Compare Types of Cabinets

As someone who is considering a kitchen remodel, you will be faced with an overwhelming number of choices. Although we can’t make the decisions for you, we can give you the information you need to make well informed choices for your new kitchen, such as whether you want custom, semi-custom or stock cabinets.

Know What You’re Getting

An experienced and talented kitchen designer – like the one you’ll be matched with through Kitchen Design Partner — will be your guide through the selection process.

After the contractor/ installer costs, cabinets represent the biggest expense involved in creating a new kitchen. You don’t want to make a mistake either in quality or design.

The internet is a wonderful thing and has made researching products before purchasing much easier than it was in the past. However, if you don’t really know what you’re looking for, you won’t find anything useful.

That’s where we come in.

We know cabinets and we know the differences between various brands and various types of cabinets – high end custom, mid-grade semi-custom and stock.

How Are Custom, Semi-custom and Stock Cabinets Different? The Same?

Most people who are remodeling their kitchens for the first time don’t know the differences between stock, semi-custom and custom cabinets — but the three can be extremely different in more ways than cost alone. Since cabinets will probably be the largest expense of your remodel, you’ll want to be informed before you invest.

Quality should also be a factor in your selection. Think about the use and abuse cabinets and their doors will take over the years. And consider how they’re constructed if you are getting heavy stone or quartz countertops installed. The materials and their durability are important.

Plywood — made of sheets of solid wood bonded together with glue — holds up the best over time. Stock cabinets are built with particleboard or fiberboard, which are composites made of wood chips and resin that can be toxic. Particleboard will also buckle and bulge more quickly when exposed to water. Plywood simply handles moisture better, which is why it’s more expensive.

Stock cabinets are manufactured in large quantities so no customization is available. You pay more for the option to have customizing and upgrades when selecting semi-custom and custom cabinets.

There are benefits and downfalls to each kind of cabinet, so taking a few moments to learn about how cabinets are made and what you can expect is worth it.

What is Custom Cabinetry?

Custom cabinetry is for you if you like to be surrounded by the best of everything in your home. If you like the look for fine furniture. If you have dreamed of a beautiful kitchen that has the best of everything. If you like to run you hand over your cabinet and feel the silky, smooth finish. If you want drawers that glide in and out silently. If you want to hide your countertop appliances. If you want your refrigerator disguised as a piece of furniture. If you want an island big enough for your family to sit together.

You know what you like and you can afford to get exactly what you want. Only the best will do, and custom cabinetry is the best.

You can pick the wood you want, the finish you want, the door style you want, how high the cabinets are, what storage accessories your cabinets will have built into them.

Photo by Christa Grover on Unsplash

Are Custom Cabinets Worth the Money?

Custom cabinets may be the most expensive option, but they are the choice that gives you the greatest design flexibility and are made with the highest quality materials.

They’re the right choice if you need a custom design to make the most of the space in a kitchen that’s small or one that has an odd shape. Your custom cabinets will be made specifically to fit in your space, no matter how large or small or weird it’s shaped. Because of the flexibility offered by custom, you get unlimited size variations and can build to any width, depth or height.

You get the ability to include “one of a kind” pieces, built just for you, like a hood or armoire or china cabinet, in your new room design.

Your custom cabinetry will be built using exacting specifications. Each step of the manufacturing process will be done with precision in order to deliver an exceptional product. That means using modern machinery and then careful by-hand craftsmanship that picks up where the machinery left off.

Another plus when you choose custom cabinetry is that a custom cabinet manufacturer will be able to match your cabinet door and finish for years after installation if you want to add on. And they’ll provide you with a touch-up kit that will come in handy when your cabinets get dinged.

In stock and semi-custom cabinetry, compromises are made to boost production speed, increase yields from the materials used and reduce labor costs. While these areas are important to control in any manufacturing process, the cost of custom cabinets reflects more care throughout the process.

Why Should I Buy Custom Cabinetry?

  • All wood construction
  • Grain matching and color consistency in wood
  • Rich, deep, lustrous finishes. Choice of top coat sheens.
  • Full extension, soft close drawer hardware; soft close hinges for doors
  • Size flexibility to fit any space
  • Out of the ordinary wood species available – Red Birch, Walnut, Birdseye Maple, Mahogany, Lyptus, Sapele, for example
  • Dovetail drawer boxes. Solid hardwood drawer boxes with smooth dovetail joints and heavy plywood bottoms set the standard for quality high-end cabinetry
  • Full depth, easily adjustable shelves
  • Flush finished ends – no seam where the cabinet side is attached to the box.
  • Sealed and varnished cabinet interiors. The inside of the cabinet should be tough enough to last the life of the cabinets without staining, bubbling, or showing wear.
  • Lifetime Limited Warranty
  • Paints from Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore, Behr and Fine Paints of Europe
  • Custom finish techniques and colors beyond the manufacturer’s standard color palette
  • Inset construction is typical
  • “You dream it, we build it”
  • Appliance panels for refrigerators, dishwashers, etc.
  • Storage accessories to fit your lifestyle
  • Lifetime Limited Warranty. Your cabinets will last as long as you own your home. Guaranteed.

The best custom cabinetry shops/manufacturers offer a range of looks and styles. Low, medium and high finish sheens. European, contemporary and traditional cabinetry. One of a kind custom pieces that can’t be accomplished without a highly skilled work force and office staff to engineer and support manufacturing.

The best designers know how to design kitchens, select materials and styles that maximize the value of custom cabinetry.

Photo by Mark McCammon from Pexels

What is Semi-Custom Cabinetry?

Semi-custom cabinets are a popular choice because they’re functional and versatile and available at a cost less than custom cabinets. Semi-custom cabinets offer many of the design features available with custom cabinets, but with less variety in woods and finishes.

They’re for you if you have “champagne taste and a beer budget”, meaning you know what you like but can’t afford the price tag that comes with the best of the best – custom cabinetry. But you want a new kitchen that looks great, reflects your personal style and has built-in storage accessories to make the kitchen completely functional.

Semi-custom cabinets are for you because they offer many of the design features available with custom cabinets, but with a limited variety in woods and finishes.

How Do Semi-Custom Cabinets Compare to Custom?

Semi-custom cabinets are a lower cost alternative to custom cabinets. They’re a step up from stock cabinets in terms of product offering and quality of materials, but your choices are not unlimited compared to custom.

  • Cabinet selection is limited to the manufacturer’s standard offering
  • Engineered wood cabinet construction is standard, with plywood construction as an upgrade
  • Not all semi-custom manufacturers charge by size/height/depth modifications, but some do. Your kitchen designer will advise you.
  • Finished sides have a slight reveal, called “near flush” which means you will be able to feel the seam where the side is attached to the cabinet.
  • More wood species and finish options than stock cabinets but more limited than custom
  • More door styles than stock cabinets but more limited than custom
  • Partial overlay, full overlay, and in some cases inset construction is available
  • Selection of stains and paints may be limited to the company’s standard offering. Semi-custom lines offer very basic colors and glazes.
  • Difference in finish quality between custom and semi-custom will be noticeable
  • Limited selection of factory-installed storage accessories, like lazy susans, trash pull-outs and roll-outs. Not all semi-custom companies offer accessories from Rev-A-Shelf and Hafele, the industry’s best.
  • Standard wood species only – Oak, Hickory, Maple, Cherry. Rustics may be available at an additional cost and some companies may not offer Rustics at all.
  • Sanding is not done as often or as thoroughly as in custom cabinets. Joints in dovetail drawers may not be sanded smooth. Sanding is a big step in prep work and differences between custom and semi-custom will be visible when seen side by side.

Like many general terms used in describing quality, remember that not all semi-custom cabinets are of much better quality than stock cabinetry. Conversely, some will be closer to custom quality than stock in finish quality. For example, the lower end of semi-custom does offer semi-custom options, but usually sacrifices finish quality to maintain their price advantage.

Photo from Adobe Stock Photos

From years of looking a numbers and comparing cabinet lines, there can be as much as a 25-30% price difference between the low end of semi-custom and the high end of semi-custom cabinets. The high end will have a better finish and offer custom features, such as a locking miter joint and flush finished ends — something you see in fine furniture.

What Are Stock Cabinets? How Do They Compare to Custom and Semi-Custom Cabinets?

The advantages of stock cabinetry are time and money: If they are not immediately available, they are quick to ship, and they are unbeatable on cost.

Any discussion about stock cabinetry needs to mention that stock cabinets can be made domestically, while others are imported. Stock imported cabinets are manufactured overseas and shipped flat pack (RTA) via container ships to the United States where the inventory is warehoused and maintained.

RTA cabinets are assembled on job sites, in cabinet shops or in warehouses where only assembly and shipping occur. Assembly quality can range from professional to amateur, depending on how it is done.

Most stock cabinets that are made domestically are built, assembled and shipped from the cabinet manufacturer in the United States.

Stock cabinets offer the least amount of customization and the fewest number of options when compared to custom cabinets and semi-custom cabinets. By limiting options, stock cabinets can save you money. They’re readymade, pre-manufactured cabinets, meaning they’re mass-produced in a factory and ready to ship when ordered. No customization is available. What you see is what you get!

If you’re on a tight budget for your kitchen remodel, stock cabinets are your best choice. They’re also the ideal choice if you’re remodeling your kitchen for re-sale.

A good designer – like the ones recommended by Kitchen Design Partner — can help you get the most kitchen for your money.

What Will You Get when Ordering Stock Cabinets?

  • Very limited selection of colors, door and drawer design options, wood species and cabinet options to choose from.
  • Engineered wood case construction and shelves with ability to upgrade to all plywood construction. Most imported cabinets have a plywood case
  • Little or no modifications available
  • Vinyl interiors
  • Fillers required to complete cabinet run. This means cabinets are not built to your room’s dimensions. The designer will make the cabinets fit by adding fillers.
  • Staples and plastic corner supports used in cabinet construction
  • Finishes are limited to certain door styles and can’t be changed
  • Limited or no cabinet storage accessories
  • Five (5) year warranty
  • If cabinet line is imported, they may not comply with CARB standards. This relates to the chemicals used in the products when they were built and finished.
  • Painted finishes are a weakness in stock cabinets. Poor sanding and a lack of depth to finish are typical characteristics.  
  • Stains that lack depth and poor coverage may occur and are most visible for medium and dark stains
  • Top coat has an almost chalky feel and texture instead of smooth
  • Limited molding choices
  • Soft close door and drawer hardware and drawer guides are not high quality and may not function smoothly

Conclusion

It’s hard to distinguish between quality levels of cabinetry using words alone. Ideally what you want to do is to compare cabinets side-by-side and see the differences in finish quality and cabinet box construction.

Quality cabinets are available at every price point. Think of it like buying a car. Compare a mid-level Honda to a BMW or Mercedes. They’re all cars that will get you where you need to go, but their styling, interior design, technology and prices are going to vary.

Stock cabinets will look good but might require replacing sooner than those that cost more. With the high-end custom and semi-custom cabinets, both are going to last 30 years.


KDP exists to offer insight and advice about all things related to kitchen remodeling. Our goal is to connect homeowners with talented, experienced kitchen designers who live and work in their communities. We are a serious resource for anyone preparing to remodel their kitchen so they can make the best possible choices about designers, contractors and products.