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At our design lab we spend a lot of time with kitchen cabinets. They are the one element of design where both form and function are non-negotiable. After all, they take up too much visible real estate to ignore their aesthetics, and the kitchen is a store room for so many things that can't be stowed in any other room in the house.

The many considerations can make decisions tough, and those decisions are intensified when you're outfitting a vacation rental, because you have to consider more than just your own wish list. To help you narrow down those decisions, let's break down the basics so you know what you need and what you're getting.

Find Your Finish

In a vacation rental you're obviously looking for a combination of materials and finishes that wear well and clean easily. Technology has supplied us with a lot more materials and construction styles to choose from than just wood.

  • Real wood cabinetry is still the trend. It is durable and offers a homier and cozier finish that works well in vacation rentals. Darker finishes hide dirt and stains better but also tend to have a more formal feel. One advantage to choosing wood is that you can stain or paint it. I generally advise clients to choose a timeless paint color, like a soft white or gray, as trends change over time. Refinishing those cabinets is no small project when the time comes.
  • Stainless steel is a dream in terms of both durability and cleanability-it doesn't warp, peel, crack, or collect mold or mildew. As a design choice, it may not offer the warmth you're looking for in a vacation rental, but combined with softly finished woods or bright and bold colors, it can be a fun and highly functional choice in a transitional or contemporary design scheme.
  • Thermofoil is a more recent trend that can be a great choice if your rental is near the water. Essentially, this is a plastic finish thermally attached to a medium-density fiberboard (MDF) base. The finish keeps water out, though it can react badly to intense heat over time. Thermofoil is very affordable and extremely easy to clean.
  • Melamine, like thermofoil, is thermally attached over a base MDF, but the material here is paper. The paper is often made to look like wood grain and offers a very consistent look in terms of the simulated grain. Again, this is a very affordable option and could be a good choice if you're looking to balance the budget with a less expensive finish and more and bigger cabinets.

Decide On Doors

There are essentially three main door styles to choose from for your cabinets.

  • The traditional raised panel design on the face of the door is a more detailed design look using an arched top or layered detail that might require a little more effort to clean and maintain.

  • Shaker style cabinets still have raised edges on those doors, though the lines are simple and straight. Depending on the hardware you choose, shaker can work in traditional, transitional and contemporary settings, which may make them a great choice in the long term.

  • The sleek and chic styling of thermofoil or metal cabinets are very durable and easy to maintain, but they require a little more effort on the design side if that cozy and homey look is important to you and your guests.

Here's a quick lesson in construction lingo so you can keep up with the contractor: When the door lays over the cabinet box, that's called an overlay. A standard overlay shows the face frame around the doors, but a full overlay brings the doors closer together so that you can't see the frame of the cabinets at all creating a European look. Once more popular than today, inset cabinet doors keep the doors themselves flush against the cabinet frame.

Have Fun with Hardware

Pulls and handles can have an amazing impact on the overall look of your cabinets and kitchen. If your budget requires you to choose a less expensive material or finish, you can bring back a little of the luxe look with the right hardware. For shaker or contemporary cabinetry, go sleek, simple and metallic for the pulls. With more traditional, raised panel finishes, you have a little more room to play, so take a look at mixing knobs and pulls in the same finish.

The trick to choosing kitchen cabinets for a vacation rental is finding the right balance of good looks and lasting durability. If you know some key words, what your budget is and what you need to provide your guests, you can absolutely make solid choices that will have renters coming back for more of your stylish and functional hospitality.

Tell us about some of your favorite kitchen memories from vacation rentals where you've stayed!

Handling the design elements when considering a kitchen cabinet remodel is a specialty of California-based interior designer Kerrie Kelly. Kerrie is the author of Home Decor: A Sunset Design Guide. A selection of kitchen cabinet design ideas can also be found on the Home Depot website.