Making the Right Kitchen Cabinet Choice

Making the Right Kitchen Cabinet Choice

Selecting new cabinets can be a big expense when remodeling and may account for as much as 30%-40% of your kitchen renovation budget. They set the design style for your kitchen and you’ll have them for years. But how do you know what to choose? At Jim Keller Kitchen, Bath & Home, we’ve been helping clients with kitchen design for decades. Here is a basic guide to the different quality levels of kitchen cabinets.

Traditionally there have been 3 common categories of cabinets; stock, semi-custom, and custom. With the explosion of cabinet companies and their high-priced marketing departments it’s become increasingly harder to decipher what exactly you are being sold. Seems everybody is a semi- custom or custom cabinet these days. When all else fails one rule still holds true; You get what you pay for! There is no magic bullet, cabinets are all built using similar technology and raw materials. Just because a cabinet has “wood construction” or “dovetail drawers” doesn’t guarantee a quality cabinet. There are still a lot of shall we say questionable practices out there such as over representing quality, so there is no substitute for working with a reputable designer or contractor. We will try and give you a guide to get you started so you can go in with a good idea on what is right for you whether you’re in Algonquin, Lake In The Hills, Carpentersville or in West Dundee, IL.

Stock cabinets

Stock has become a bad word; traditional stock lines have begun calling themselves semi-custom. We prefer to keep it real, stock doesn’t necessarily mean poor quality. Stock cabinets can be a very good choice for your kitchen remodel depending on your wants and needs.

Stock used to mean exactly that, in stock, cabinets you could stop in and take home or at least get in a couple of days. They were assembled and finished, put in a box, and stored on a shelf somewhere. With the advent of just in time inventory, customers demanding more options, and the problems of storing that amount of cabinets, “stock” doesn’t really mean stock anymore. We use the term “stock” as more of a price point description. Outside of a few vanities at the local home center, or the more recent trend of unassembled cabinets imported from overseas, most cabinets today are made to order.

The lower end of the stock category is not designed for a lifetime of use, they are focused for the apartment and flip house projects. Because of the lower-quality materials and hardware, they may not hold up well under daily use for the long-term. Be wary of low-cost lines that seem to offer a lot of options or modifications, they may sacrifice quality to keep the costs low. Also watch for the imported “RTA” (ready to assemble) cabinets in a box. Some may say “Made in the USA” when they really mean “Assembled in the USA”. How these are made or under what standards is almost impossible to confirm. Remember the high formaldehyde content in some imported flooring from a few years ago??

At the upper end of the stock category you can find a reasonably well-built cabinet, but they may lack many options or finishes. If you can design around their limitations, they can be a solid choice for your project and offer good value vs cost. Stock cabinets will typically come in 3” width increments and a few height choices. They may allow limited depth modifications.

Semi-custom cabinets

Semi-custom is the most popular choice when it comes to cabinets. Unfortunately, that popularity also makes it the hardest to navigate. Everyone wants to be considered semi-custom. It has that; “it’s a nice upgrade, but not too expensive” feel. Be wary of cabinets labeled “semi-custom” but with limited choices. To many cabinets that really belong in the Stock category will label themselves as semi-custom. Semi-custom will also have a large price variable. Not all lines are equal in quality and the more options the higher the cost.

With true semi-custom cabinets, you will get significantly more style and finish choices, allowing for a more custom feel to your kitchen. Some may also have the capability of custom finishes. They should come with high quality soft close hinges and glides standard. Semi-custom also should have the ability to give you almost any size cabinet down to at least ¼” increments in width, height, and depth. This allows for a better fit in the kitchen with less blank fillers. The fit and finish will be better than lines in the stock category.

Semi-custom cabinets come in a large range of quality. Furniture grade plywood construction should be at least an option, if not standard. However, don’t automatically disregard a cabinet that uses a high quality MDF or assume if plywood is used it guarantees quality. There is low quality plywood also. Most of the imported ready to assemble cabinets use plywood because it’s lighter and weight means everything when shipping across the ocean. Furniture grade MDF is more stable than plywood and is used a lot in frameless style construction where construction tolerances can be tighter, even in some high-end lines.  

Custom cabinets

Custom cabinets are the most expensive option, however many items that are options in semi-custom may be standard or come with a minimal cost in a custom line. A semi-custom kitchen with a bunch of options may cost as much or more than a custom kitchen. A custom cabinet may be the best choice especially if you are looking for that truly unique space. The fit and finish here is top shelf.

With custom cabinets, the sky’s the limit. Choose an exotic wood, invent your own custom door style or finish. Any special features can be included since they are being designed and built just for you. 

Be wary of small local cabinet builders that will meet the dictionary definition of “custom”. However, they may not be using the best finishes they tend to break down in relatively short order. Look for their warranty, usually a good indicator. A quality custom or even semi-custom cabinet line will carry a lifetime warranty against defects. Are they going to around in a few years if you have any problems? Cost, another good indicator, if it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

At Jim Keller Kitchen, Bath & Home, we provide our clients with the highest level of service to help them get the very most out of their kitchen remodel. From up-front planning and consultation, through design and construction, to the day you begin using your new kitchen, you can rely on Jim Keller Kitchen, Bath & Home to guide you every step of the way. Call us today at 847.844.1900 if you live in the Barrington, Elgin, or Crystal Lake areas, and you can begin creating the perfect kitchen or bath for your home!