how to choose custom cabinets for ktichen

How to Choose Cabinets for Kitchen

One of the choices you must make when considering a kitchen remodel is how to choose the cabinets. 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.

An experienced and talented kitchen designer will be your guide through the selection process.

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

The internet is a wonderful thing and has made researching products before purchasing much easier than it used to be. However, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, you won’t find anything useful. And could possibly get more confused than you were when you started looking.

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 to Choose Cabinets for Your Kitchen


Most people remodeling their kitchens for the first time don’t know the differences between stock, semi-custom and custom cabinets. However, the three can be very different in several ways. Cabinets will be the largest expense of your remodel. As a result, you’ll want to be informed before you invest.


Quality should be a deciding factor as well as cost in your selection. Think about the use and abuse cabinets and their doors will take over the years.

Heavy stone or quartz countertops might be too much weight for some stock cabinets. The materials and their durability are important.

Why Choose Custom Cabinetry for Kitchen?

Custom cabinetry is for you if you want:

  • the look for fine furniture
  • a beautiful kitchen that has the best of everything
  • to run you hand over a cabinet and feel the silky, smooth finish
  • drawers that glide in and out smoothly and silently
  • to hide your countertop appliances.
  • your refrigerator disguised as a piece of furniture
  • 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.

Are Custom Cabinets Worth the Money?

Custom cabinets are the most expensive option. However, they are the choice that gives you the greatest design flexibility.

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. 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.  

Custom cabinetry is built using exacting specifications. Each step of the manufacturing process is 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 or something needs replaced. And they’ll provide you with a touch-up kit that will come in handy when your cabinets get dinged.

Stock and semi-custom cabinetry are built 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 You Buy Custom Cabinetry?

  • All-wood construction, including plywood boxes. Plywood, which is made of sheets of solid wood bonded together with glue, holds up very well over time. It handles moisture better than “engineered wood”, and that is why it’s more expensive.
  • 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
  • Plywood cabinet box construction.
  • 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 – tough enough to last the life of the cabinets. And easy to clean with soap and water
  • 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.

A Kitchen Design Partner designer will know how to design kitchens, select materials and styles that maximize the value of custom cabinetry.

Why Choose Semi-Custom Cabinetry for Kitchen?

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, finishes and cabinet sizes.

They’re the right choice for you if you have “champagne taste and a beer budget”. This means 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.

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 like they are with custom cabinetry.

  • 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 for size/height/depth cabinet modifications, but some do. Your kitchen designer will advise you.
  • Finished sides have a slight reveal, called “near flush”. This means you will be able to feel the seam where the side is attached to the cabinet.
  • More wood species and finish options available 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.
  • Differences 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 differences between custom and semi-custom will be visible when seen side by side.

Why Choose Stock Cabinets for Kitchen? How Do They Compare to Custom and Semi-Custom Cabinets?

Stock cabinets are built using particleboard or fiberboard. These materials are composites made of wood chips and resin that can be toxic. Particleboard will also buckle and bulge when exposed to water.

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

Stock cabinets can be made domestically, while others are imported. Stock imported cabinets are manufactured overseas and shipped flat pack (Ready-to-Assemble) (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.

More Facts About Stock Cabinets

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. 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 Choosing Stock Cabinets?

  • Very limited selection of colors, door and drawer design options, wood species and cabinet options to choose from.
  • “Engineered wood” (i.e., particleboard or fiberboard) case construction and shelves with ability to upgrade to all plywood construction. For a cost. 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 is standard for stock cabinets
  • 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


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. 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.

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.

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.