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Kitchen Cabinets: Stock, Custom or Semi-Custom

Kitchen Cabinets are probably the first thing most people think about when remodeling a kitchen. Cabinets can be a major portion of the expense of a kitchen remodel. We'll help you make the most of your budget by explaining the different options and their pros and cons. There are basically four choices for kitchen cabinets; site-built, stock, semi-custom and custom cabinets.

Site-built cabinets are built on-site, at your home, by your contractor/carpenter. Site-built cabinets will typically be painted, not stained, and will be fairly simple in style and design. They may be the least expensive option, although stock cabinets may be cheaper depending on how proficient your carpenter and painter are. Site built cabinets are most often used for linen cabinets and bathroom vanities. A variation of this is to build the cabinets and then order the doors. That can be a cost effective alternative while still enjoying the looks of more expensive cabinets.

Kitchen Remodel

Stock cabinets are a low cost option. These cabinets are mass-produced, in standard sizes and in a limited number of styles. You may find two or more grades of stock cabinets, one built from the lowest cost materials with applied vinyl simulated wood finish, and a higher grade built from better materials with real wood finishes. The advantage of these cabinets is their low cost, their immediate off-the-shelf availability, and that they satisfy basic home-improvement requirements. They serve their purpose in both a utilitarian way as well as in their fresh appearance. On the downside, they are available in only a few styles, they may not last as long as better cabinets, they have limited features/options and they are available only in stock sizes. If you need a cabinet to fit a unique space, you will have to choose from one of the stock sizes available.

Semi-custom cabinets are probably the best of both worlds between stock and custom cabinets. Semi-custom cabinets are available in several grades, ranging from good quality units with a mid-range variety of options up to high-quality models with a wide array of features and options. They tend to be much more affordable than custom cabinets. With semi-custom, you are typically offered a range of styles, material and construction quality, wood species, color and special features/options. These cabinets are built to order but are still limited to the array of options offered by the manufacturer. Typically, more sizes are offered and in some cases a custom size may be possible for an additional charge. The advantages are that you have a lot of control over the final product without the cost of custom made cabinetry, the quality is often equal to and sometimes better than custom, a wide range of special features are available, and the cost can be a fraction of custom made. On the downside, they are substantially more expensive than stock cabinets, they can takes weeks/months to be delivered, because they are mass produced, attention to detail may not be the same as craftsman quality, custom made cabinets.

Custom cabinetry gives you exactly what you want...at a price. A set of custom cabinets for a typical kitchen can easily cost $50,000 or much more. You might get custom for less, but they are very labor intensive and that is reflected in the price. Unlike mass produced cabinets that can be built on a production line, custom cabinets take one or more craftsmen a couple weeks or longer to complete. On the upside, with custom cabinets, you should be able to get the precise design you desire, wood species, color, features and sizes all in flawless quality. On the downside, they will take weeks or months for delivery, they are the most expensive option - two to ten times more than semi-custom, if your craftsman's skills are not top-notch your cabinet quality may not be as good as less expensive semi-custom cabinets. Also, your cabinet maker may not do the finish. You may have to use a second craftsperson to apply stain and finish to your cabinets.

In Summary

If you are looking to remodel a kitchen at the lowest possible cost or need the cabinets right now, stock cabinets are a good choice. They will refresh the look of the kitchen, provide serviceable cabinetry and will be the least expensive option. Stock cabinets are a good choice for people who are not too fussy about the selection or quality. They are also a popular choice for landlords and people fixing up a house to sell.

Most people will end up with semi-custom cabinets. There are many grades of semi-custom, such as those offered through home-improvement centers like Lowe's and Home Depot and higher end, nearly custom cabinets typically offered through kitchen design centers. A set of cabinets for a typical kitchen can run $2,000 to $6,000 from kitchen remodel specialists and home-improvement centers and $10,000 to $25,000 at upscale design centers. Unless you have your heart set on some design, feature or unique quality, semi-custom is likely to provide the best option.

Custom cabinets can be unsurpassed in beauty and design, but at a price. The broad range of offerings in semi-custom cabinets makes custom cabinetry mostly the domain of the "price is no object" buyer. If you can't find just what you want or you happen to know a local craftsman whose calendar isn't filled with projects, you might become the envy of your neighborhood with beautiful custom cabinets. Otherwise, semi-custom cabinets should fill the bill.

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