When you design a kitchen or any other storage cabinetry system such as laundry room counters, garage counters, home office desk systems, you need to figure out a good balance between drawers and cupboards with shelves (or open shelves).
It’s not an easy balancing act, but it does warrant some thought and you definitely want to go with your preferences.
For example, I much prefer drawers down low for storage because I much prefer accessing from the top. For me, that’s a huge convenience despite some drawer disadvantages.
This brief article sets out the pros and cons of each type of storage mechanism and maybe, just maybe, I provide you something to think about as you go about designing your storage systems.
Before we get into the comparison, let’s get some definitions out of the way courtesy of Dictionary.com just so we’re clear on what’s being compared.
- Cabinet: piece of furniture with shelves, drawers, etc., for holding or displaying items. This includes cupboards, drawers and shelves. Therefore, while many people refer to cupboards as cabinets, that’s not entirely correct.
- Cupboard: a closet with shelves for dishes, cups, etc.
- Drawer: a sliding, lidless, horizontal compartment, as in a piece of furniture, that may be drawn out in order to gain access to it.
- Shelf: a thin slab of wood, metal, etc., fixed horizontally to a wall or in a frame, for supporting objects.
Drawers vs. Cupboards
Access: For storage below the waist, it’s so much easier to replace and retrieve from the top down than from the front. I don’t like kneeling and digging around low down to the ground. I’d rather rummage around from the top down. There’s a reason more and more people are opting for dishwashers that offer drawer systems instead of the old school front-loading system. For this reason, I much prefer kitchen islands with drawers instead of cupboards. Winner: Drawers.
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For storage above the waist, drawers are difficult. The higher up, the more impossible it is to access. This is why all upper cabinets in any cabinet system is either cupboards with shelves or open shelving. Winner: Cupboards.
Appearance: I love drawer lines and the additional hardware you get with drawers. A low bank of drawers symmetrically designed with nice hardware looks fabulous… better than a low bank of cabinets. Winner: Drawers.
Small Items Organization: With drawer organizers such as utensil trays, it’s very easy to organize smaller drawers for smaller items. You can easily create handy compartments that make finding and organizing things very easy. Winner: Drawers.
Large Items Organization: Small drawers for small items can be very nicely organized. But large, deep drawers for large items such as pots and pans are not so easy to organize. The deeper they are, the more difficult it is to find, retrieve and replace items. It’s like a big chest that ends up a massive dumping ground for piles of stuff. Winner: Cupboards.
Item Variety: There’s a reason glasses are usually stored in cupboards instead of drawers. For a meal, you may need to access plastic kids cups, a wine glass and water glasses. All of these can be stored in a tall cupboard with shelving. The variety of glassware cannot be so easily stored in a drawer. Winner: Cupboards.
Volume: Because drawers have 4 sides to them, they result in less storage space than cupboards. Winner: Cupboards.
Durability: We’ve all had drawers that come off the rails at some point or get sticky. This is a nuisance. We have one drawer in our kitchen where the drawer face completely broke off. To repair it, we need an entire new drawer which isn’t so easy to get with custom cabinets. Even if you use popular cabinet systems purchased at IKEA, you’ll be hardpressed to buy a single drawer. You either need to repair the drawer (no small task) or buy another unit. Winner: Cupboards.
Cost: Cupboards are much less expensive than drawers. A cupboard has one board for the face while drawers have 5 pieces plus the rail system. Winner: Cupboards.
- Cupboards: 6
- Drawers: 4
Poll: Vote your preference
Overall, cupboards are a better storage option, but in the case of below the waist, I prefer drawers. For this reason, for any new kitchen I design going forward, I’d opt for more drawers below the waist and use all cupboards with shelving above the waist. Be sure to check out our awesome gallery featuring kitchen islands with drawers and kitchen cabinets gallery here.
At the top of this article is an example of my ideal kitchen with respect to drawer vs. cupboard configuration.