Often these two items are sold together, but they are very unique to each other. The best way for me to describe them is separately.
Buffets are dining room storage units and they tend to be a low height, 29” to 36” high. They come in many different widths and are usually about 18” to 24” in depth. The configurations are all over the map in regards to the storage variations. Some have upper drawers for silverware with open or closed storage below. Some are all cabinets from top to bottom and some could even have wine bottle storage. There is no end to the creativity used to make these units. Like all cabinets, construction is paramount. Whether you decide to go with solid wood, wood combinations, metal or stone, the unit should be strong and stable. If you are acquiring a hutch to rest on top of the buffet its needs to be strong enough to support the hutch. Check all the hinges to be sure that quality is there and you have to option to adjust the hinges if your doors are not lined up. Look at the drawer construction and see if the joinery is solid. Dovetail joints on drawers will make the drawer rigid and long lasting. If the drawers are butt joints, check to see if they have nailed, screwed, and glued the joints for better strength. Check to see if the back side of the unit has been finished so that you have the option to place the unit in the middle of the room or with the back of unit exposed in a room. Be sure to know the depth of the items you are going to be storing so your all of your desired storage will fit inside. Double check the base construction or leg attachment construction. Make sure that it strong enough to be picked up or slid around for cleaning purposes and so that once it’s filled with your items the legs don’t snap off, possibly damaging your items. Check all the drawers to be sure they glide in and out easily. Check all doors to see that they open and close easily and are square. Many buffet units will have lights or power options so check all the cords to make sure they are attached securely. See how easy it is to change a light bulb in the unit if necessary and whether it is a standard bulb or a rare bulb that you can only get from another country. It is nice when you only have to visit the local hardware store to get the required replacements parts.
Hutches are an add-on item. Nobody just goes out to purchase a hutch by itself unless they already have something to put it on. Hutches are specifically made to rest on a lower unit. As with most furniture, there are many different configurations available to choose from however; most hutches are used for displaying your special trinkets and/or dishes. I have been to many homes where the hutch is filled with a dish set that has been passed down from family members and other family heirlooms. The big question for you is do you want glass or solid doors. Most come with glass to show your collections with ease but they are available with solid doors which makes it so you can hide a variety of platters and bowls. Close the doors and forget about it. You don’t even need to keep it organized once those doors are closed. Know what you want to showcase in your hutch. Many glass framed doors have an edge around them so that when they’re shut they actually block the view of your collection everywhere the doors meet and this detracts from your lovely display inside. So, glass or wood shelves? If you want to light from the top to the bottom, you must go with glass shelves, unless the wood shelves have a separate light on the underside of each unit. How bright inside the hutch do you want it to be? Many hutches will have one single light socket in the top center position for the entire hutch. If you have many large scale items to display then the light source from top to bottom becomes obscured very quickly. Check all the doors to see if they are square and closing correctly. Check the hinges and hardware to be sure it is rigid and will stand up over time. Same as before, check the wires and make sure they securely fastened, give them a bit of a yank in the store and see if they pop off in your hands. Look at the light bulb(s) to be sure they are not as rare as free money so that you can replace them easily in the future.
Most manufacturers and furniture stores DO NOT like to separate the buffet and hutch units for the simple reason that they don’t wish to end up at the end of the year with extra hutches and no matching buffets. Make sure this becomes one of your first questions to a sales rep, “Will you sell them separately”? Most stores will have many other options available for you for a “buffet only” scenario. It rarely happens that somebody wants to buy the hutch only so you need to check with the sales rep to see if they’ll split up their units.
In the past most people would buy the buffet and hutch to match the dining room table and chairs but not so much anymore. People are far more creative now and by juxtaposing styles it gives a more up-to-date look. I have been to homes that had an antique table from the early 1900’s matched with a modern style buffet and hutch and it looked fantastic. I wanted to go home and change my dining room furniture to create the same look and feel. In todays’ home anything goes. Mixing and matching materials and style is part of the new look interiors.
There is no doubt that there still is a certain elegance achieved by having a huge dining table, chairs, big buffet & hutch and monster sized server, all matching, in a dining area. It seems to create a very sophisticated look that is always in style.