To a custom cabinetmaker, it's not easy to categorize cabinetwork, since we can build just about anything that a customer can describe for the right price. If any categories exist, they would subdivide into just a few groups. Keep in mind that we're talking about cabinets here, not furniture. Regardless, if you want to know more about cabinetry, these categories will help you understand the terms used when you're talking to your cabinetmaker.
The catagories are Cabinet type, Construction style, and Door style. While technically doors are not part of the cabinet per se, most people think of them as one, I think.
This refers to the basic purpose of the finished cabinet. A cabinet designed to sit on the floor is built significantly different from that of an upper (wall) cabinet intended for the wall.
The types, with standard height & depth dimensions, are;
A standard base cabinet (called "base") usually has a toe kick, mid shelves and an extra-wide top nailer to support the back of a countertop. The usual configuration of a base has one top drawer covered by a drawer front, and a door below covering a bay with one or more midshelves.
Of course, there are a couple of popular variations for base cabinets, the first substituting the door with more drawers (a drawer bank).
Drawer bank base
The second variation eliminates the top drawer and brings the door all the way up (a full door cabinet).
Full door base
Just about all base cabinets fit within one of these 3 types.
Upper cabinets are usually installed empty until the adjustable shelves are hung, at which point the doors are hung onto the cabinet. They have hardwood nailers both top & bottom to fasten them to the wall securely. Not many variations with uppers, although you can put many additional treatments inside of one, like plate racks, spice racks & microwaves.
Floor to Ceiling cabinets do just that-they sit on the floor & usually go all the way up to the ceiling. A pantry or an oven cabinet is an example of an FTC. Many, many variations on this one, since there's so much room to do things with. Entire oven/microwave combos, pantries with 5 or more roll-out shelves, you name it, somebody's probably made it. You can even build one around a refridgerator.
So, now that you know about the 3 cabinet types, let's discuss the two primary catagories of construction style used in the industry. We're not talking about construction methods here, which are the details of materials used or how the shelves are attached to the cabinet sides, etc.
Construction Style refers to the difference, really, between a western style cabinet and a europeon style cabinet. Two easily-recognizable differences distinguish the two. Keep in mind that all cabinets are composed of shelves, sides, backs and some kind of front, whether a frame or banding.
And, surprise, no modern cabinetmaker makes cabinet sides and shelves from hardwood lumber, because the large size of these components expand and contract over the course of a year and would break any kind of joint used to fasten them together. The cost is a big factor, too, because a 24" x 24" shelf made of plywood or particle board is one-third of the cost of an equivalent made of lumber. Can you imagine the added effort of glueing up 6" lumber planks, sanding them smooth on both sides and then cutting them to size?
Western style cabinets use a hardwood frame to cover the front edges of the sides & shelves that form the cabinet's carcass (the case), whereas a europeon style cabinet merely has wood bands or plastic tape attached to the front edges to hide their core. That's why europeon style cabinets have their doors & drawer fronts so close together (1/8" to 1/4"), so as not to expose that tape or band.
Europeon (euro) cabinets are cheaper to make since the face frame of a western cabinet is approximately 15-25% of the material & labor cost. They are also not nearly as strong in the sheer strength. Europeon cabinets require expensive hidden hinges which fasten not to the face frame (there is no face frame), but to the inside of the cabinet wall. Nonetheless, there is a place for euro cabinets in today's market. Some shops produce euro cabinets exclusively.
An advantage to euro cabinets is that the design facilitates slightly wider bays (openings) into the cabinet's interiors. They don't provide any more interior space, only wider openings that you see when the door(s) are open.
You can see examples of both styles in just about any magazine or outlet store these days, and you can identify the western style by the one inch (or better) spaces between the doors & drawer fronts. If you open the door(s), you can also see the frame of a western-style cabinet.
Door styles have even more variations than the basic cabinet type variables. Still, you can break door styles down like so;
These catagories are based upon the method of construction for each type, and are usually priced higher moving towards the bottom of the above list.
Slab doors are made in two different ways; from either hardwood plywood cut to size or solid pieces of hardwood lumber glued up side to side & sanded smooth. Sometimes a routed detail is carved into the front, or possibly a thinner, contrasting piece of hardwood is glued up within the door. A solid-feeling & hefty door, Slab doors don't present many ledges to accumulate dust that Frame and panel doors do.
Frame and Panel
Inset panel doors are made similar to a picture frame in that they are composed of 4 frames pieces & 1 panel that fits inside the frame (or glues to the back). You can choose to mitre the corner joints at 45 degrees, but a stronger joint exists (butt-jointed), called a cope and stick joint, which provides not only more glueing surface for the butt joint, but provides side-grain (as opposed to end-grain) that a good glue joint requires. Butt-jointed cope and stick joints are much more common these days, and important, given the slamming that an average cabinet doors withstands during it's useful life.
Raised panel doors are pricey, mainly because of the labor involved to make the panel from solid, glued-up lumber. They are made just like Inset panel doors, except for the panel itself. The raised panel is usually 3/4" thick, as opposed to the 1/4" thick panel used in an Inset panel door, and made from solid lumber, not 1/4" plywood, which lets you cut raised facets, or bevels on the panel without exposing the inner plies of a plywood based panel. The 45 degree angle created by these facets makes for a very rich & detailed look that Inset panel doors lack. The panel itself takes so much longer to fabricate & sand than simply cutting out a panel from a sheet of 1/4" plywood, that Raised panel doors are cost-prohibitive to the average household in my experience.
So there you have it...now you can talk turkey with the best of them because you've learned the basics of Cabinet types, Construction styles, and Door styles.
Although someone else might devise an entirely new set of catagories than I have, I have seen that explaining these basic differences is something I explain to virtually every cabinet customer I've talked to when discussing cabinetry. They have to be at least semi-accurate! I really have never put these concepts on paper before this, so they might be a bit unpolished. But these basics should be useful to some, I hope. Otherwise I've wasted a few precious hours of my time, now, haven't I?
Now get out of here. Dinner's probably ready.