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What is the Difference Between a Cupboard and a Cabinet?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

In general, there are few true differences between a cupboard and a cabinet. The two terms are almost synonymous, though some people consider the difference between them to be the presence of shelves within the unit: cupboards have shelves, while cabinets do not. This is a loose distinction, however, and some people consider a more accurate distinction to be the primary use of the item: cabinets are a broad term for storage units, while cupboards are used specifically for displaying cups, plates, and other flatware by using doors with glass panes.

A cupboard and a cabinet can be a freestanding unit or a wall-mounted unit, and very often no physical differences are apparent between the two. Many people will label a cupboard as a cabinet with a wood and glass door that allows a person to see into the unit to view the contents; some cupboards even feature no doors at all, revealing the plates and cups within. A cabinet can be more multi-purpose, and storing items in a cabinet can be done with or without shelves. Pots and pans, for example, are often stored in lower cabinets beneath a countertop.

Both cupboards and cabinets are typically made of wood.
Both cupboards and cabinets are typically made of wood.

Some freestanding units will combine a cupboard and a cabinet. The higher cupboards may be used for display purposes, while the lower cabinets can be used for storage of heavier items or less attractive items that the owner does not want to show off. Kitchens also often feature several wall-mounted cupboards as well as wall-mounted cabinets for storage of different kitchen tools and cooking items. Another distinction between cupboards and cabinets lies in this kitchen configuration: some people contend that cupboards are used for storing foods, while cabinets are used for storing cooking tools such as pots and pans.

Cabinets may be considered more multi-purpose than cupboards.
Cabinets may be considered more multi-purpose than cupboards.

Regardless of the true distinction a cupboard and a cabinet will serve generally the same purposes, and it is up to the owner to decide how the cabinets or cupboards are used. Many people convert cupboards and cabinets into spaces for storing dishwasher units, trash compactors, and other common kitchen tools that can be otherwise unsightly. The cupboards and cabinets are very often made from wood, but other types of materials can be used; stainless steel is a popular choice for durability and aesthetics, and composite materials have become more popular for cost savings, durability, and resistance to water damage.

Discussion Comments


The word cupboard is still around today in books, articles and children's nursery rhymes. I was trying to learn the difference between the two. My thoughts were cupboards for kitchen and cabinets for other areas in the home.


While I know there was a distinction between the two perhaps 200 years ago, I didn't think any such distinction existed in the 21st century. I don't know many people who even use the term "cupboard" today, except to say, "the cupboard is bare." Many people, I'm sure, are not even aware there is or was a difference.

I might have said a cupboard was free standing, while cabinets were attached to walls, but even that's not the true difference. I also don't know many people, unless they have an older home or want that look, who have glass doors in their kitchen cabinets/cupboards, just because they are no fun to keep clean.

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    • Both cupboards and cabinets are typically made of wood.
      By: Matthias Buehner
      Both cupboards and cabinets are typically made of wood.
    • Cabinets may be considered more multi-purpose than cupboards.
      By: Daniel Krylov
      Cabinets may be considered more multi-purpose than cupboards.