Do you pick the wood species first or the door panel style? Do you focus on the stain color or the special glaze? What about glass doors or hardware?
"You need to determine the wood species and color according to the decor you want," said Anita Borgen, selections coordinator with KLM Builders.
If you want a light and airy kitchen, consider maple cabinets with a natural glaze. Add in a light sage or cream solid surface countertop and the look is bright and open.
If you prefer the drama of some dark detailing, try a traditional cherry wood cabinet with a chocolate glaze. Add a cream granite countertop for some contrast and the look is bold and sophisticated.
Regardless of your design theme, there is a combination of wood species, door style, finish, stain or glaze to blend with it. All it takes is coordination.
Each wood species can be paired with a wide selection of finishes. You might want a cherry cabinet with a natural finish, which will show the natural color. Or, you might want a dark stain to accent the wood and blend with a special furniture piece in your breakfast room.
After selecting the wood species and finish, focus on which door style fits your tastes. Raised panel doors are considered more traditional and will blend well with furniture that has some detail in it.
There also are recessed panel doors that lean toward a Shaker style or a quasi-contemporary feeling. Recessed panels are considered "transitional." This are intended to blend traditional design with some contemporary style. The panel adds some detail without being overly ornate.
This movement away from highly traditional cabinetry often is seen with first-time buyers. Many first-timers lean more toward contemporary cabinet styles with flat panel doors and clean lines, said Maria Cassara, interior selections coordinator with Remington Homes, which is building homes priced from $295,000.
The traditional styling comes back into play for those who have owned a few kitchens before. They are more focused on staying in the home for a long period and following tried and true designs.
"They are more focused on maple cabinets and raised panel doors," Cassara said. "They're not too trendy."
Such experienced buyers look beyond the design to how the cabinets function. After working in a few kitchens, they realize what works and doesn't. They know the benefits of rollout drawers and cabinet organizational items, for example.
While all this variety is fairly easy to find in high-end custom housing, it is becoming more accessible in moderately priced cabinets.
Finishing touches, such as stains, glazes and distressed treatments, have filtered down to many cabinet brands and prices.
"Cabinet companies are finding ways to manufacture in large production and add a lot of style and detail," said Robert Lord, president of Robert Lord Builders in St. Charles, which builds houses priced from $500,000.
There also are many more cabinet moldings and accent pieces available today than in recent years.
"The crown molding you put above the cabinets can make a big difference," Lord said. "Depending on your budget, you should spend more and go a little taller on the crown. Instead of two or three inches go with four."
That extra height helps draw attention upward and gives the cabinetry layout more dimension. Depending on the builder, cabinet type and total number of cabinets, the cost to add a taller molding might range from $200 to $800.
After all the design decisions are made, it's important to focus on functionality. Before ordering cabinets, think about what you plan to store in them. Do you want wider cabinets for storing serving platters or deep drawers for storing cooking utensils? Also consider adding some accessories to make it easier to work in the kitchen.
Drawers that roll out from the cabinet base are a big hit with many cooks, as they alleviate some of the bending and lifting. Spice racks that are built into the cabinetry also are a big time saver.
The cabinets can be upgraded to include dovetail drawers, where the ends are secured into each other for added strength. Another option is to have full extension drawers, which slide farther out of the cabinet base for ease of storage, Borgen said.
The sky can be the limit with kitchen cabinetry. The trick is balancing all the wants and needs to find the right design for you.
Allison E. Beatty is a Chicago-area freelance writer. If you have questions or information to share regarding new home buyers' product and design choices, write to Choices c/o Chicago Tribune, New Homes Section, 435 N. Michigan Ave., 4th Floor, Chicago, IL 60611. Or, e-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org