamel repair kit to gloss over the top.
Any repairs will be visibly different from the surrounding surfaces, but repairs will be essential to protect from water damage.
Cabinet Stains: Stained cabinets are almost exclusively going to be wood fronted cabinets at the very least. Stains will show natural wood grains, and your colour selection will be more limited than the other options. This type of cabinet finish will be the easiest to repair; all you’ll need is a stain pen in the same or a similar colour, or a little jar of touch-up stain and a paintbrush. Stains are more forgiving than paints will be in blending in with the rest of the cabinet surface. They will show dust more than painted cabinets, but will be better at hiding dirt. Make sure you opt for a stained cabinet that has been properly sealed to avoid water damage. Depending on your supplier, these cabinets will be slightly more expensive than thermofoil or melamine given their wood construction.
Paints: Painted cabinets come in a variety of colours and finishes and are one of the easiest ways to customize a space. They’ll hide dust easily, and the layers of paint will help protect against water damage. It’s difficult to seamlessly touch up painted surfaces since most cabinet paint is sprayed on and does not show brush strokes or directionality. Dirt is more visible on painted cabinets, and they are generally more expensive than stained cabinetry. Paint is applicable on a multitude of surfaces, so you’ll also find a greater variety of materials that make up the structure of the cabinet. Make sure to ask what your cabinets will be constructed with as this will be important to keep in mind for maintenance and care of your cabinetry.